MLB Position Power Rankings for Every Team's Projected First Baseman
That Major League Baseball had to delay the start of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic is no fun at all, but it is wholly necessary. It also has some unintended benefits.
For instance, there's more time to present and argue over positional rankings.
With outfielders already taken care of, we're moving on to the league's top first basemen. We've specifically ranked each club's projected starter, with help from surface-level numbers, peripheral statistics (e.g., expected weight on-base average) and good ol' gut feeling.
We'll go five at a time for Nos. 30 through 6, and then provide a slide each for the top five.
Nos. 30-26: Davis, Pujols, Guzman, O'Hearn and White
30. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Chris Davis was last seen teasing a comeback with a 1.682 OPS and three home runs in nine Grapefruit League games. So, there may be hope for the remainder of his $161 million contract, which runs through 2022.
Back in real life, however, the minus-5.4 Baseball Reference WAR (rWAR) that Davis has racked up since 2017 is the worst mark out of all players who've made at least 1,000 plate appearances. Most of that futility stems from a bat that has basically stopped working over the last two seasons.
29. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The very young among us might not be aware of just how good Albert Pujols was in his prime. He was MLB's best player from 2001 to 2010, during which he averaged a 1.050 OPS and 41 home runs per season.
Alas, modern-day Pujols is...not that guy. A 20-homer year is basically his offensive ceiling, and the only reason he's still playing first base is the Los Angeles Angels need to keep designated hitter open for Shohei Ohtani.
28. Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers
Ronald Guzman put himself on the map in 2017 when he hit .298 with an .806 OPS at Triple-A. Yet the 210 games he's played in the majors have humbled him to the tune of a .229/.307/.415 slash line.
But at least Guzman is an above-average defender at the not-so-hot corner. There's also evidence that he underachieved offensively in 2019. Ultimately, the Texas Rangers aren't wrong to give him another shot.
27. Ryan O'Hearn, Kansas City Royals
There's nothing left for Ryan O'Hearn to prove in the minors, where he's slammed 104 home runs with a respectable .831 OPS in six seasons. Yet he may be banished there for good if he doesn't move past the .650 OPS he gave the Kansas City Royals last year.
The Royals can draw hope from the .950 OPS that O'Hearn put up in 44 games with them in 2018. As with Guzman, it's apparent he was bitten by the bad-luck bug in 2019.
26. Evan White, Seattle Mariners
Because he hasn't played in the majors, we have a limited frame of reference with Evan White. But the Seattle Mariners must like his outlook for 2020, or they wouldn't have signed him to a $24 million deal in November.
White has hit only 32 homers in 230 minor league games, but his .296 career average hints at a solid hit tool. Per MLB.com, he's also regarded as a Gold Glove-caliber defender who even has good wheels. All told, he has the goods to at least be an adequate regular.
Nos. 25-21: Shaw, Hosmer, Murphy, Aguilar and Moreland
25. Travis Shaw, Toronto Blue Jays
In the two prior seasons, however, Shaw was a reliable star by way of an .844 OPS and 63 home runs. If he can stay healthy and reverse the strikeout spike that contributed to his struggles in 2019, he may prove to be a $4 million bargain for the Toronto Blue Jays.
24. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres signed Eric Hosmer to a $144 million contract in hopes of getting the best version of the four-time Gold Glover and one-time All-Star. They haven't, as he's mustered only 1.2 rWAR in two seasons.
Because his 2019 was disastrous on both offense and defense, there are few tangible reasons to have faith in Hosmer for 2020. But as long as he has a chip on his shoulder, he may yet force his way back to his glory days.
23. Daniel Murphy, Colorado Rockies
With his 35th birthday due April 1, Murphy is at a point that a return to form can't be taken for granted. But since he was an elite hitter in 2016 and 2017 and still above average (a .790 OPS) as recently as 2018, he may not be a lost cause.
22. Jesus Aguilar, Miami Marlins
In 2018, Jesus Aguilar was an All-Star who clubbed 35 long balls with an .890 OPS. In 2019, he slipped to a .714 OPS and 12 homers and got claimed off waivers before Milwaukee could non-tender him.
The true version of Aguilar is likely somewhere between his '18 and '19 selves. To wit, his good luck in the former season turned to bad luck in the latter. If he finds that middle ground, the Miami Marlins should get an .800-ish OPS with good power out of him in 2020.
21. Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
But while Moreland isn't a star, he's reliable. He should hit well against right-handers and play a solid first base for the Boston Red Sox this year. He'll leave his mark, even if few notice he's there.
