Analysis

Diamond Digest Top 10 Right Now: First Basemen

For decades, baseball fans have been debating who’s the best. Mantle vs. Mays. Williams vs. DiMaggio. Bull Durham vs. Major League. Here at Diamond Digest, we took up the same challenge as MLB Network of naming the best players at each position right now. These rankings encompass the views of all of the Diamond Digest writers combined, and we hope they’ll spark debate.

Diamond Digest RankingsMLB Network’s The Shredder Rankings
Freddie Freeman, ATLFreddie Freeman, ATL
Matt Olson, OAKPaul Goldschmidt, STL
Paul Goldschmidt, STLLuke Voit, NYY
Max Muncy, LADJosé Abreu, CWS
Anthony Rizzo, CHCMax Muncy, LAD
José Abreu, CWSAnthony Rizzo, CHC
Luke Voit, NYYPete Alonso, NYM
Pete Alonso, NYMMatt Olson, OAK
Carlos Santana, KCRhys Hoskins, PHI
Brandon Belt, SFCarlos Santana, KC
Also receiving votes: Eric Hosmer (SD), Rhys Hoskins (PHI), Joey Votto (CIN), Evan White (SEA), Ji-Man Choi (TB), Josh Bell (WSH)

#10 Brandon Belt, SF

Highest Ranking: 3

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 207 G | .250/.358/.444 | 115 wRC+ | 7 DRS | 2.2 fWAR

Brandon Belt has been an underrated first baseman for years now. His ability to stay healthy in 2020 is what finally got the attention of people outside of San Francisco. He can hit the ball a mile and if he has a fantastic eye, look for him to push for an All-Star appearance this season. – DIEGO FRANCO-CARRENO

#9 Carlos Santana, KC

Highest Ranking: 7

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 218 G | .259/.384/.471 | 125 wRC+ | 5 DRS | 4.9 fWAR

Santana remains in our top 10 at the lower end even after a mediocre 2020 season, thanks largely in part to being among baseball’s best in plate discipline. Among all players with at least 3,000 PA (roughly five full seasons) since the turn of the century, Santana has the seventh-best walk rate at 15.5%. While he doesn’t get base hits at a high rate, he supplements his plate discipline with a fair share of power, which has all resulted in a career wRC+ of 121 and plenty of reason to believe in him moving into his age-35 season, where he will look to diversify the Royals lineup in his first year with the team. – RYAN RUHDE

#8 Pete Alonso, NYM

Wendell Cruz Jr. / USA Today

Highest Ranking: 6

Lowest Ranking: 10

2019-20 Stats: 218 G | .252/.350/.559 | 136 wRC+ | -7 DRS | 5.1 fWAR

An incredible 2019 debut set high expectations for the 2020 season, but Pete Alonso did not quite repeat his 2019 numbers. He still had a 118 wRC+ and a .322 xwOBA in 2020, but his overall production at the plate fell. Being 18% above the league average is still impressive, but for a first baseman that provides nothing defensively, it raises questions about how valuable the player really is. He got on base less in 2020, barreled the ball less, and had a .063 drop in ISO. It would be a stretch to put him above Luke Voit and the other players ahead of him, but Alonso’s production keeps him firmly in the top 10. He will be counted on in the middle of what should be an entertaining Mets lineup, so it will be interesting to see what kind of player he settles into. – GRANT CARVER

#7 Luke Voit, NYY

Highest Ranking: 3

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 174 G | .268/.366/.512 | 134 wRC+ | -15 DRS | 3.4 fWAR

After coming to the Yankees in an under-the-radar 2018 trade deadline move, Voit has been an unexpected source of production. As a Yankee, Voit has put up a .279/.372/.543 split with 57 home runs in 213 games. Voit’s 144 wRC+ since the 2018 trade deadline ranks 13th in the league among qualified hitters during that time and second to only Freddie Freeman (145) for first basemen. Voit has been everything the Yankees have asked for and more, despite struggling to get going on the defensive side of the ball. Last season was Voit’s coming-out party to the rest of the baseball world, as he led the league in homers in the shortened season with 22. This increase in power saw a dip in Voit’s fantastic plate discipline – which was in the top 6% of the league in 2019 – as his walk rate dropped from 13.9% to 7.3%. This can be attributed to a 5% increase in Voit’s swing rate, understandably increasing his swing % on pitches both in and out of the zone. However, if he’s putting up the power numbers he did last year, the Yankees will be more than happy to trade the 40-point dip in OBP for the 146-point increase in slugging. If Voit can continue on his power tear, he’ll remain near the top of this list. – ADAM KOPLIK

#6 José Abreu, CWS

Highest Ranking: 2

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 219 G | .293/.341/.534 | 130 wRC+ | -3 DRS | 4.4 fWAR

Since entering the league in 2014, Jose Abreu has been one of the most consistent hitters on the Chicago White Sox. Abreu has hit 198 home runs so far in his seven-year career, where he has hit at least 20 or more home runs in all but one of those years. That season was the 60-game season in 2020, where he hit 19 home runs and was the AL MVP. Abreu has shined in the middle of the White Sox lineup as he has a career OPS of .870 and has played at the top of his game offensively every season. Abreu gets some knocks as he doesn’t walk a lot and is on the weaker side defensively. However, in 2020 he was in the top 18% for Outs Above Average, which is a huge improvement compared to previous years. Abreu ranked in the top 5% for Exit Velocity and xSLG% in 2020. He also finished in the 90th-percentile range for hard-hit% (96%), xwOBA (93%), xBA (94%) and barrel% (91%). Abreu also plays a key leadership role in the White Sox clubhouse as he is one of the team’s longest-tenured players. Overall, Jose Abreu is a great offensive first baseman, with flaws defensively, but there is no denying that he is a top 10 first baseman in the game of baseball.THATCHER ZALEWSKI

