These 10 players are the 10 best first basemen in the league. Your fantasy team will be a lot better if you draft one of these guys instead of waiting for one.
The first base position is one of the deepest in the league. The position has seen an uptick in fantasy stars over the last couple of years. There are some great power hitters all throughout the rankings. I think selecting a top first baseman early in your draft is important. You can read my previous article ranking the first basemen 20 through 11. These 10 first basemen are the best. There are some with nagging injuries, but can still produce at a high level. Then, there are others with time on their side and will be stars for years.
I use a couple of different of criteria when developing my rankings. I look at their 2015 performance, where they finished on the Player Rater, their career performance and if this past season was an outlier, their surroundings (lineup support) and where I think they project this season. Some of it may be subjective, especially the projections, but I try to keep it in line with other fantasy sites.
The stats I use for the projections are runs, home runs, RBI, steals and batting average. I know there are leagues that use OBP or OPS instead of average, but they are in the minority. I will keep it for the majority that use ESPN standard five categories. I do factor in hits though because it more or less affects average (or OBP).
Without further ado, here are my top-10 first basemen.
Albert Pujols is one of the greats the game has ever seen. After years as an unquestionable first-round pick, he is now drafted in the middle rounds. However, he showed a lot of promise (weird to say for a guy like Pujols) last season. He played in 157 games, fourth time he’s played in at least 154 games in the last six years. He hit 40 home runs, 95 RBI and .244. It was the most home runs and first time he made the All-Star game since 2010.
The batting average continues to drop, .312 in 2010 and declining ever since. That’s just not the hitter he is anymore. He had just 16 hits in the first 21 games and hit .208. His strikeout rate went up a little, but so did his walk rate, which helped keep his OBP above .300. Last season was a bit of an outlier compared to the previous four seasons. His 42.2 fly ball rate was the highest since, say it with me, 2010. He had a 45.7 ground ball rate in 2014 and 41.8 last season.
Pujols has been injury-free for most of his career. He played in just 99 games in 2013, but hasn’t played in fewer than 143 games in any other season. He is no longer a 40 HR/.320 hitter. He is now a 35 HR/.260 hitter. Those are definitely good numbers, but it moves him down the rankings a bit compared to what the nine other first basemen can do better than him.
Speaking of players with injuries, Miguel Cabrera spent a lot of time on the DL in 2015. After being healthy for his career (148 or more games played since 2004), he played in just 119 games last season. He missed most of July and some of August with a Grade 3 calf strain. At the time, he was leading the league in batting average (.350), on-base percentage (.456) and OPS (1.034). He had 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 54 RBIs through 77 games.
Cabrera finished the season with 18 home runs, 76 RBI and a .338 average. He finished ninth among first basemen and 75th overall on the Player Rater. His ranking was helped because of the high batting average. The power numbers helped, but not a significant amount.
He has been very discipline at the plate throughout his career. He had a 0.94 BB/K and almost doubled his walk rate from 2014 (8.8) to 2015 (15.1). His ground ball rate rose two percent while his fly ball rate dropped 2.5 percent. The shortened season may have contributed to the drop in numbers, but it could also be Father Time catching up to him.
With the injury behind him and entering Spring Training with a clean bill of health, Cabrera is still a top first basemen. He can easily reach 40 home runs, which he reached in 2013, but I expect some sort of decline in the power. Look for him to hit 32 home runs, 98 RBI and .320.
Add another one to the injury list of 2015. Freddie Freeman missed 30 games between June 17 and July 26 with a right wrist injury. He played in just 118 games, the fewest of his career. He hit 18 home runs, 66 RBI and .276/.370/.471. He finished 16th among first basemen and 180th overall on the Player Rater.
He had his best season in 2013, hitting 23 home runs, 109 RBI and .319 in 147 games. I believe that, without the injury, that 2015 would have been a close second. If he played in 148 games last year (giving back the 30 games he missed), he would have hit 22 home runs and 97 RBI. But we don’t live in a world of hypotheticals.
Freeman had a 0.57 BB/K ratio, just 0.05 points down from 2014. His ground ball rate was exactly the same while his fly ball rate rose three percent. His medium and hard hit rates remained the same from 2014 to 2015. While he doesn’t have the longevity as a top first basemen like the previous two hitters have, Freeman is a good hand with consistent numbers across the board. I think he will get back to 20-plus home runs with 100 RBI and a .290 average.
Finally, a player without an injury last season. Adrian Gonzalez played in 156 games last season. He’s played in at least 156 games in every season since his rookie year. He hit 28 home runs (most since 2010), 90 RBI and .275/.350/.480. He was the No. 10 first baseman on the Player Rater.
The season started strong for Gonzalez. He hit five home runs and seven RBI in his first three games of the season and eight in the month of April, tied for third-most in the league. He improved his strikeout and walk rates increasing the BB/K ratio by 0.08 percent. While his fly ball rate dropped a little over one percent, his HR/FB rate went up 1.8 percent. He also improved his pull percentage, 37.6 percent in 2014 to 40.3 percent in 2015.
Of the four first basemen named so far, Gonzalez is the safest. He consistently plays at least 156 games while hitting 25-30 home runs with a .275 average. He was the eighth first baseman drafted last season. He’s No. 7 for me, but I could see him slipping down a little mostly for his age because there is nothing else that raises a red flag.
Last season, I wrote about Joey Votto being a bust candidate. He proved me wrong very quickly. He played in 158 games and hit 29 home runs, 80 RBI and .314. He finished as the second-best first baseman and No. 21 overall and third in the National League MVP voting. I predicted 16/60/.280. To say I lowballed him would be an understatement.
