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The Determinator: First Basemen: #1-5 + Honorable Mentions

Before every season, baseball minds across the sport test their skills with crunching numbers, diving deep into analytics, and reviewing game footage in order to determine who the best players are in the game. Often times they give their analysis fun names; one of the most notable being The Shredder from MLB Network.

Sometimes the results astound people- like in 2015 Hanely Ramirez was rated the top Left Fielder in the MLB before ever playing there. Other times, the results are unsurprising- spoiler alert, but Mike Trout was probably the best CF in baseball, and most likely will be again.

Starting today, and every weekday at 4:00 PM throughout the next few weeks, I will be posting my own analysis on who the top players at each position truly are.

Welcome to The Determinator.

Today I will reveal the Top-5 First Basemen in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow, will be the #6-10 Second Basemen in the MLB.

 

The Determinator: My General Methodology

The Determinator is a ranking system that is built upon the analyzation of 16 carefully chosen stats through a very simplistic system of comparisons. Some of these stats are more classical (Games Played, Home Runs, etc.), others are more advanced (wRC+, WAR, etc.). From this come 7 offensive stats, 4 defensive, 2 baserunning, and 3 general stats, set to contribute towards the importance of each part of the game.

The Offensive stats are: AVG/OBP/SLG, wRC, wRC+, HR, and Off (Fangraphs)

The Defensive stats are: Fielding, DRS, UZR (or Framing for Catchers), and Def (Fangraphs)

The Baserunning stats are: Stolen Bases and BsR (Fangraphs)

The Overall stats are: Games Played, Innings at Position, and fWAR (Fangraphs)

After determining this list of statistics, I then had to input each into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I sorted how each player did in each statistic from best-to-worst. If you were top 5 in a category, you got ranked as a ‘Green’. Top 6-10 was a ‘Yellow’. And, Top 11-15 was labelled as a ‘Red’. The number of each ranking was counted- so it was possible to come out with a score of zero- and given values of 5, 3, and 1 respectively.

Key Note: If player/s across a statistic had the same numbers across a border- for example the 5th and 6th players with the most Home Runs- then they would both be counted as the better ranking- in this case both ‘Green’ or 5 points- and replace one spot from the following ranking- in this case a ‘Yellow’ or 3 points. This could also stretch some statistics to include more ‘Red’ players who had equal stats to the 15th best.

Additionally, if no stats were recorded in a counting statistic that could fit into a ranking- as is seen with Catchers and Stolen Bases- then no ranking is given to those players. This would greatly increase the number of points given out, and lessen the value of each point. This is not true for advanced metrics that can produce negative values- as is seen with Catchers and BsR.

The results were then tallied, sorted from greatest to least, and a ranking was created.

Finally, player age, 2020 salary, and contract status, were all not considered in this experiment. This is entirely statistic-based.

 

The Determinator: First Base-Specific Information

To easily work through and cut-down the list of 197 different players who played any amount of time at first base during the season, I set-up two separate boundaries for first basemen:

They must’ve had at least 250 PA’s during the 2019 season.

They must’ve had at least 500 innings at first base during the 2019 season.

This limited the number of first basemen down to 29.

However, without further ado, let’s get to the Top-5:

If a player led a statistic for their position, it will be bolded.

 

Number 5 (Tied): Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals

Top-5: Games, HR, BsR, Fld, Innings, DRS, UZR

Top-10: SB, wRC, Off, WAR

Top-15: AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC+

Total Score: 51Embed from Getty Images

Along with Christian Walker (#8) from yesterday, on today’s list three of the Top-5 first basemen recorded a Top-15 finish in all but one statistical category, including Paul Goldschimdt, who failed to be Top-15 via fangraphs’ Def value. Goldschimdt, since 2012 has averaged about 4.8 fWAR (5.3 bWAR) per season and truly set himself apart from other 1B during his time with the Diamondbacks, but did falter in his first season with the Cardinals only recording 2.9 fWAR (and 2.8 bWAR). Even with that, Goldschimdt has played 145+ games each year since 2012, except for an injury-shortened 2014 campaign, which has gone and goes a long way in helping him maintain his ranking as a Top 1B. That, and his extremely versatile game with above-average offensive numbers (Off of 17.3), great defensive numbers (DRS of 4, UZR of 2.5), and great base-running numbers (BsR of 3.2).

 

Number 4: Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics

Top-5: SLG, HR, WAR, Fld, DRS, UZR, Def

Top-10: AVG, OBP, wRC, wRC+, BsR, Off

Top-15: Innings

Total Score: 54Embed from Getty Images

Matt Olson is one of the best fielding 1B- if not the best- in the MLB today, as shown by his 1B-leading Fld (6.6), DRS (13), and UZR (6.6). To put it into perspective, Olson nearly doubled the next-closest 1B in each of those stats, with 2nd-place recording a 3.7 Fld (Rizzo), 7 DRS (Votto), and 3.7 UZR (Rizzo). However, premier defense alone would not grant a Top-10 finish at 1B according to The Determinator, and Olson’s bat is also extremely good, showing top numbers in SLG (0.545) and HR’s (36), as well as AVG (0.267), OBP (0.351), and wRC+ (134). He only played in 127 games in 2019, but even so proved quite obviously to be Top-5 at 1B.

