2011 MLB Rankings: Albert Pujols and The Top 5 Defensive First Basemen
When you think of MLB first basemen, what comes to mind?
You think of big, burly guys like Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.
First basemen are usually the largest guys on the field, towering over the infielders and umpires. And with that size often comes an impressive swing.
More so than any other position, it is expected that first basemen will hit for average, drive in runs and hit home runs.
A lot of home runs.
First basemen will often bat cleanup or somewhere in the middle of the lineup and are often considered to be the best hitter on a MLB team.
The focus for a first baseman is certainly offense, but that doesn't mean defense isn't important.
Not only should a first baseman be able to field his position, but he also has to be able to scoop balls from the dirt or reach out on errant throws from his infielders while always keeping a toe on the bag.
Too often defense is overlooked at first base, when in actuality, it might be the most important position in the infield in terms of a team's defensive success.
Of the five players on this list, three of their teams finished in the top five in defense in 2010 and only one was outside of the top 12.
Whereas the Washington Nationals, with Adam Dunn at first base, finished 29th in team defense. Dunn's .990 fielding percentage (FPCT) was tied for last place amongst first basemen and his team had an MLB-high 127 errors.
Therefore, a good first baseman is critical to team defense and these players are priceless at their position for what they offer at the plate and in the field.
5. Derrek Lee: Baltimore Orioles
After seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs and a short stint with the Atlanta Braves, Derrek Lee signed with the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason and should immediately improve their 18th-ranked defense.
Lee made his major league at first base in 1997 with the San Diego Padres, where he played in 21 games without recording an error.
He was then traded to the Florida Marlins in the offseason, where he spent six seasons and recorded a .994 FPCT before being traded to the Chicago Cubs.
In his seven seasons in Chicago, Lee also averaged his current career mark of .994 FPCT.
Lee won the Gold Glove at first base in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and has the second most amongst active first basemen.
Last season was not the best of Lee's career. His .995 FPCT in 2010 put him at 11th place at his position while the Chicago Cubs finished with a .979 FPCT (29th) and the Atlanta Braves .980 (26th).
4. Justin Morneau: Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins are one of the more sound defensive teams in the major leagues and Justin Morneau has a lot to do with that.
Last season the Twins had the fifth-best FPCT in baseball (.987) and finished with only 78 errors.
Morneau debuted at first base for the Twins in 2003, but only appeared in seven games that season. It wasn't until 2005 when he took over full time at first base.
Since his 2005 season, Morneau has never recorded a FPCT below .994 and hasn't made more than five errors in a season since 2006.
His career .996 FPCT is tied for the best in baseball among players who have played for three or more seasons.
He started 77 games for the Twins in 2010, before suffering a concussion that would keep him out for the remainder of the year.
In those 77 starts, Justin Morneau committed only one error for a .999 FPCT, although he did not appear in enough games to qualify in the rankings.
3. Adrian Gonzalez: Boston Red Sox
Fans of the Boston Red Sox are all abuzz about Adrian Gonzalez hitting at Fenway Park this season and rightfully so.
However, little if anything has been said of his amazing ability in the field, which could contribute to quite a few Red Sox victories in 2011.
In fact, in the 2010 season, the San Diego Padres led all of baseball with a .988 FPCT and had the second fewest errors with 72.
He debuted at first base in 2004 for the Texas Rangers and played 21 games at the position through 2005 before being traded to the San Diego Padres.
Gonzalez became the starting first baseman for the Padres in 2006 and went on to post a .995 FPCT that season with only seven errors.
He dropped off a little in 2007 with a .994 FPCT and 10 errors, but has since recorded consecutive seasons of a .995 FPCT or better.
Gonzalez has won two Gold Gloves at the position—in 2008 and 2009.
His career .994 FPCT is amongst the 10 best at the position and his .995 FPCT in 2010 ranked 10th in baseball.
2. Albert Pujols: St. Louis Cardinals
There is a reason Albert Pujols is called "The Machine." After all, what can't the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman do?
He hits. He plays defense. He negotiates $300 million deals. He is a true Renaissance Man in the sport.
Pujols made his major league debut for the Cardinals in 2001 and played at first base, third base, left field and right field that season.
His position carousel continued until the 2005 season when he became the team's full-time starting first baseman and posted a .992 FPCT—the lowest for his time at first base.
In his 1,189 games at the position, Pujols' career .994 FPCT is amongst the best in baseball and he has the hardware to prove it.
The crowded trophy case at the Pujols residence has two Gold Glove Awards (2006, 2010) alongside his many MVP, Silver Slugger and Hank Aaron awards.
Pujols' best defensive season came just last year when he recorded a .998 FPCT and only four errors in 157 games, although his team's .984 FPCT was good for only 12th in baseball.
1. Mark Teixeira: New York Yankees
Opposing hitters love to visit New Yankee Stadium and have a lot of success, assuming they don't hit the ball to Mark Teixeira at first base.
Teixeira is the best at his position and his team has the best defense in baseball.
Last season the Yankees finished tied for the best FPCT (.988) and had the fewest errors with a mere 69—almost half as many as the Washington Nationals.
He played first base, third base, left field and right field for the Texas Rangers in his debut season in 2003 and had the most success at first base with a .996 FPCT.
The next season he became the full-time first baseman for the team and played there until midway through the 2007 season when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves.
His time in Atlanta was short-lived and he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the 2008 season, but not before he recorded a .998 FPCT with the Braves that year.
Teixeira committed four errors in the 51 games he spent with Los Angeles before signing a eight-year, $180 million contract with the Yankees.
In his two seasons in New York, Teixeria has had a .997 and .998 FPCT and won the Gold Glove in both season. He had previously won the award twice before in the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Rangers.
His .998 FPCT in 2010 was tied for best amongst first basemen with Albert Pujols and his career .996 FPCT is the best of all first basemen in baseball today.