Opening Day for the 2023 MLB season is right around the corner. This means it is the perfect time for position-by-position rankings. Let’s see how each team stacks up – ranking the best MLB first basemen.
First, let’s lay out some ground rules. A player’s position is based on Fangraphs’ Depth Charts as of March 23. If a player is duplicated (such as Byron Buxton being listed as Minnesota’s primary centerfielder and designated hitter), he will be assigned to his main position in 2022, and the player with the second-most projected plate appearances will be used for the second position. Teams only get one entrant per position (sorry, Alejandro Kirk).
Let’s take a look at the Best MLB First Basemen!
Best MLB First Basemen: 30-21
Best MLB First Basemen: No.30 – Dominic Smith, Washington Nationals
Just two seasons ago, Smith was one of the best hitters in the league. From 2019 to 2020, Smith slashed .299/.366/.571 for a 150 OPS+ over 139 games. In the last two years, he slashed .233/.298/.345 for a 78 OPS+ over 203 games. In his six-year MLB career, he has posted negative WAR four times.
He will get a change of scenery in Washington, but his best days are likely behind him. In 2022, he ranked in the 30th percentile in max exit velocity, and his xwOBA was below .300. He has below-average strikeout and walk rates, and he is not a particularly adept contact hitter (.219 expected batting average in 2022).
Best MLB First Basemen: No.29 – Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
Torkelson had a horrendous rookie campaign. Over 110 games, he slashed .203/.285/.319 with a 77 OPS+. He accrued -11 batting runs and a disastrous -1.2 WAR. He was below the MLB average in every facet of WAR while posting a suboptimal .117 ISO and a 2.0% home run rate. The only positive from his results was a 9.2% walk rate, a little bit better than the league average.
As bad as Torkelson was, his expected stats were moderately better. His xwOBA was 30 points higher than his wOBA, and his expected slugging was 50 points higher than his real slugging. Torkelson had a healthy exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate. He had a 75th-percentile chase rate as well. If he is more consistent at making contact, he could pop.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.28 – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
The future Hall of Famer had an uncharacteristically poor showing in 2022. He had a career-worst 87 OPS+ after he had a renaissance 2021 season (139 OPS+). His numbers dipped across the board, and he had a career-worst 25.8% strikeout rate. He is also no longer the defender he used to be, posting -2 DRS and -9 OAA. He still walks a lot, but his quality of contact is not where it used to be.
From 2021 to 2022, Votto’s xwOBA dropped by nearly 85 points. When he made contact, he still brought some decent power, but he had a career-worst contact rate when he swung on pitches in the strike zone. He still has great control of the strike zone, but it is likely his days of being a great hitter are over.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.27 – Eric Hosmer, Chicago Cubs
Hosmer ended the season with a 108 OPS+, his third mark over 100 in a row, but he was carried by a spectacular April. He had a 211 OPS+ in April before posting marks of 87, 57, 100, and 76 in the next four months. He also continued to grade out as a poor defender, and his batted-ball profile trends in the wrong direction.
Hosmer’s issue is his lack of power. He managed to avoid strikeouts and whiffs at a good rate, but he posted a paltry .114 ISO and .382 slugging percentage. He might get a few extra base hits without the shift, but he has an absurd 54.9% groundball rate for his career, a mark that has flirted with 60% at times. Hosmer will have plenty of groundouts, double plays, and weeks of ineffectiveness in 2023.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.26 – Ji Man Choi, Pittsburgh Pirates
Choi has some healthy metrics. He has a career 115 OPS+ including a 114 OPS+ last year. He hits the ball hard, and he walks a lot. He even has some solid moments of defense, and he is an expert of the stretch. However, three factors are working against Choi. First, he is entering his age-32 season. Second, the Rays decided to part ways with his services. Third, Choi strikes out a lot.
Choi had an excellent .428 xwOBACON. When he hits the ball, he often barrels it. At the same time, he has a strikeout rate and whiff rate that are in the ninth percentile. His expected batting average is in the 29th percentile, and his marks in expected slugging and xwOBA are lower than his quality of contact would suggest.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.25 – LaMonte Wade Jr. – San Francisco Giants
Wade had a mediocre half-season with the Giants in 2022. He had an 88 OPS+ in large part because of a horrendous .233 BABIP. He had a gargantuan flyball rate, but instead of seeing an uptick in his power numbers, his flyballs were largely ineffective. His barrel rate, sweet spot rate, and hard-hit rate also fell from nice marks in 2022.
Wade has some steady peripherals with marginally better strikeout and walk rates than the league average. While many players struggle with hitting too many groundballs, Wade hits too many flyballs, hitting many easy flyouts and popouts. If Wade can find a sweet spot and hit more line drives, he could have a successful season in the Bay.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.24* – Darick Hall, Philadelphia Phillies
With Rhys Hoskins’ status unknown, both Hall and Hoskins will be included in the rankings.
Hall only played 41 games (in the field) for Philadelphia last year, but he mashed. He slashed .250/.282/.522 with nine home runs and eight doubles. His peripherals are not great, but he hits the ball extremely hard and in the air. He was in the 89th percentile in maximum exit velocity, and he had just a 34.8% groundball rate.
Hall is a three-true-outcome player but without the walks. He had a 3.5% walk rate in 2022, one of the worst in the league. He also has an exorbitant 31% strikeout rate. He outperformed his batted-ball data by 31 points of wOBA/xwOBA, and he could regress in 2022 if he continues to strike out.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.23 – Seth Brown, Oakland Athletics
Brown had another solid season at the plate, posting a 116 OPS+. While his raw OPS fell by five points, the league’s run-scoring environment dampened, so Brown was better in relation to his peers. He cut his strikeout rate slightly while walking a little more than the average hitter. However, he regressed defensively and still struck out over a quarter of the time.
Brown has good peripherals including a 90th-percentile barrel rate, but a combination of his team and ballpark hurt his potential numbers. Barring a trade, Brown should be an above-average bat who posts league-average stats because he plays half of his games in a cavern.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.22 – Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins
With Luis Arraez out of the picture, Kirilloff is stepping in as the Twins’ first baseman. He had a mediocre rookie season in 2021, but he struggled in 2022, posting an 88 OPS+. He accrued negative WAR while playing three positions. He struck out slightly more often, but his walk rate was nearly cut in half, and he stopped putting the ball in the air.
Kirilloff makes solid enough contact, but he needs to lift the ball a bit more to return to being an average hitter. His multi-position versatility could help, but Kirilloff will need the bat to be at a serviceable level to stay in the Majors in 2023.
Best MLB First Basemen: No.21 – Garrett Cooper, Miami Marlins
Cooper made the All-Star team in 2022, but his final numbers reflect more on an average player than an All-Star. He finished with a 113 OPS+ across 119 games. He had an impressive 33 doubles, but he only had nine home runs. Cooper had a league-average walk rate to go with a below-average strikeout rate. He did not quite hit the ball as hard as he did in 2020 or 2021, but he hit more line drives and flyballs.
With the bat, Cooper is a solid player. He ranked in the 70th percentile or better in hard-hit rate, xwOBA, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, and barrel rate. He is inconsistent at making contact, however. He could stand to be a little bit better in the field as well.
Let us know your thoughts so far on the Best MLB First Basemen in the comments below and let us know your pick for the top spot in our Best MLB First Basemen rankings!
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