#5 Anthony Rizzo, CHC

Associated Press

Highest Ranking: 2

Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked

2019-20 Stats: 204 G | .273/.387/.490 | 131 wRC+ | 5 DRS | 5.1 fWAR

While Rizzo’s offensive output took a dip in 2020, he is still every bit the great hitter that has been at the heart of the Cubs offense for years. Rizzo sports a career wRC+ of 131 and posted a mark of 142 in 2019, the last full season sample available. While Rizzo hit the ball noticeably less hard in 2020, he also struggled at the hands of a .218 BABIP that’s a full 70 points below his career average. All indications are that he will bounce back nicely in 2021: Rizzo’s plate discipline is still excellent, he’s still capable of hitting the ball as hard as he has throughout his career, and he remains one of the best first basemen in baseball as a result.- RYAN RUHDE

#4 Max Muncy, LAD

Highest Ranking: 2

Lowest Ranking: 9

2019-20 Stats: 199 G | .233/.361/.478 | 124 wRC+ | 11 DRS (0 DRS at 1B) | 5.2 fWAR

Although Muncy just suffered through a disheartening 2020 on an individual level, the underlying stats say he’s still the same breakout slugger of the past two years. His walk rate has sustained above the 90th percentile, and his barrel rate was elite, ranking in the 81st percentile. Now for the scaries. His xwOBA dropped nearly 40 points from .390 to .352, and his average exit velocity dropped by almost 1.5 mph. He was still able to swat 12 homers and seemed rejuvenated at the plate in the postseason, so I’d bet on Muncy to recapture his status as a top 3 first baseman. – BRIAN SCHLOSSER

#3 Paul Goldschmidt, STL

Highest Ranking: 2

Lowest Ranking: 7

2019-20 Stats: 219 G | .270/.364/.473 | 123 wRC+ | 1 DRS |5.1 fWAR

After a blockbuster trade sent Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona to St. Louis in 2019, Goldy had himself a bit of a “down” year, which for the perennial star meant only posting a measly 2.9 WAR, a .260/.346/.476 line, and putting up a “disappointing” 116 wRC+. 2020 saw Pauly G. return to offensive form, mashing his way through the 60-game stretch and concluding his season with a .304/.417/.466 line, 2.1 WAR, and a 146 wRC+. Entering his age thirty-three season, all signs point to Goldschmidt having another spectacular season on both sides of the game, and with his extraordinary durability, the Redbirds can count on him to anchor the right side of their infield for the entire 162. Over the last decade, Goldschmidt has been a top-three offensive (by pretty much every metric that measures that) and a top-five defensive (per DRS, UZR, Def) first baseman, marrying consistent performance with a humble attitude and noted work ethic. Considering that proven record, combined with his recent success, it’s not a mystery how Paul Goldschmidt has solidified himself as Major League Baseball’s third-best first baseman. – ETHAN DEIMEKE

#2 Matt Olson, OAK

Highest Ranking: 1

Lowest Ranking: 8

2019-20 Stats: 187 G | .245/.338/.508 | 125 wRC+ | 23 DRS | 4.7 fWAR

Matt Olson does it all. Since 2017, Olson leads all first basemen in DRS (40), UZR (21.4), and OAA (20) by significant margins. He is also ninth among qualified first basemen in wRC+, with a mark of 128. Even a rough 2020 campaign where Olson had just a 103 wRC+ showed improvement. His BB/K was actually higher than his 2019 season, while his K% was comparable to his career K% through the first two months of the season. Don’t let the abbreviated 2020 season fool you. Olson is still one of the top first basemen in baseball. – CALLIE TSAI

#1 Freddie Freeman, ATL

Jamie Squire|Getty Images

Highest Ranking: 1

Lowest Ranking: 2

2019-20 Stats: 218 G | .307/.409/.573 | 151 wRC+ | 1 DRS | 7.3 fWAR

Freddie Freeman had a strong case for the title of baseball’s best first baseman well before 2020. After an MVP performance, albeit in an abbreviated season, Freeman is firmly entrenched at the top spot. For a decade now, Atlanta’s franchise cornerstone has been consistently great but had never quite broken into the elite tier until he found another gear last season. Though it’s improbable that the friendly slugger will repeat his MVP season and 187 wRC+ (he is not, in fact, Mike Trout), there is at least some reason to believe that his career year was not entirely a fluke or a well-timed 60-game hot streak. Freeman had elbow surgery following the 2019 season and was reportedly pain-free for the first time in nine years, which must be a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. We’ll find out soon enough if his surgically-repaired elbow has raised his ceiling in the long-term, but for now, he is undeniably baseball’s top first baseman. – HOLDEN PHILLIPS


Stay tuned for the rest of our rankings! Up next: Second Basemen.


Featured Photo: Izzy Rendell

Adam Koplik

Rudy said my bio was too long. Yankees writer, Brooks Kriske advocate, fluent in nerd. Follow me @adamkoplik on Twitter.

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