We continue the 2019 Pitcher List rankings with first base, the deepest position in baseball for the 110th year running. How deep is first base this year? First base is so deep you might mistake it for a graduate philosophy student. It’s so deep that Chicagoans want to put tomato sauce on it and call it a pizza. First base is so deep this year that a blobfish could live comfortably in its depths. In fact, one already does (burned ya, Trey Mancini).
We’ve separated this year’s first base rankings into fairly distinct tiers, which I have thematically named after each member of The Beatles, and ranked accordingly based on personal preference. Why? Because fantasy rankings aren’t nearly controversial enough as it is, and I’d like you to angrily disagree with us on as many levels as possible.
A few notes before we jump in. These rankings are for standard category formats that use AVG, R, RBI, SB and HR. These rankings were determined by consensus during a rankings roundtable with several Pitcher List staff members. The “*” indicates a player who is not currently first base-eligible, but likely will be soon after the season starts. The “y” indicates a position that the player is only eligible at in standard Yahoo leagues. That having been said, let’s jump in.
Tier 1: Paul McCartney
The names found in this tier are some of the game’s best offensive talents and can easily serve as the frontmen of your offense.
1. Paul Goldschmidt (1B, St. Louis Cardinals) – He scared us all for a bit there last season–he had as many stolen bases as Zack Greinke heading into July. Yes, that Zack Greinke. Yes, really. But despite the step back he took in the stolen base department, he was vintage Goldschmidt in 2018; the 145 wRC+ he posted was nearly identical to his career wRC+ of 144. Entering his age-31 season, it’s probably safe to say his days of stealing 20 bases is over. And the move to St. Louis probably won’t do him any favors offensively–Busch Stadium rated well below Chase Field by park factor in 2018, and the Cardinals haven’t historically run as much as the Diamondbacks. He will, however, be surrounded by a stronger lineup and have Matt Carpenter getting on base ahead of him, and he’s one of the only first basemen who can realistically flirt with upwards of 50 HR+SB in a given season. So draft him with confidence.
2. Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves) – After a wrist injury robbed him of what was looking like a truly special season in 2017, most fantasy owners were excited to see what Freeman could do if he stayed healthy in 2018. He didn’t disappoint, appearing in all 162 games and posting an excellent 137 wRC+. The 23 homers were surely a bit of a letdown, and he’s now failed to eclipse 25 homers in six of his eight seasons, but he did steal a career-high 10 bases last year, and the elite zone recognition and contact ability paired with his penchant for hard contact and line drives gives him an incredibly high floor. He’ll give your offense a boost across the board, and may still have another gear he can shift into heading into his age-29 season.
3. Anthony Rizzo (1B, Chicago Cubs) – Rizzo really salvaged what was shaping up to be a disappointing season in the second half of last year, batting .329 with a 157 wRC+ after the All-Star break. He still struggles against lefties and posted just a .302 wOBA against them in 2018, but the 12% strikeout rate was elite, and gives him a safe floor despite his historical lack of hard contact. The Steamer projection of a .281/.385/.511 slash with 29 homers and 7 steals seems fair, and keeps him comfortably within the top tier of first basemen.
Tier 2: George Harrison
Well-rounded and dependable, these are guys have star upside with minor warts that hold them back from being truly elite.
4. Rhys Hoskins* (1B (y)/OF, Philadelphia Phillies) – Having a fly-ball-heavy approach at the plate is never a bad thing when you play half your games in Citizens Bank Park. But Hoskins took it to another level last year, lifting 51.7% of his batted balls into the air. Going forward, he’ll have to either lower the 22.4 degree average launch angle he posted last year or improve on the middling 34.5% hard contact rate. Otherwise, all those fly balls are going to continue to drain his batting average. That said, his plate approach and contact ability are already advanced, as evidenced by his excellent 22.8% chase rate and 7.9% whiff rate in 2018. This is a guy who could be a launch angle tweak away from hitting 40 homers with an average in the .275 range and a smattering of stolen bases for good measure.
5. Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Bellinger’s weakness against pitches on the inner half of the plate, which was exploited to perfection in the 2017 playoffs, reared its ugly head again in 2018. Lefties used it to eat him up last year, as Bellinger mustered just an 88 wRC+ against them on the season. Still, compiling 25 homers and 14 steals with a .260 average in your age-22 season is nothing to sneeze at, and you have to factor some maturation and skills growth into the equation going forward. He won’t give you much better than a league-average batting average, but his HR+SB ceiling is nearly unparalleled among first basemen.
