Top 10 First Basemen for 2020
Projecting the top first basemen for the upcoming season
WALTON, Ky. -- Over the past few weeks, Rob and I have embarked on the journey of ranking our top 10 players at each position on the podcast. I will be uploading a written version of my rankings along with my explanations for each ranking here on the website. Today we are looking at first basemen. If you missed the last article on catchers, you can check that here, and if you missed or want to relisten to our podcast on first basemen you can do that here.
To evaluate the players for my list, I looked at the standard stats like home runs and the AVG/OBP/SLG slash line, as well as some more advanced stats like Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) and Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). To evaluate defense I looked Statcast's Outs Above Average (OAA); if you want to learn more about that statistic and see the full leaderboard for first basemen, you can look here. Now, let's get into the top 10:
10. Joey Votto (36) - Cincinnati Reds
At 36 years old, Joey Votto is the oldest player on this list. Last season, he appeared in 142 games but had one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. Despite that, he still posted an above-average wOBA and wRC+ at .332 and 101 respectively. At times, Votto looked uncomfortable at the plate, showcased by an increase in his strikeout rate and a drop in his walk rate. However, I find it very hard to bet against Joey Votto. He is only two years removed from an MVP caliber season in 2017 and is arguably the best first basemen of this generation. Although the MVP days are most likely behind him, I still expect Votto to be a productive hitter at the plate moving forward. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was well below his career average, suggesting that he was unlucky at the plate last season. Votto will also have some of the offensive load taken off is plate as the Reds went out and made some big acquisitions this offseason, adding Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos. With the league considering expanding the DH into the NL, it would give Votto an opportunity to place all his focus on hitting and possibly prolong his career. All of those factors combined set Votto up to return to a closer version of what he has been in the past.
9. Luke Voit (29) - New York Yankees
Luke Voit has come into his own as a member of the New York Yankees. Voit's game revolves around one thing -- offense. In 118 games, Voit hit 21 HR, with a .360 wOBA and a 126 wRC+. Voit has been an offensive force and will most likely continue since he plays 81 games a season in Yankee Stadium. The one drawback to Voit is his defense. In 2019, Voit posted a -6 OAA, tying him for second-worst among all qualified first basemen. In an already loaded Yankees lineup, the offense heavily outweighs the defense and Voit will be an important part of the Yankees lineup in 2020.
8. Josh Bell (27) - Pittsburgh Pirates
It was a tale of two halves for the switch-hitting 27-year-old in 2019. Josh Bell came out on fire in the first half before cooling off in the second. The hot start was enough to carry Bell to a 2019 All-Star Game appearance. He hit .277/.367/.569 with 37 HR to go along with a .380 wOBA and a 135 wRC+. At 27, Bell is just beginning to reach his prime and has tons of room to improve. One of those areas he can improve on is defense, in 2019 he had a -5 OAA, placing him third to last in the league. The Pirates will hope that 2020 can be the year where Bell reaches his full potential and carries elite-level production throughout the whole season.
7. Carlos Santana (34) - Cleveland Indians
Carlos Santana has quietly found himself having a stellar career. In his age 33 season, Santana hit .281/.397/.515 with 34 HR, leading him to an All-Star Game, a Silver Slugger, and 16th place finish in the NL MVP voting. A lot of Santana's success stems from his plate skills; he consistently finishes around the .400 mark in OBP. The Indians hope Santana can carry his offensive production forward as he reaches his mid-30s, slating to be a big part of the Indians lineup in 2020.
6. Paul Goldschmidt (32) - St. Louis Cardinals
Paul Goldschmidt was a bit disappointing for the Cardinals during the 2019 season. After being acquired from the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals had high expectations for the six-time All-Star. Goldschmidt underperformed those expectations but still managed to put together a good season, but, he missed his first All-Star game since 2012. He hit .260/.346/.476 with 34 HR and accumulated 2.9 fWAR. One place Goldschmidt excelled was on the defensive side of the ball where he put up an OAA of 5, placing him third amongst qualified first basemen. Despite the offensive struggles in 2019, Paul Goldschmidt is primed to return to his past ways. His BABIP was 46 points below his career average which points to an increased production level in the future. He also has a track record that points to 2019 being a fluke season. Over the course of his career, Goldschmidt has made six All-Star appearances and placed in the top 20 of MVP voting for the last five seasons. All signs point to Goldschmidt returning to All-Star form in 2020.