He posted much similar numbers to his 2013 All-Star season. His strikeout rate was 19.4 percent, 0.4 percent higher than 2013. He posted a 20.6 walk rate, 143 walks, the highest of his career. He had a 32.8 fly ball rate and 21.6 HR/FB rate, both better than the 2013 season. Despite striking out 135 times, he was more patient when swinging. His 19.3 O-swing percentage was the best in the league among qualified hitters.
The loss of Todd Frazier will affect Votto’s value. Frazier led the team in home runs and RBI. Votto does not have a lot of support around him. Devin Mesoraco is a bounce-back candidate. Brandon Phillips has let a lot of people down. Eugenio Suarez and Zack Cozart are two question marks. I won’t predict a big drop off, but Votto could see a down year.
Jose Abreu has had a great first two seasons of his career. I highlighted most of it in this article from January. He hit 66 home runs, 208 RBI and .303 in 299 games. He won American League Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger and the All-Star team in 2014.
Last season a bit of a drop off, despite being the seventh-best first baseman on the Player Rater. He played in nine more games, but hit six fewer home runs, six fewer RBI and lost 27 points off his batting average. His walk rate dropped 2.4 percent while his strikeout rate stayed the same. I won’t go into much more detail because I run the risk of repeating myself.
Abreu turned 29 in January, so the length of his MLB career may not be as long as others. However, it can hold up if he transitions to DH, similar to David Ortiz. Another 30 HR/100 RBI season is more than likely and the batting average should still be around .300.
How will Abreu kick off the season in his 300th game?
Chris Davis and the Baltimore Orioles agreed to a monster seven-year deal. Two seasons removed from his 53-home run season in 2013, he crushed 47 home runs with 117 RBI and a .262 average. My colleague Brad Kelly wrote about Davis more in-depth when the deal was announced. This just proves that 2014 was just a small setback, playing in 127 games and hit 26 home runs, 72 RBI and .196.
The negative to owning Davis in fantasy is the high strikeout totals. He struck out 208 times last season, 31 percent, nine more than the No. 2 batter. He did walk 84 times, 12.5 percent. Davis was the quintessential pull hitter, 55.9 pull rate, second in the league. It was 9.7 percent higher than what it was in 2013. However, this isn’t a good thing because opposing teams use the shift and cut down on his hits.
Regardless of the strikeouts, Davis is still a top first baseman. He can hit 40 home runs with ease, hence the “Crush” nickname. He was an eighth-round pick last season, and he should move up entering drafts this season. If you care about your batting average, then maybe Davis isn’t the guy for you. But, if you’re short on power hitters then grab Davis before it’s too late.
The Toronto Blue Jays have one of the best offenses in the league. They led in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage and finished second in batting average. One of the main contributors was Edwin Encarnacion. He hit 39 home runs, 111 RBI and .277. He was the fifth-best first baseman last season.
It does help with you have Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson hitting ahead of you, both of whom had 40 home runs. He had a 0.79 BB/K ratio and 36.1 ground ball rate. His power rates were down from last season, 44.5 fly ball rate and 35.5 hard hit rate. Even with that, he had another great fantasy season.
Encarnacion has hit 151 home runs, 423 RBI and .274 average over the last four seasons. With the core power guys still with the Blue Jays, he is in line for another big season. Despite being 33 years old, he’s playing than he was five years ago. I would love to see those three hitters each get 40 home runs, but I don’t see it happening. Encarnacion will get 35 home runs and 96 RBI with a .268 average.
Last season was Anthony Rizzo‘s best. Bar none. He played in 160 games and hit 31 home runs, 101 RBI and .278. While the average was down compared to 2014, he played in more games, drove in and scored more runs. He was the third-best first baseman on the Player Rater and is only 26 years old.
The power numbers were lacking in the first month of the season, hitting two home runs and nine RBI in April. There were decent stretches throughout the season that Rizzo did not hit a home run, including a 13-game and 17-game stretch during the summer.
However, Rizzo was able to lower his strikeout rate from 18.8 to 15.0 percent. He made better contact with the ball, 49.0 medium and 33.2 hard hit rates. Unfortunately, the increase in his fly ball rate, 43.6 percent, did not result in more home runs, 14.6 HR/FB rate.
Similar to the Blue Jays, the Chicago Cubs have a core of players that the team can build around. Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Rizzo. There are younger players that we are waiting to have that breakout season, but Rizzo doesn’t need them to succeed.
Paul Goldschmidt is clearly the best first baseman in the game. Contact, power and speed is hard to find, especially at this position. I wrote about Goldy possibly being the No. 1 overall pick in drafts this season here. If not, he’d easily be the No. 2 player selected.
He finished as the best first baseman in the league and No. 6 overall on the Player Rater. His 21 steals were the most among all first baseman, four more than the next hitter on the list. His strikeout and walk rates are heading in the right direction. Goldy walked 118 times last season, third-most in the league.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been busy this offseason, adding pieces at every position in order to compete in the National League West. I also think those moves help Goldschmidt and his fantasy value. He scored 103 runs and drove in 110, which are great, but he and the team need more hitters to get on base and drive in runs. A.J. Pollock had a breakout season as the only other hitter to score over 100 runs.
Goldschmidt should get back to 110-plus RBI this season. This could be his best season yet.
There you have it. My top-10 first basemen heading into the 2016 season. Some of the players may surprise you based on the others I ranked between 20 and 11. There is a lot of veteran presence, but those veterans come with some concern. There are others that could have peaked last season and you could be drafting them before a down season.
The players I will be watching a lot are those veterans, mostly Pujols and Cabrera. I want to see how they’ll perform this late into their careers. I also want to see if Goldschmidt can repeat as the best first baseman in the league. Will the speed drop off or can he post another 30 HR/20 SB season?
Do you agree with my rankings? Disagree? Which first basemen did I over- or underrate this season? Let me know in the comments.
Next up will be second basemen Nos. 20 to 11.