The Top 15 First Basemen Since 1980 in Terms of Overall Ability

Steven ResnickSenior Writer IMay 8, 2009

This list is to cover the best first basemen since 1980, but it's also going to take out the misconception that the first basemen is just a power source and defensively it's OK that some of these players are defensive liabilities.

Instead this is going to show the overall abilities both offensively and defensively of these players that have played first base since 1980. There is one big name that will not make the list because he only played three seasons of over 100 games at first base and another season at 99 at first base. That is Frank Thomas, "The Big Hurt," who actually spent most of his time at designated hitter.

At No. 15: Adrian Gonzalez

The most surprising thing about Gonzalez was that he was a highly touted prospect of the Texas Rangers, but the Rangers traded him along with Chris Young and Termal Sledge for the Padres's Billy Killian, Adam Eaton, and Akinori Otsuka.

Gonalez has proven to have one of the sweetest left-handed swings in all of Major League Baseball. He's a very consistent hitter at the plate and definitely has the ability to hit over .300.

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He is an excellent power source, whether it is hitting the ball into the gaps for doubles or for home runs. The only thing that is keeping Gonalez from consistently hitting over 40 home runs is playing his home games at Petco Park.

So, far in Gonzalez's young career he has hit 106 homeruns, driven in 345 runs, has 129 doubles, and a career batting average of .283.

Defensively, Gonzalez plays gold glove-caliber defense. He's already won a Gold Glove Award, and that was last year, and he should be consistently winning them at first base for the Padres. Gonzalez has the ability to pick the ball out of the dirt on low throws and make the diving stops to rob opposing players of hits.

Next up on the list at No. 14: Carlos Pena

Carlos Pena was another one of those highly-touted prospects of the Texas Rangers. Again, the Rangers traded away a first basemen with potential, this time to the Oakland A's. Unfortunately for the A's and for Pena, he was inconsistent at best and was traded away again.

In Detroit, he showed his power ability by hitting 27 in 2004, but average-wise, he could not hit over .250 and was released by the Tigers after being around for three years. That's when he began to bounce around from team to team.

Finally settling with the Tampa Bay Rays where he began to show his true abilities. If it wasn't for an injury to Greg Norton, Pena may have never been able to show what he could do.

Although he is not known as a doubles threat, he can definitely put the ball out of the ball park. In the past two plus seasons and beginning of this year, he's hit 84 homeruns and his 2008 season was slowed by a bit by an injury bug.

Defensively, Pena has always had the talent at the position whether it is picking balls out of the dirt, taking away singles and doubles, and going after foul popups. He won his first glove in 2008.

JT Snow comes in at No. 13 on this list. Snow wasn't the power source like most first basemen, but he had the ability to drive in runs, with his most in 1997 with 104 RBI. He didn't hit for a really high average, his best season at .327 in 2004, but no other years was he over .300.

What puts him over both Pena and Gonalez at this point is that he played longer. For his career, he hit .268, hit 189 homers and 877 RBI.

What stood out for Snow, though, was his defensive ability. He won six Gold Gloves in his career, two with the California Angels and four with the San Francisco Giants.

Don Mattingly was another solid first basemen. He comes in at No. 12. He was a great average hitter throughout his career. In his prime, he was a 20-30 home run guy, and was a doubles machine along with RBI.

His best year came in 1985 where Mattingly hit .324 with 35 homers, 145 RBI, and 48 doubles. That '85 season won him the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

For his career, Mattingly hit .307 with 222 home runs, 1,099 RBI, and 442 doubles. Yet what stood out the most was his defense. For his career, he won nine Gold Gloves.

With No. 11, he may be one of the most underrated player on the list. He could hit for power and play outstanding defense. That first basemen is Tino Martinez.

Martinez started his career out with the Seattle Mariners and just before he was going to his prime, the Mariners traded him to the New York Yankees. In the trade, the Mariners also sent Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

Martinez was a constant 30-40 home run threat for the Yankees. 1997 was his best year, where he hit 44 home runs drove in 141, batted .296, and 31 doubles.

Although, he was never a .300 hitter, he did hit for a decent average to end his career with a .271 average, ended with 339 home runs, with 1,271 RBI, and 365 doubles.

Defensively, Martinez was a solid first basemen. He may have never won a Gold Glove, but he was definitely deserving of one.

At No. 10 comes Jason Giambi. Although he'll never be known for having any outstanding glove at first base, he still was a very capable player at the position. Unlike most of the other first basemen, he also had to deal with the expansive foul ground of the Oakland Coliseum.

During Giambi's prime, he became a 30-40 home run player, he hit for a high average, and would drive the ball into the gaps. His best year was in 2000, when he hit 43 home runs drove in 137, batted .333, and had 29 doubles.

For the year, he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

His 2001 season was worthy of the AL Most Valuable Player Award. The baseball writers and voters got this one wrong and came up with the most ridiculous choice in Major League Baseball history in Ichiro.

It should be laughed at that Ichiro won it, and I will never recognize Ichiro for that award.

Giambi's 2001 season consisted of him batting .342, hitting 38 home runs, driving in 120, and hitting 47 doubles. After that 2001 season in which he put up his second straight MVP season, he became a free agent and the Oakland A's were not able to come up with enough money for him to stay, so he signed with the New York Yankees.

Even though he did not hit for as high an average with the Yankees, he still was that 30-40 home run threat in the lineup. Yet, even with his bat, his defense was average. He has the hands to dig the ball out of the dirt, but sometimes has a hard time picking the ball out or catching the ball.

No. 9 belongs to Todd Helton, who's also a guy who gets it done on both the offense and defense. He's always been a hitter to hit for a high average, can hit the ball into the gap, and hit 30-40 homeruns.

