Yesterday I kicked off my list of the top ten first basemen in baseball, numbers ten through six. Today I continue with the top five.
As a reminder, the evaluations will be the last three seasons of both offensive and defensive prowess. Players with less than 700 plate appearances will not be included in my evaluations.
#5- Jose Abreu, White Sox
Abreu burst into the majors in 2014, producing a 5.3 WAR. Subsequent seasons saw his productivity take a dive, but Abreu had a bounce-back season in 2017. With 25+ home runs in each of his four full MLB seasons, along with his .374 career wOBA, Abreu is quickly becoming one of the best first basemen in baseball. Since 2015, Abreu ranks 9th among qualifying first basemen in ground ball rate (46%). That’s a high rate for a guy who hits with a lot of power.
Should Abreu make some adjustments and get under pitches more often, we could see a player that will be an elite power hitter for years to come.
#4- Edwin Encarnacion, Indians
Entering his 14th big league season, Encarnacion is the oldest player on the list. He’s been an above-average hitter for the last decade and a steady presence in the lineup for both the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians. The latter suffered a bit in the 2017 playoffs without his bat in the lineup. He’s the best power hitter on this list; tops in home runs and ISO. No one can claim Encarnacion a strong defender but he gets the job done at first. Though in his last three years at the position, he’s committed just six errors in over 1300 innings. Encarnacion is undoubtedly due for some regression in the coming years, but for now he’s still one of the best of his contemporaries.
#3- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
This is the point of my list where the first base partition begins with Goldschmidt being the first to separate himself from the pack; tied for second overall in wRC+ and WAR. In four of the last five seasons, he’s posted a .400 or better OBP. To note, Goldschmidt gets intentionally walked more than any other player on this list as well. Health is also on his side, as he’s played less than 155 games once since 2013. Defensively, he’s a sure-handed first basemen with only 32 errors in six full seasons. He also leads all of the top ten with batting average on balls in play with .361. Normally, this is due to hitter luck but Goldschmidt’s career BABIP is .354; an obvious sign of a great hitter.
#2- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Despite the fact he took a small step backwards in 2017, Rizzo is a bar-none elite first baseman. He’s a very patient hitter with one of the best eyes in the game. Of the qualified first basemen on this list, Rizzo is tops in win probability added (15.51 WPA). Furthermore, in terms of production in high leverage situations, he’s one of the best (2.21 ‘Clutch‘ rating). I’d have zero reservations with him batting in a big spot, given his low K% and ability to make contact in the zone. He lays off pitches well and doesn’t make too many (costly) mistakes. His defense is comparable to his offensive ability; 30 DRS, 13.1 UZR, and just 38 errors (nine throwing) in 900 games at first base. Though not of much consiquence, it’s worth noting that pitchers hit Rizzo. A lot. He leads the league in HBP with 70 in the last three years (he does tend to crowd the plate).
#1- Joey Votto, Reds
Should be no surprise here. No first baseman has hit better (.320 BA), gets on base better (.449 OBP and 1.14 BB/K), is better at making runs (166 wRC+), or produced a better WAR (19.2). A good (but not great) fielder, Votto is close to the most complete player in the game; nudged out of the 2017 NL MVP race by a monster year from Giancarlo Stanton. Goldschmidt, Rizzo, and Votto stand head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. How they stack up against each other is shown in the chart below.
There you have it. Let the outrage ensue!