The Top 50 First Baseball of All Time: Part 1: 50-41

This is where I will start my rankings of the fifty best first baseman of all time. If you have any disagreements, be certain to voice them in the comments below.

50: Derrek Lee: It seems like just yesterday that he was putting together his 2005 MVP type season, when he won the batting title (.335) while also leading the league in Hits (199), Doubles (50), and Slugging Percentage (.662). This was a career year for him. He only came with .100 points of his 2005 Slugging Percentage once (in 2009). Lee finished third in the MVP voting behind Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones. Lee never reached 2,000 hits, but his 331 career Home Runs and .281/.365/.495 line are both very respectable.

49: George Scott: Scott was an excellent power hitter and an excellent fielder. He won the Gold Glove Award 8 times and according to Total Zone, was 84 runs above average as a defensive player. Only Keith Hernandez and John Olerud score higher than he does. Scott led the league in Total Bases twice (1973 and 1975). He led in two of the three Triple Crown categories (Home Runs and RBI) in 1975.

48: Jake Beckley: Beckley is in the Hall of Fame, but he probably should not be. Beckley played in a rather noncompetitive time (19th century baseball) and only managed to lead the league in something once (Triples in 1890). Beckley’s career 117 wRC+ is hardly impressive and behind players like Mark Grace, Cecil Cooper, Joe Adcock, and Ed Konetchy. He had  longer career than most of them, but that is offset by the era he played in. There is a challenge in rating players from the 19th century.

47: Ed Konetchy: Konetchy was a career .281/.346/.403 hitter, but he was a lot better than his numbers suggest. Over the course of his career, he played in conditions that reduced offense by 16%. If we use Baseball-Reference’s batting neutralization tool, he becomes a .301/.368/.429 hitter in a 716 run environment. He was a good defensive first baseman. If he had come around 10 years later and played through the live ball era, his numbers would look very different.

46: Steve Garvey: Garvey was an overrated player when he played because he drove in a lot of runs and and hit .300. However, he rarely walked, as evidenced by his .329 career OBP. Garvey won the MVP award in 1974 despite not even being the best player on his own team. Jim Wynn beat him by 45 points in term of OBP and 28 points of slugging. Garvey was a fine player, but he was no better than Mark Grace or Cecil Cooper. He did very well on the first BBWAA ballot, getting 41.6%, a point at which most players will eventually get elected. However, he only peaked at 42.6%.

43: Adrian Gonzalez: When Adrian Gonzalez moved from Petco Park to Fenway Park, I expected his home run totals to explode. He was suddenly moving from the toughest park for hitters to one of the easiest. They didn’t. After peaking at 40 Home Runs in San Diego, he hit only 27 in his first (and only full) year in Boston. This was certainly not a disappointing year, as he hit .338/.410/.548, finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 7th in the respective categories. After a disappointing 2012, it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. His batting average last season was the result of an inflated .380 BABIP, so don’t expect his average to be much higher than it was this year. However, his walk rate fell from 10.3% to 6.1% (it’s declined every year since 2009) and his ISO fell from .210 to .164 (his ISO has also declined every year since 2009). Both marks were the lowest of his career. Now that he’s on the wrong side of 30, there’s a decent chance that his best years are behind him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bounces back in 2013.

42: Joey Votto: After Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown season, it has become popular to state that Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball. However, there is an excellent case that Votto, not Miggy, is the best hitter in the game. He only played 111 games in 2012 because of injuries and his homers (14) and RBI (56) were mediocre. How can he better than Miguel Cabrera then? Miggy tripled his home run total and more than doubled his RBI total. However, Votto posted an otherworldly .474 OBP, which was enough to lead the league even after adding 27 plate appearances to bring him up to the requisite 502. Over the past 4 years, Votto has posted the best wRC+ in baseball (165). He’s good on defense and never pops out (4 times in 4 years!). It’s close, but if Votto is healthy, I think I’d take him over Miggy. If Votto can continue posting good years, he’ll shoot up on this list.

