The Determinator: First Basemen: #6-10
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 #6-10 First Basemen in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow, will be the #1-5 First 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 Bottom-5 (of the Top-10):
If a player led a statistic for their position, it will be bolded.
Number 10: Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
Top-5: Games, Innings, UZR
Top-10: OBP, HR, wRC, WAR, Fld
Top-15: SB, wRC+, Off
Total Score: 33Embed from Getty Images
Rhys Hoskins broke into the MLB in 2017 with a fantastic 50 games as he recorded 2.2 fWAR and an OPS+ of 162. Two seasons later, playing 160 games he also recorded 2.2 fWAR with a far decreased OPS+ of 110. Still, nothing to sneeze at, but still far from what the original hype that surrounded his career. Hoskins was about a league average offensive first baseman in 2019 with an Off of 9.2, and combined with his ability to stay on the field gives his status a great boost, playing in 160 games and playing an MLB best with 1398.1 innings at 1B. He has averaged 156 games per season over the past two years, and has played in in 96.8% of all Phillies games since his debut on August 10th, 2017. All told, even though he is an average offensive, defensive, and base-running first baseman, his health pushes him into the Top-10.
Number 9: Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros
Top-5: AVG, SLG, SB
Top-10: HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-15: Games, Innings, UZR
Total Score: 36Embed from Getty Images
In 2019, Yuli Gurriel had his best season in the MLB, due in large part to his 31 Home Runs, far more than his previous best from 2017 (18). This may have been due to a juiced baseball, as HR numbers across the sport increased, but in an effort to sell out on one of the “Three True Outcomes”, Gurriel didn’t see his other offensive numbers fall- as is the case with many other players. He kept his consistently great batting average near .300, hitting to a MLB best amongst first basemen at .298. He also recording a career high OBP (.343) and SLG (.541), boosting his Off to 22.2. That being said, he was also an above-average 1B defender with a Def of -6.8, which doesn’t look good but is decent compared to the MLB best 1B recording a value of -2. He could fall out of the Top 10 going into 2020 as he reaches his age 36 season and the end of his traditional peak years, but showed great improvements from previous years.
Number 8: Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Top-5: SB, BsR, DRS
Top-10: Games, HR, WAR, Fld, Innings, UZR
Top-15: OBP, SLG, wRC, wRC+, Def
Total Score: 39Embed from Getty Images
Christian Walker, in his limited time in the MLB since 2014- a combined 61 games- seemed to be looking like a Quad-A player before being selected off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017. After two seasons predominantly in the PCL in 2017 and 2018, Walker may now be the most versatile 1B in the MLB, as he scored a Top-15 ranking in every single statistic except Batting Average…where he missed a tie for 15th place by 0.001 (0.260 vs. 0.259). Even though he isn’t a superstar at any one metric of the game across 1B- Off (12), Def (-8.1), BsR (2.6)- his ability to be above average in almost any metric does showcase his skills. If he can improve on his offense and stay consistent elsewhere in his game, Walker could be a surprise Top-5 1B in 2020.
Number 7: Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Top-5: OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off
Top-10: AVG, WAR, Innings
Total Score: 40Embed from Getty Images
Unlike Christian Walker (above), Josh Bell made his Top-10 finish almost entirely because of his greatness as a hitter, even if he failed to top any offensive statistic amongst MLB 1B. His OPS+ was the 11th highest in the MLB amongst all players who qualified for a batting title, and his Off of 23.6 was 5th amongst 1B. Combine that with Top-5 finishes in OBP (.367), SLG (.569), HR (37), wRC (108), and wRC+ (135) and it becomes obvious why his offensive skills place him amongst the current top crop of 1B in baseball. Even with very poor defense and base-running metrics across the board, #7 overall is a solid place for Bell going into 2020.
Number 5 (Tied): Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Top-5: Games, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Innings
Top-10: OBP, Fld
Top-15: AVG, SB
Total Score: 51Embed from Getty Images
Because The Determinator looks to evaluate a players overall skill, Pete Alonso fails to make the Top-5 as he was almost entirely a hitting machine. This made him lose the tie to the other player ranked 5th (which will be revealed tomorrow) because he ranked Top-15 in fewer statistics. That being said, I also think outside of The Determinator, that after one season it is hard to place Alonso amongst other 1B who have better all around games and have done so for many seasons. Looking at it however, it is crazy what Pete accomplished in 2019, leading all of the MLB with HR’s (53), and all 1B in Games (161), SLG (.583), wRC+ (143), Off (37), and fWAR (4.8). Even with an expected drop in offense in 2020, if Alonso can maintain an above-average offensive output around minor improvements to base-running and defense, he could make a serious case for easily making the Top-5 next year.
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.
Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #1-5 First Basemen (+ Honorable Mentions) in the MLB.