Helton's best season came in 2000 when he hit .372, hit 42 home runs, drove in 147, and hit 59 doubles. Yet he didn't even win the National League Most Valuable Player for the Colorado Rockies.

Defensively Helton has won three Gold Gloves as well, so he's also been consistent at first base.

Fred McGriff is at No. 8 on the list. Mcgriff was a consistent 30 home run threat when he was in the league. He also has hit 30 home runs for five different teams, from his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Chicago Cubs.

He may have never drove in more than 110 runs, but he did have eight seasons of over 100 RBI. He was a solid hitter at the plate as well, with a few seasons of batting over .300.

His best season was 1992, where he hit 35 home runs, had 104 RBI, hit .286, and doubles-wise had 30.

Defensively he was below average to say the least. He might possibly be the worst fielder on the list, but his longevity makes up for the mistakes he made on the field.

What's amazing is that for his career, McGriff hit 493 home runs, but never had a season hitting over 40 home runs. He drove in 1,550 runs, batted .284, and hit 441 doubles.

One of the most recognizable first basemen of the times was the one that wore the batting helmet on the field. Coming in at No. 7, John Olerud. Olerud was never the power threat but had the ability to hit for a high average, drive in runs, and use the gaps. Even more importantly, he was one of the better fielding first basemen.

Olerud could hit anywhere between 15-25 home runs. He also had four 100 RBI seasons as well. For hitting doubles, Olerud was a consistently getting 30 a season, and he was a solid hitter at the plate.

Olerud's best season was in 1993, when he hit .363 with 24 homers and 107 RBI, and had 54 doubles.

Like Helton, Olerud has had three Gold Gloves for his career. For his career, he hit .295 had 255 home runs, drove in 1,230, and had 500 doubles.

No. 6 belongs to Jim Thome who's been a 30-40 home run threat throughout his career. He also won't wow anyone with his batting average, but he can drive in runs, and get 20-30 doubles a season.

Thome has never been one known for his defense at first base. He's on the average side, and like others on this list, he has never won a Gold Glove.

His best season came in 2003 for the Phillies when he hit 47 home runs, had 131 RBIs, 30 doubles, and a .266 batting average.

At No. 5, he maybe the most surprising pick on the list, but he definitely deserves to be mentioned in the top five: Will Clark.

Clark was never known much for his power but could get 15-20 home runs and consistently drove in runs. He was also a solid hitter, smacking 20-30 doubles a season.

His best season for his career was in 1991 with 29 homers, 116 RBI, 32 doubles, and a .301 batting avereage.

Defensively, he was one of the best. He could dig the ball out of the dirt, take away hits, and catch the foul pop-ups that came his way. He only came away with one Gold Glove, however.

In at No. 4, Rafael Palmeiro. Pameiro was solid defensively and was one of the better power sources at first base during his playing career. He was also college teammates with Will Clark.

Palmeiro was a 30-40 home run threat, a solid run producer, consistently had 30-40 doubles, and had a solid batting average. Palmeiro's best season was in 1999 when he hit 47 home runs, 148 RBI, 30 doubles, and a .324 batting average.

Palmeiro also won three Gold Gloves at first base. Like Clark, Palmeiro could go out and get the low throws and high throws, catch the pop-ups, and take away hits.

No. 3 is Albert Pujols, but eventually he will be number one on the list, unless injuries curtail his career. Pujols is an amazing hitter, can hit for power, hit to the gaps, hits for a high average, and he can drive in runs like no other right-handed hitter has done.

The reason why he isn't yet No. 1 is because he didn't start out at first base, but he's since found a home there. He isn't the most athletic first basemen out there but he gets the job done and defensively he's a little above average and it got him a Gold Glove in 2008, his only one for his career.

So far, his best season was his 2006 season, where he hit 49 homers, drove in 137, hit 33 doubles, and hit .331. He's also won two National League Most Valuable Player Awards and also won the 2001 Rookie of the Year.

At No. 2, quite possibly the most overlooked one on this list besides Martinez. His name is Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell was the most versatile first basemen because not only did he hit for power, hit for doubles, hit for a high average, was solid defensively, but he could also steal a base.

Bagwell's best season for his career came in 1997 with 43 home runs, 135 RBI, 40 doubles, 31 stolen bases, and hit for .286.

For his career, Bagwell hit 449 homers, drove in 1,529 runs, 488 doubles, 202 stolen bases, and a career average of .297. 

Bagwell won just one Gold Glove, but again, during that time, there were solid defensive first basemen. He also was the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year, and the 1994 National League Most Valuable Player.

At No. 1 comes Mark McGwire. If it weren't for injuries, Mark McGwire would more than likely have hit the most home runs in Major League history. Unfortunately for him, injuries plagued him throughout his career.

Even though will never be known for his defensive abilities, he did win one Gold Glove and he could also make up for an error by hitting the pitch out of the yard. McGwire would make a pitcher pay for their mistake.

When McGwire played and was healthy, he was a 30-50 home run threat (with the exceptions of his 1998 and 1999 seasons, when he hit 70 and 65 homeruns, respectively).

He put fear into any opposing pitchers facing him. It started in his rookie season, when he set the record for most home runs by a rookie with 49. Did Randy Johnson's fastball intimidate him? His answer was the longest home run hit in the history of the Kingdome in Seattle.

McGwire will never be known for having a high batting average, as his best season came in 1999, where he hit 65 homeruns, drove in 147 runs, had 21 doubles, and batted .278.

For his career, McGwire hit 583 home runs, drove in 1,414 runs, hit 252 doubles, and had a career average of just .263. McGwire won the 1987 American League Rookie of the Year award and as mentioned before, the one Gold Glove.


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