6. Matt Carpenter (1B/2B(y)/3B, St. Louis Cardinals) – This ranking was probably the most contested among the Pitcher List staff, with some believing he belonged as high as fourth on the list. That’s certainly justifiable, considering he was hands-down the hottest hitter in baseball from May to July of last season. In the 331 plate appearances he accumulated during that span, he posted a .314 average with 24 homers, 27 doubles and an otherworldly 184 wRC+. The argument over how to rank him boils down to this: how repeatable do you think 2018 is? During the rankings roundtable, Ben Palmer argued that Carpenter changed his approach last year, and that as a result you can’t weigh his production pre-2018 as heavily as you might otherwise when projecting what he’ll do in 2019. I personally disagree: I’m less likely to buy into wholesale changes from a 33-year-old who hasn’t hit above .272 since 2013 and had a previous career-high of 28 homers. How you feel about this ranking will likely depend upon which camp you fall into, but regardless of your perspective, there’s no denying Carpenter is a top-tier bat.
Tier 3: John Lennon
Each of the players in this tier has the potential to put together a truly special season, but serious question marks in terms of age, playing time, consistency and/or health mean there’s plenty of risk baked in.
7. Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds) – Votto has the potential to be an absolute steal in drafts this year. A down season in 2018 paired with the fact that he’s 35 years old means many are shying away from taking him too early in drafts, fearing this is the beginning of the end. The thing is, his peripherals last season were some of the best he’s ever posted. He set career-highs with his hard contact and line drive rates and he posted the second-best whiff and contact rates of his career. What stands out the most was his 9.5% HR/FB, which was a career-low and nearly half his career-rate of 18.3%. This would at least partially explain the disappointing 12 homers he hit last year. The Reds lineup is looking much-improved this season, and with a little more luck on his fly balls, it’s not a stretch to imagine another classic Votto season on the horizon.
8. Jose Abreu (1B, Chicago White Sox) – Abreu was the model of consistency in his first four years in the majors, averaging 665 plate appearances, 31 homers and a .301 average during that time. Last season was a big disappointment by those standards, but nothing in his peripherals suggests skills erosion was the cause. More than likely it was the series of lower body injuries he suffered in the latter half of the year that slowed him down. Given the freak nature of one of his injuries (a groin condition that randomly occurred and required emergency surgery) and his pristine health record prior to last year, Abreu is a great bounce-back candidate in 2019.
9. Jesus Aguilar (1B, Milwaukee Brewers) – Talk about bursting onto the scene. Aguilar’s 35 homers and 108 RBI are made all the more impressive when you realize he was a bench bat to start the year and only accumulated 566 plate appearances. Though he absolutely mashed the ball when he made contact, his penchant for chasing pitches out of the zone and his below-average contact rate will likely temper his batting average. Teams also seemed to adjust to him in the second half of last season:, as he hit just .245 with a 101 wRC+ after the break. He’s no spring chicken at 28 years old, but if he can adjust back to the league, then repeating his 2018 output is certainly within reach.
10. Matt Olson (1B/DH, Oakland Athletics) – Though Olson let us all down by not mashing 85 homers the way we all hoped he would after his torrid end to the 2017 season, there was still a lot to like about his underwhelming 2018 line. His 47.3% hard contact rate ranked eighth in baseball, though considering that, his 16.1% HR/FB probably should have been much higher. The other encouraging thing about Olson is that he makes a lot of contact for a guy who can also put a big charge into the ball. The 11.3% whiff rate and 74.3% contact rate in 2018 were just barely worse than league average. Definitely a guy worth targeting for the power upside alone.
11. Max Muncy (1B/2B(y)/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Muncy’s magical 2018 gave hope to athletes with dad-bods the world over. Many are skeptical of a repeat, considering that he came seemingly out of nowhere last season, but the xStats back up everything he did, having pegged him for 33 xHR, a .271 xAVG and a .591 xSLG over the 481 plate appearances he compiled. He did fall off a bit in the second half of last season and got benched sporadically against lefties, so there is some risk here, but not as much as you may think.
12. Daniel Murphy* (1B(y)/2B, Colorado Rockies) – During our rankings summit, Murphy was largely immune from the Coors Field helium that generally shoots players up rankings lists. This will be his age-34 season and he lost a large chunk of playing time last year due to a fairly serious knee injury. He seemed mostly himself upon his return from micro-fracture surgery, though his hard contact rate took a serious nosedive. His batting average floor is arguably as safe as any first baseman’s on this list, and playing in Colorado should smooth over most other age-related warts. The question is, are his knee issues truly in the rear-view mirror?