Nos. 20-16: Belt, Thames, Choi, Smoak and Cron
20. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
Though Brandon Belt had good years here and there, he never had the big one. Now he's 31 and coming off what was arguably a career-worst season in 2019.
As evidenced by his solid 0.7 walk-to-strikeout ratio, however, Belt was still capable of having quality at-bats. And while he wasn't a hard-contact merchant, he deserved better results. Factor in his good defense, and he's still worth a darn.
19. Eric Thames, Washington Nationals
Though Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick will also see time at first base, the Washington Nationals will primarily use Eric Thames because of his capacity for hitting right-handed pitching.
The magnificently bearded Thames is more of a good hitter than a great one. But that'll be fine with the Nats so long as he makes like 2017 and 2019 and posts an OBP in the mid-.300s with good power. He's also made defensive strides over the last three years.
18. Ji-Man Choi, Tampa Bay Ray
Ji-Man Choi is slated to share time at first base with Jose Martinez for the Tampa Bay Rays. Given the severity of his platoon split, he'll likely hit exclusively against right-handers.
Choi balances walks and strikeouts well, and he's a low-key exit velocity specialist. It's not surprising that he underachieved even in putting up a solid .822 OPS and 19 homers in 2019. He's in for a nice season in 2020 if he collects on outstanding good luck.
17. Justin Smoak, Milwaukee Brewers
Albeit for just $5 million, the Brewers are taking a chance on Justin Smoak. After enjoying an All-Star breakout in 2017, he slumped to an .808 OPS in 2018 and then to a .748 OPS in 2019.
But given that he mixed 79 walks with 106 strikeouts while maintaining strong batted-ball metrics, there's something to the notion that he was criminally unlucky. Maybe Smoak won't be an All-Star again, but he could more than justify Milwaukee's gamble.
16. C.J. Cron, Detroit Tigers
Along came the Detroit Tigers with a $6.1 million deal, which could be a bargain if Cron hits into better luck than he did in 2019. He'll need to keep his strikeout rate down and his exit velocity up. While he's at it, the Tigers would presumably welcome more solid defense.
Nos. 15-11: Votto, Voit, Hoskins, Walker and Gurriel
15. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
This is probably the first time since Joey Votto became a full-time player in 2008 that he's not expected to be one of baseball's best first basemen.
He's 36 and coming off his first bad offensive season. That mainly points to how his power has vanished, as he's mustered only 27 homers since 2018. But at the least, he should earn his keep with an OBP in the mid- to high .300s and above-average defense.
14. Luke Voit, New York Yankees
Luke Voit was basically a nobody when he joined the New York Yankees in a July 2018 trade with the Cardinals. Since then, he's played in 157 games and put together a .280/.384/.517 slash line with 35 homers.
Voit survives on his batting eye and power, though the latter stands out more than the former. To wit, he's barreled balls at a higher rate than Ronald Acuna Jr. and Christian Yelich since 2018. Such things help make up for his defense, which is subpar.
13. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
Though Rhys Hoskins hasn't lived up to his explosive 2017 debut, he's been solid by way of an .834 OPS and 63 homers for the Philadelphia Phillies over the last two years.
Hoskins led the National League with 116 walks in 2019. And while he doesn't crush the ball, he excels at taking the easy way to power by pulling his fly balls and line drives. Per outs above average, he's also better than he gets credit for on defense.
12. Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Christian Walker faced a tall task in replacing Paul Goldschmidt for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019, yet he had a better season than Goldy did in St. Louis.
Even noting this much doesn't do Walker's '19 campaign proper justice. He potentially deserved better than an .825 OPS and 29 homers. Per outs above average, he was also a Gold Glove-caliber defender. As such, he may still have some breaking out to do.
11. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros
Yuli Gurriel was good in 2017 and 2018, but it wasn't until last year that he came close to greatness by posting an .884 OPS with 31 homers and 3.9 rWAR.
Gurriel has yet to strike out more than 65 times in a season, and last year's power spike was largely a function of his pulling more balls in the air. He also played like he was more comfortable at first base.
All this leaves little else to ask for.
Nos. 10-6: Abreu, Santana, Sano, Bell and Rizzo
10. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
He's been an All-Star both years, yet Jose Abreu wasn't quite his best self in posting an .818 OPS and 55 home runs across 2018 and 2019.
But if nothing else, Abreu's ability to drive the ball is alive and well. He ranked among the league leaders in exit velocity (92.1 mph) and hard-hit rate (48.2 percent) in 2019. More of that in 2020 will keep his offense afloat and maintain his place among baseball's best first basemen.
9. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Carlos Santana was coming off a down year when the Cleveland Indians picked him up in a Philadelphia salary dump last winter. He responded by going vintage with a .911 OPS and 34 long balls.
There might have been some good luck involved. Even still, Santana has long been a source of high OBPs and good power, which come by way of a keen eye and a preference for pulling his batted balls. He's also an adequate defender.
8. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
Miguel Sano played in only 105 games last year, but it still ended up being his best season for the Twins. He set new career highs with a .923 OPS, 34 homers and 3.0 rWAR.
Only Aaron Judge topped Sano's average exit velocity of 94.4 mph in 2019. Between that level of power and his solid eye for the zone, he doesn't even need to play good defense to pass as an elite first baseman. He just needs to stay healthy.
7. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Even though a second-half slump took the wind out of his sails, Josh Bell still made a star of himself with a .936 OPS and 37 homers in 2019.
In 2020, the Pittsburgh Pirates will hope for more than just one great half out of Bell. On that front, his eye for the zone and superior power—he averaged an elite 92.3 mph on his batted balls in 2019—are strong assurances. It's more so his defense that needs work.
6. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
After a down year in 2018, Anthony Rizzo bounced back with one of his better seasons in 2019. He set a new personal best with a .405 OBP and tacked on a .924 OPS and 27 homers.
Rizzo has been balancing walks and strikeouts with the best of 'em for three years, and he's been uncannily consistent with his exit velocity throughout the Statcast era. Between these things and his Gold Glove-winning defense, he's safely among the league's best first basemen.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
Alas, he let them down with a 2019 season that wasn't up to his typical MVP-caliber standards. His .821 OPS was his lowest since his rookie year in 2011, and his rWAR sank from 6.2 in 2018 to just 2.4.
According to outs above average, however, the 32-year-old at least remained one of baseball's best defensive first basemen in 2019. To boot, he finished on a strong offensive note. From the first half to the second half, both his OPS (.769 to .886) and xwOBA (.350 to .374) improved significantly.
The delayed start to the season won't help, but Goldschmidt will reclaim his place as a top-five first baseman if he gets back on that track.
4. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
For many years, Freddie Freeman has been at worst a reliable star and at best a full-blown superstar for the Atlanta Braves.
For instance, only he and Trout have done better than a 130 OPS+ in each of the last seven seasons. Freeman is also a a Gold Glove winner at first base.
So it went last season. The 30-year-old played in 158 games and hit .295/.389/.549 with a career-high 38 home runs and an elite xwOBA. And while his ultimate zone rating was in the red, his defensive runs saved and outs above average were in the black.
With credentials like these, Freeman is arguably the best first baseman in all of baseball. What gives us pause, however, is how the elbow injury that hindered him late in the 2019 season required surgery and started acting up again early in spring training.
3. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
Even in ranking Matt Olson this high, we're potentially underrating the Oakland Athletics star.
The 25-year-old is coming off a 2019 campaign that featured an .896 OPS and 36 home runs, and he won a Gold Glove. From where his peripherals ranked, he deserved every bit of that and possibly more:
- Exit velocity: 94th percentile
- Hard-hit rate: 98th percentile
- xwOBA: 93rd percentile
- Outs above average: 97th percentile
In February, Thomas Harrigan of MLB.com speculated on the likelihood that Olson might hit 50 home runs and win another Gold Glove in 2020.
Though the 50 homers almost certainly won't happen because of the delay, the general spirit of those notions still rings true.
2. Pete Alonso, New York Mets
The New York Mets threw service-time considerations out the window when they put Pete Alonso on their Opening Day roster last season. He rewarded them accordingly.
By the end of the year, Alonso had racked up a .941 OPS and a rookie-record 53 home runs. Taken in tandem with the 57 homers he hit to win the Home Run Derby, altogether he enjoyed one of the most homer-happy seasons in baseball history.
It's to the 25-year-old's credit, however, that he never had a bad month in 2019. Clearly, opposing pitchers should shudder at the thought of how dangerous he'll be now that he has some experience.
1. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
Max Muncy as the best first baseman in all of Major League Baseball? That might come off as an overly hot take.
But it's not. After all, the Los Angeles Dodgers star leads all first baseman with 9.8 rWAR since the start of the 2018 season. That comes down to how Muncy is an outstanding hitter who also happens to be both capable and versatile on defense.
Though he took a slight step back in 2019, he still owns a .927 OPS, 70 home runs and a top-10 xwOBA over the last two seasons. And while he figures to play primarily at first base in 2020, it's notable that he compiled at least two defensive runs saved at three infield positions last season.
In short, the 29-year-old has played like a superstar. He should be treated as such.