 

Number 2 (Tied): Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

Top-5: AVG, OBP, HR, wRC, wRC+, BsR, Off, WAR

Top-10: Games, SLG, SB, Fld, Innings, UZR

Top-15: Def

Total Score: 59Embed from Getty Images

In his 2019/2020 offseason series, “If I Were the GM”, our Editor-in-Chief Paul Semendinger mentioned about how there is a player that would prove to be a big upgrade at 1B for the Yankees if they could swing a deal. That series was made long before The Determinator, and it’s interesting to see that that player, Carlos Santana, ranked so high. As mentioned in the article, Santana is a fantastic hitter- averaging over 100 walks a season, 25 HR’s, etc.- and would fare well as a Yankee. However, what was failed to be mentioned was his health, averaging 154 games per season since 2011 and his solid defensive values, with a Top-15 finish at all but DRS. Like Goldschmidt, Santana is an great all-around player, with DRS being his only metric from The Determinator that didn’t rank Top-15 or better.

 

Number 2 (Tied): Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

Top-5: AVG, OBP, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Fld, UZR

Top-10: SLG, Innings, DRS, Def

Top-15: Games, HR

Total Score: 59Embed from Getty Images

These final top two names shouldn’t surprise anybody with who ranks amongst the best current 1B in the MLB. Anthony Rizzo is the final 1B of four- including Walker, Goldschimdt, Santana- to have placed Top-15 or better in all but one metric from The Determinator, missing out on BsR (-5.4). However, it comes as no surprise that Rizzo is near the top of all 1B for most offensive and defensive metrics. He has been a tremendous hitter at the plate during his career, and still has a few years left before his traditional peak (age 26-32) is over. He led all 1B in OBP (.405), along Top-5 finished amongst AVG (.293), wRC+ (141), Off (28.2), and fWAR (4.0). His defense is also tremendous, finishing only behind Matt Olson in both Fld and UZR (both 3.7).

 

Number 1: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Innings, DRS

Top-10: Games, BsR

Top-15: N/A

Total Score: 61Embed from Getty Images

And our #1 first baseman comes with the Braves Freddie Freeman, who funny enough is a worse fielder than most, if not all of, the other Top-5 players on this list, but is just that consistently great as as hitter. Even though he only ranked highest amongst 1B at wRC (127), his triple-slash (.295/.389/.549) is excellent, and his advanced metrics of Off (34.9), fWAR (4.0), and wRC+ (138) all show how great of a hitter he is. His defense is under question from the advanced metrics, only placing above average in DRS (5), but personally I believe he is a better defender than the metrics show. His base-running is above-average BsR of -0.1 with 6 SB on the year, which is solid for a first baseman as well.

 

Honorable Mentions:

As with the Catchers #1-5 list from two days ago, I’m sure many Yankees fans are wondering, “Where is Luke Voit ranked from The Determinator?” However, before we get to that, let’s send out some honorable mentions.

Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox – Scored 26 Points, Ranked #11

Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers – 1B Leader in Def, Scored 19 Points, Ranked #13 (4-Way Tie with Garrett Cooper, Brandon Belt, and…)

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds – Scored 19 Points, Ranked #13 (same 4-Way Tie as above)

Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres – Scored 15 Points, Ranked #19 (2-Way Tie)

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles – Scored 8 Points, Ranked #24 (2-Way Tie with Mitch Moreland)

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels – Scored 4 Points, Ranked #27

…but how many points and where did Luke Voit get? (If you look carefully, you should be able to tell already)

 

What about Luke Voit?

Like Voit ended up scoring 15 points given the scoring system of The Determinator, ranking with Eric Hosmer at a tie for 19th place overall.

Unlike with Gary Sanchez, this is a much more expected ranking- albeit still a bit lower than I personally expected before running this analysis- for Luke Voit. And for good reason. Because The Determinator values staying on the field and consistent play, Voit’s injuries and big slump after coming back sent him way down the rankings as his statistics fell.

Coming up with a way to easily bridge the 18 point gap towards a tie at 10th with Rhys Hoskins (33 points) is a thought experiment that could go any number of ways, and truthfully has no clear path. However,

If Voit stayed consistent through the season to how he was performing before the London Series- or when he suffered his first injury- he would’ve hit to a .280/.393/.509 triple-slash, which would’ve ranked 7th best, 3rd best, and 8th best respectively. This alone would’ve bumped his total points up to 19 points, or in a tie for 13th place overall, a much more expected positioning for him.

However, his injuries and slump afterwards unfortunately made his season look much worse than it actually was. With a healthy and productive 2020 campaign, and some improvements to defense, I could very well see him teetering on the edge of making the Top-10 next season.

 

Reminder:

The Determinator is a way I used to determine the best players at each position. Like any metric or formula, I am sure it has flaws. No statistical compilation is perfect. That being said, The Determinator, seems pretty effective at assigning player values. I’m pleased with what I have found using this method and hope this is a conversation starter for many.

Click here to see the #1-5 Catchers (+ Honorable Mentions), and here for the #6-10 Catchers.

Click here to see the #6-10 First Basemen.

Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #6-10 Second Basemen in the MLB.

#TheDeterminator

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