Baseball

Top 10 MLB Players: First Basemen

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With the MLB season right around the corner, it’s time to see how each position’s best players stack up. First base is one of the most stacked positions in baseball, with some of the league’s best hitters residing at the position. It’s not the most important position defensively, and most of the value accumulated by 1st basemen is with their bats.

10. Rhys Hoskins, PHI

Rhys Hoskins has been consistently great at the plate since his rookie season, and that trend should continue in 2022. Over his past two seasons, Hoskins has a 130 wRC+, 12.1% BB%, .522 SLG%, and has slugged 37 home runs. He ranks in the 94th percentile in Barrel%, 90th percentile in xwOBA, and 93rd percentile in xSLG. He’s joined in the middle of the Phillies lineup by Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos, who should make up one of the most explosive offenses in the National League.

9. Anthony Rizzo, NYY

Anthony Rizzo‘s 2021 season was thrown off by a battle with COVID-19 shortly after being traded to New York. He agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the Yankees as a free agent this offseason, bringing him back to a ballpark that plays to his strengths. Rizzo didn’t hit the ball as hard in 2021 as he has in the rest of his career but still was expected to hit 32 HRs if he played every game at Yankee Stadium. Rizzo may no longer be at his peak, but he’s still one of the most consistent, reliable players in the league.

8. Ty France, SEA

Ty France, who was traded from San Diego to Seattle at the 2020 trade deadline, had another great season in 2021. The Mariners were one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season, and France solidified first base with a .368 OBP, 129 wRC+, and 3.5 fWAR. The next step for France will be to get the ball in the air, as he had a 45.6% groundball rate in 2021. If France can sustain his great plate discipline and increase his launch angle, he could climb up this list in 2022.

7. Pete Alonso, NYM

Pete Alonso burst onto the scene in 2019, setting the rookie home run record and winning NL Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to replicate that level of success. In his three-year career, Alonso has already hit 106 home runs while slugging .542. His projections are strong, likely due to his 14.8% Barrel% and 47.3% Hard-Hit% in 2021. Last year, Alonso ranked 8th among all 1st basemen in wRC+ at 133. Alonso also took a step forward defensively in 2021, posting a positive OAA for the first time in his career.

6. Joey Votto, CIN

Following poor seasons in 2019 and 2020, it appeared that Joey Votto‘s illustrious MLB career was coming to a close. Instead, in 2021, Votto had a huge bounceback season at age 37. His .537 SLG and 140 wRC+ were both his best figures since his 2nd-place MVP finish in 2017. Although Votto had the highest strikeout rate of his career, he still walked 14.4% of the time, and his barrel rate skyrocketed to a career-high 17.2%. Votto’s batted-ball data was some of the best in the league. He ranked in the 96th percentile in xwOBA, 95th percentile in Barrel%, and 97th percentile in walk rate. In his last 271 PAs of the season, he had 25 home runs and a 172 wRC+.

5. Brandon Belt, SFG

Brandon Belt was only one of a few veteran Giants who had massive bounce-back years in 2021, leading them to their first division title since 2012. Since the start of 2020, Belt has slashed .285/.393/.595 with 38 home runs and a 163 wRC+ in 560 PAs. Belt’s only concern is his health; he only played 97 games in 2021. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, Belt would have ranked 2nd among 1B in wRC+. Belt finished in the 94th percentile in barrel rate, 89th percentile in xwOBA, and 90th in walk rate in 2021.

4. Paul Goldschmidt, STL

Paul Goldschmidt is the model of consistency. He has been one of the best first basemen in baseball each year since 2013. He’s getting up there in age, but he’s received MVP votes in each of the past seven seasons. Goldschmidt is still one of the most productive hitters in the league. In 2021, Goldy slashed .294/.365/.514, good for a 138 wRC+ and 4.9 fWAR. He ranked in the 85th percentile in Barrel%, 94th percentile in xwOBA, and 95th percentile in xSLG in 2022. He’s also one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, tying for 2nd place among 1st basemen in OAA with six.

3. Matt Olson, ATL

Matt Olson was sent from Oakland to Atlanta in a blockbuster deal just a few days before the start of Spring Training. He then signed an eight-year, $168 million extension with the Braves. It’ll be tough to replace franchise icon Freddie Freeman, but he might be a better long-term investment. Olson is just 28 years old and has a .354 OBP, .522 SLG, and 134 wRC+ since 2019. Olson cut down his K% to 16.8% in 2021 but kept his walk rate high (11.8%). This resulted in Olson’s best offensive season of his career. In 2022, he joins Ronald Acuna Jr. in a stacked lineup for the defending champions.

2. Freddie Freeman, LAD

The rich get richer. The Dodgers signed Freddie Freeman to a six-year deal to round out one of the best lineups of all time (on paper). Freeman finally won his first championship in 2021, the last real accomplishment he was missing. The 2020 NL MVP got off to a slow start in 2021 but heated up in the 2nd half. Since the start of 2020, Freeman has a 149 wRC+ and 7.8 fWAR in 957 PAs. In the playoffs, Freeman slashed .304/.420/.625 with a 169 wRC+ and many game-winning moments. Now, he’ll have a chance to win another title on the odds-on favorite Los Angeles Dodgers.

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR

The former number one overall prospect finally established himself at the MLB level in 2021, finishing 2nd in AL MVP voting. He made minor changes to his swing mechanics and was able to lower his ground-ball rate from 54.6% in 2020 to 44.8% in 2021. He increased his barrel rate from 8.7% in 2020 to 15.1% in 2021. Guerrero Jr. ranked 3rd in the league in average exit velocity, 6th in xwOBA, 2nd in wRC+, and tied for 1st in home runs. Guerrero Jr., at just 23 years old, is already one of the best hitters in the league.

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