13. Travis Shaw (1B(y)/2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers) – Shaw appeared at first base in 17 games last season, just barely missing the cutoff to carry eligibility at the position into 2019 in most leagues. Barring an injury to Jesus Aguilar this year, he likely won’t pick it up again either. That said, if he is eligible in your league, this is where he stands among others at the position. He’s now lowered his strikeout rate and boosted his walk rate in three consecutive seasons, and has back-to-back 30+ homer campaigns under his belt. The .241 average last year was likely suppressed by his exceptionally unlucky .242 BABIP, though considering his fly ball tendencies, he may be prone to lower BABIPs in general. A .270 average with 30 homers and a handful of steals seems like a realistic outcome for Shaw, and the eligibility at second base and third base are nice boons to his value as well.
14. Robinson Cano (1B(y)/2B, New York Mets) – Cano returned from his PED suspension last season without missing a beat. In the 41 games after he returned, he hit .317 with six homers and a .370 wOBA. The 36-year-old has hardly regressed at all over the last few years, and many of the peripherals you look to that might indicate age-based decline have held steady. In fact, his hard contact rates have been on the rise for five straight seasons now, and 2018 was one of his better seasons in terms of drawing walks, making contact and punishing fastballs. There’s always risk of a steep drop-off with a guy as long in the tooth as Cano, but until some red flags actually start popping up, he’s got the potential to return plenty of value in relation to where he’s being drafted.
15. Edwin Encarnacion (1B/DH, Seattle Mariners) – Encarnacion was a pretty divisive figure during our rankings debate. On the one hand, things have been trending in the wrong direction for the 36-year-old for the past few years now. On the other hand, he’s been a great offensive power asset for seven consecutive seasons. Over just 137 games last year he managed to drive in 107 runs and clobber 32 dingers, and while his plate discipline and contact ability have continued to erode, he posted the highest hard contact rate of his career in 2018 by a huge margin. You’re certainly playing with fire if you draft him, as the production could fall off a cliff at any moment, but banking 30 homers and around 100 RBI this late in the game is still a huge value.
16. Ian Desmond (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies) – It may seem criminal to have someone who just posted a 20/20 season this low in the rankings, but there are significant red flags in Desmond’s peripherals that make projecting what he’ll do in any given season very difficult. For one, he’s never hit the ball particularly hard, with an atrocious 29.5% career hard contact rate. When you pair that with a poor overall contact rate and the fact that he’s always posted high ground-ball rates–including a 62% ground-ball rate for two years in a row–you have a guy who is going to depend on a significant amount of luck to eclipse 20 homers and produce a batting average that’s at all palatable. There’s big upside here, but lots of volatility too.
Tier 4: Ringo Starr
If you’re relying on these guys to hold down first base for you, you should make sure they’re surrounded by a strong supporting cast.
17. Joey Gallo (1B/OF, Texas Rangers) – The 40 homers are great, but are they really worth cratering your batting average over? Considering that he’s struggled to keep his whiff rate below 20% and his contact rate above 60% every year since he’s been in the league, he probably is what he is at this point, which is essentially 2016 Chris Davis.
18. Miguel Cabrera (1B, Detroit Tigers) – Is there anything left in the tank for the soon-to-be 36-year-old, or will chronic injuries continue to rob him of playing time until he eventually just fades away? His bat certainly still showed some life last season before he went down for the year with a biceps injury; he posted a very impressive 46.3% hard contact rate while keeping his whiff rate just under 10%. If you roll the dice on Miggy, make sure you have a competent back up ready to plug in if/when he misses time.
19. Justin Smoak (1B, Toronto Blue Jays) – Smoak backslid quite a bit after his very impressive 2017 campaign. It was troubling to see him give back the huge gains he had made in terms of his strikeout rate, and his hard-contact rate was as low as it’s been in years. Falling somewhere between the 2017 and 2018 version of himself would mean a .250 average with 30+ homers and plenty of opportunities to drive in runs in the heart of that Blue Jays lineup. He’s not a bad gamble considering the upside.