41: Bill White: Bill White and Mickey Mantle both had the same number of 100 RBI seasons (4). Perhaps that should be a lesson to anyone who cites RBI as the be all and end all of statistics. In 1957, Mantle hit .365/.512/.665 with 34 homers and posted an 11.1 WAR. Yet, he only drove in 94 RBI. Nine years later, in 1966, Bill White hit .276/.352/.451 with 22 homers, a WAR of 5.0,and 103 RBI. Was White better in 1966 than Mantle was in 1957? Of course not. Was Mantle an unclutch player because he had the same number of 100 RBI seasons as Bill White? Of course not. Mantle drove in relatively few runs because the hitters ahead of him tended to have low OBPs.

The 2012 Season

With the World Series ready to start later tonight, I’d like to take this moment to reflect back on the great moments this season had to offer:

  • Mike Trout had what was perhaps the greatest season ever by a 20 year old position player and the greatest rookie season ever. After being consistently ranked among the top three prospects coming into this season along with Bryce Harper and Matt Moore, Trout was called up in late April and hit .326/.399/.564 going 49/54 in stolen base attempts while playing gold glove defense.
  • Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, a feat not accomplished since Carl Yastrzemski won it in 1967. I didn’t think I would ever see a Triple Crown, but I suppose I was wrong.
  • The 2012 season was home to a plethora of Perfect Games and No Hitters. Two of the best pitchers in the league, Matt Cain & Felix Hernandez threw perfect games along with the relatively unknown Phillip Humber, a former top draft pick. Cain tied Sandy Koufax’s record for the most strikeouts in a perfect game with 14.
  • On the No-Hitters front, Jered Weaver, Johan Santana, Homer Bailey, and a combination of six Seattle Mariners pitcher all threw No-Hitters. Santana’s was the first in New York Mets history.
  • Josh Hamilton became the 16th player to hit 4 home runs in a game.
  • Bryce Harper debuted and perhaps had the best season ever for a teenage position player. Bryce Harper’s 4.9 WAR (via Fangraphs) is the highest ever for a teenage position player, edging out Mel Ott, who accumulated 4.6 WAR in 1928. It should be noted that part of Harper’s advantage comes from him being rated as a +10 outfielder, something that is difficult to ascertain given the reliability of advanced fielding metrics.
  • 2012 was also home to debuts from two highly touted foreign imports, Yu Darvish of Japan and Yoenis Cespedes. In a normal year, both would have been legitimate candidates for Rookie of the Year, but Mike Trout proved to be too dominant.
  • Two surprise teams, the Orioles and the Athletics, claim postseason spots. However, both fell in their respective ALDS series.
  • After flirting with a return to Major League Baseball and actually pitching in an independent league, Roger Clemens ultimately decided not to pitch in the MLB. For now.
  • Craig Kimbrel reached a historic level of dominance, striking out more than half of the batters he faced.
  • R.A. Dickey revived the knuckleball to go 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and a 24.8% K rate. He’s the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award.
  • Chipper Jones finished up his Hall of Fame career with a solid season, hitting .287/.377/.455. Jones received standing ovations in all the parks he played in during the stretch of the season. Even in Queens.
  • Derek Jeter had a resurgent year, hitting .316 and leading the league in hits.
  • Tim Lincecum, the two time Cy Young Award winner had a season that he would certainly prefer to forget. Lincecum posted a 5.18 ERA along with a considerable decrease in velocity.
  • The Boston Red Sox exploded en route to a 93 loss season and the firing of their manager, Bobby Valentine.
  • Stephen Strasburg finally had the (almost) full season we were all waiting for. He pitched remarkably, posting a 3.16 ERA and an even more impressive 2.82 FIP. However, in the stretch run, the Nationals shut down Strasburg in a highly controversial decision. The Nationals ended up losing to the Cardinals in the NLDS.
  • And much, much more.

Here’s hoping that the upcoming World Series can live up to this great season.

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