5. Anthony Rizzo (30) - Chicago Cubs
2016 World Series Champion Anthony Rizzo put up a great offensive season in 2019. The three-time All-Star hit .293/.405/.520 with a .390 wOBA and a 141 wRC+ . Defensively, Rizzo put up -3 OAA, but over the course of his career, he has won three Gold Gloves, including one Platinum Glove -- an award given to the best defender in each league. Through his age 29 season, Rizzo has placed within the top 17 in MVP voting five times, three of which were in the top 10. The Cubs will hope that Rizzo can continue to carry his offensive production forward in a more competitive NL Central, and chances are he will be doing just that.
4. Pete Alonso (25) - New York Mets
Pete Alonso took the baseball world by storm in 2019 by slugging 53 HR, paving his way to winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. Alonso was crowned the home run champion on two fronts; he not only won the Home Run Derby but also led the league in home runs. He slashed .260/.358/.583 with a .384 wOBA and 143 wRC+. There are two areas in which Alonso struggled in 2019, which were strikeouts and defense. Alonso struck out 183 times, at a rate of 26.4%. If Alonso can find a way to cut down his K% then he can take his already elite hitting to the next level. On the defensive side, Pete was last in OAA among first basemen at -7. The good news for Alonso and the Mets is that this was Alonso's rookie season. He has tons of time to grow as a player, therefore, don't be surprised if he continues to move up this list over the next few seasons.
3. Max Muncy (29) - Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers discovered a diamond in the rough when they acquired Max Muncy. After struggling in 2015 and 2016 for the Oakland Athletics, Max Muncy was let go. Muncy took 2017 to reshape his approach at the plate and it has paid off big time. Muncy's Hard Hit% jumped from 29.2% in 2016 to 47.4% in 2018. Muncy adds some extra value defensively as well because of his versatility, spending time at first, second, and third base. In 2019, he hit .251/.374/.515 with 35 HR on the way to his first All-Star appearance and finished 15th in NL MVP voting each of the last two seasons. Muncy will be a huge contributor for a loaded Dodgers lineup for years to come.
2. Freddie Freeman (30) - Atlanta Braves
A familiar face at the top of the first baseman rankings, Freddie Freeman had an outstanding 2019 season. He hit .295/.389/.549 with 38 HR, a career-high, and accumulated 4 fWAR in 158 games all while having a BABIP 22 points below his career average. In 2018, Freeman was an All-Star and finished 4th in the NL MVP voting. In 2019, he followed it up with another All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger, and an 8th place finish in the MVP voting. During the offseason, Freeman had surgery on his elbow -- allowing him to play pain-free for the first time in his career -- meaning we may not have seen the best version of Freeman.
1. Matt Olson (26) - Oakland Athletics
2019 was a breakout year for Matt Olson. In 127 games, he hit .267/.351/.545 with 36 HR, a .368 wOBA, a 134 wRC+, and 3.9 fWAR. Olson, 26, is already putting up All-Star level offense, but where he separates himself is on the defensive side of the ball. Matt won Gold Gloves in both 2018 and 2019 and put up 12 OAA in 2019. Not only was he first in OAA for first basemen, but he was also 8th in OAA for infielders and 12th in the entire league. His rookie season, 2017, he finished 4th for AL Rookie of the Year voting, and in 2019, he placed 21st in the AL MVP voting. One of the main reasons Olson is able to take large steps forward year after year is from his ability to hit the ball hard. His Hard Hit% has steadily increased each season and reached 50.3% in 2019. If Matt Olson can carry his offensive production over a full 162-game season -- along with his stellar defense -- then we could be looking at a future MVP and star who is just beginning to enter his prime.