20. Carlos Santana (1B/3B(y), Cleveland Indians)– Carlos Santana is an anomaly. He consistently produces strikeout rates in the mid-teens, yet never seems to capitalize on that contact ability, with a .265 career BABIP and only one season with a batting average above .260 under his belt. Maybe one year, the hits will start to fall, but until then, you’re happy if you get a .250 average with 20+ homers and solid run production.
21. Eric Hosmer (1B, San Diego Padres) – Pairing a 60% ground-ball rate with Petco Park is a recipe for disaster, but thanks to a generous 19.4% HR/FB, he wasn’t a complete offensive nightmare in 2018. He’s clearly shown the ability to put together a star-caliber season, and he’s still just 29 years old, but he’ll need to start elevating the ball to really tap into his potential.
22. Jurickson Profar (1B/2B(y)/SS/3B, Oakland Athletics) – Profar finally broke out in 2018, batting .254 with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases. While he never flashed that kind of power at any point in his career prior to last year, the 20 homers were supported by a big jump in hard contact and a very reasonable 13.2% HR/FB. Moving to Oakland won’t do him any favors in his attempt to repeat the power outburst, but his batting average should come up a bit with some better luck on his batted balls. You’re likely looking at a guy who will hit .270 with 15 homers and 10 steals and qualifies at several infield positions, which makes him quite an asset.
23. Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals) – A trade would do a lot to boost Martinez’s value, as it looks like he’s currently the odd man out in St Louis with Ozuna, Bader and Fowler likely patrolling the outfield this year. The combo of power (40% hard contact) and contact ability (8.6% whiff rate) he flashed last year was very rare, and could lead to a special offensive season if he ever finds the at-bats.
24. C.J. Cron (1B/DH, Minnesota Twins) – Cron was routinely benched against righties when he was with the Angels, despite never showing any significant platoon splits, and this pattern continued with the Rays last season. He still managed to muscle out 30 homers in just 140 games played though, and he’ll (hopefully) no longer need to worry about being platooned as the Twins’ everyday first baseman. Target Field is a surprisingly good venue for right-handed power hitters, making Cron a very sneaky power asset.
25. Luke Voit (1B, New York Yankees) – It’s hard to say how the Yankees’ first base situation will shake out, with both Greg Bird and DJ LeMahieu in the picture for playing time. However, the .458 wOBA Voit posted in his 39 games with the Yankees last year will likely afford him plenty of opportunities to establish himself as their starter. Considering his checkered minor league history, it’s hard to say what to expect from Voit. A .250 average with 20 homers seems like a realistic floor over a full season, and there’s clearly potential for much more.
26. Tyler White (1B, Houston Astros) – As things currently stand, White is looking to pick up a significant amount of at-bats as the Astros’ designated hitter this year. Nothing about his .276 average in 2018 seems particularly flukey, and while he didn’t make a ton of hard contact, there’s enough pop in his bat that it’s easy to see him eclipsing 20 homers over a full year.
27. Ryan Zimmerman (1B, Washington Nationals) – There are a couple of things worth noting about the chronically-injured Washington first baseman. First, he ranked 12th in average exit velocity last year. Second, had the 23rd highest Barrels/BBE%. And finally, he posted a 52.8% hard hit rate according to Baseball Savant, which placed him second in baseball behind Aaron Judge. All this to say, when Zimmerman’s healthy, he’s still clearly capable of mashing.
28. Jake Bauers (1B/OF, Cleveland Indians) – So Bauers’ 2018… didn’t go so well. But the 40.5% hard contact rate was impressive, and his whiff rate, contact rate and advanced zone recognition indicate that the 26.8% strikeout rate he posted was likely the byproduct of at least a little bad luck. The first base job is his in Cleveland, and Steamer has him pegged for 15 homers, 13 steals and a .245 average over 496 plate appearances in 2019. This late in the draft, he’s a risk worth taking for that 20/20 upside.
29. Yonder Alonso (1B, Chicago White Sox) – Alonso’s a pretty safe bet for a .260 average, 20+ homers and plenty of RBI opportunities batting in the middle of the White Sox lineup. Nothing flashy, but a very serviceable line.
30. Trey Mancini (1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles) – The 50%+ groundball rates and middling hard contact don’t bode well for Mancini maintaining the 20% HR/FB rates he’s posted over the past two seasons. So the chances of him swatting 24 homers for the third consecutive year are low. He also makes below-average contact, hasn’t exhibited great plate discipline and will be in one of the worst lineups in baseball. The positives? He’ll soak up a ton of at-bats and likely won’t actively hurt you anywhere. And he’s got a great smile.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire