Over the past few years, MLB Network has released top 10 lists of players at each position. Titled “Top 10 Right Now!” the series uses data from the past two seasons, offensive and defensive statistics of various complexity, and input from the network’s analysts and contributors. Here at BYB, we decided to create our own rankings. These lists are a compilation of individual rankings created by each author. There were no specific instructions given for this exercise, other than a player’s position was determined by whatever spot he appeared at most often defensively in 2017.
First base is a weird position. It’s quite loaded at the top, with several elite hitters putting up monster numbers year in and year out. However, it’s probably not as deep of a position as in years past. We saw this bear out in our voting, with a big separation between the top six players and the rest of the pack. Our fourth, fifth, and sixth players, in particular, were very tightly contested; they were separated by just five points in all.
#1. Joey Votto
Outside of sabermetric circles, Joey Votto has been underappreciated for his entire career. Statheads see that 158 wRC+ in over 6,000 plate appearances and swoon, but others — local Cincinnati beat writer types, mostly — couldn’t help but look at Votto’s home run totals and hope for more. They got it in 2017. Votto clubbed 36 home runs, his highest total since 2010, and drove in 100 runs for the first time since 2011. His 1.032 OPS was a career-high, and he earned his third career top-three MVP vote finish.
Those paying closer attention to other stats shrugged. This was par for the course for Votto, who has been an elite player since he arrived in the majors. He led the National League in walks again, his fifth time in the past seven seasons. He has led the NL in on-base percentage in six of the past eight. His wRC+ has been at 155 or better in eight of his 10 full seasons. He’s even a great defender, and posted the highest DRS total of his career last season. He’s a deserving No. 1 on our list.
#2. Paul Goldschmidt
Challenging Votto for the top spot on this list and for the “Most Underappreciated Player in Baseball” Award is Paul Goldschmidt. “America’s First Baseman,” as the Diamondbacks TV announcers have dubbed him, has been an absolute monster since arriving in the majors in 2011. He has already compiled 31.6 fWAR in those six-and-a-half seasons, and earned All-Star honors in each of the past five. Those already starting to look ahead at his Hall of Fame chances — yeah, he’s that good — might be concerned about a lack of “black ink” on his Baseball Reference page, but on-field production isn’t a worry. Goldschmidt has been one of the top offensive producers in the game since arriving in the bigs, averaging 28 homers and 100 RBI in each of his six full seasons. He’s also one of the best defenders in the game at first, compiling +44 DRS in just over 8,000 defensive innings.
#3. Freddie Freeman
If it seems like Freddie Freeman is too high on this list, you haven’t been paying attention. Freeman has consistently been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past several seasons, with five consecutive seasons of a 130 wRC+ or better. His 146 wRC+ since the start of 2013 is tied for eighth-best among qualified hitters, equal to that of some guy named Bryce Harper. That figure ranks fourth among first basemen, behind the top two guys on this list and shoo-in Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Freeman has even stepped his game up over the past couple seasons, compiling a combined 10.6 fWAR despite missing 40-odd games with a wrist injury in 2017. He isn’t quite the defender Votto or Goldschmidt are, but has rated slightly above average in his eight-year career.
#4. Anthony Rizzo
Anthony Rizzo is kind of boring. Sure, he seems fun in those MLB marketing ads, but he’s ruthlessly consistent on the baseball field. Consider the past four seasons, in which Rizzo has amassed the following home run totals: 32, 31, 32, and 32. He drove in 109 runs in both 2016 and 2017, and his OPS has only ranged from .899 to .928 in that aforementioned four-year stretch.
Oh, and he’s a plus defender too, compiling +30 Defensive Runs Saved over the past three years.
Joking aside, this consistent excellence is one of the reasons Rizzo is so valuable to a rejuvenated Chicago Cubs franchise. He was the first franchise cornerstone of their rebuild, and has provided them with enough middle-of-the-order thump to make them one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball.
#5. Cody Bellinger
Oh, what could have been. Tigers fans got excited during the 2016 offseason when Cody Bellinger’s name was floated around as a possible return for Ian Kinsler or J.D. Martinez, both of whom were at least vaguely on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ radar. Whether those rumors were serious or not, the Dodgers were smart to hang onto Bellinger, who rewarded them with a monster rookie season. The 22-year-old earned LA’s second consecutive Rookie of the Year Award by hitting 39 home runs and adding another 26 doubles in 548 plate appearances. He took Adrian Gonzalez’s job at first base and produced 4.0 fWAR in 132 games, but also filled in some in the outfield. He even rated slightly above average as a defender.
#6. Miguel Cabrera
Even just last year, Cabrera would have challenged for a top-three spot in a neutral observer’s rankings, and would have been a runaway winner on our biased list. However, a 2017 season riddled with injuries and other off-field concerns resulted in Cabrera’s worst MLB season to date. The 34-year-old slugger certainly doesn’t have time on his side, but he might have history. Consistently compared to Hank Aaron throughout his career, Cabrera was a sure bet for 25 home runs and 100 RBI year in and year out. There’s no sure bet that he can stay healthy, but even a slightly-less-hobbled Cabrera would make life much more difficult for AL pitchers. He’s a big minus as a defender, but Cabrera’s bat is second-to-none when he is right.
#7. Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu had Chicago White Sox fans worried for a little while. After blazing out of the gates in 2014, Abreu struggled some in the second half. His wRC+ came down to 167 at the end of the year, if you want to know how hot he was initially. Those struggled continued somewhat into 2015 and 2016. His home run, isolated power, and OPS stats all fell, and he was worth just 1.8 fWAR in 2016. However, he perked up toward the end of that season and didn’t slow down heading into 2017. Abreu enjoyed something of a renaissance last year, hitting .304/.354/.552 with 33 home runs. His walk rate was the lowest of his brief MLB career, but he also struck out less often and posted a .248 isolated power (ISO) bested only by his ridiculous rookie season. At least we only have to endure him for two more years.
#8. Eric Hosmer
For all of the flak Eric Hosmer has received in sabermetric circles this offseason, he had a hell of a year in 2017. Hosmer posted career-bests in several categories, including wRC+ (135), ISO (.179), wOBA (.376), and fWAR (4.1). He hit 25 home runs, nearly scored and drove in 100 runs, and did all of the little things he has been praised for throughout his career. Advanced metrics didn’t particularly like his defense -- they never have — but he won his fourth Gold Glove nonetheless. His free agent value is still tied somewhat to his potential, but at 28, it’s okay to admit he’s simply “pretty good” instead of a perennial All-Star.
#9. Ryan Zimmerman
Ryan Zimmerman was an above-average defensive third baseman for most of his career, so it’s a bit curious that he has been a major negative at first since making the move across the diamond back in 2015. He has been worth -10 Defensive Runs Saved in the past two seasons, including -8 in nearly 1,200 innings in 2017. Of course, that hardly mattered thanks to Zimmerman’s bat. He rebounded after an awful 2016 season to hit .303/.358/.573 last year, which included a career-best 36 home runs. Some regression might be due in that department, though; over one-quarter of all the fly balls he hit last year left the park, and Nationals Park isn’t the most hitter-friendly venue in the world.
#10. Carlos Santana
The last spot on this list was hard to rank. Carlos Santana finished just ahead of many of the names you will see below, including one point ahead of San Francisco’s Brandon Belt. While Belt may be the superior defender, Santana has been the bigger power threat of late. The newest Philadelphia Phillie hit 34 home runs in 2016, and followed that up with 23 more in 2017. It was a down year for his batting average — that tends to fluctuate from year to year — but he still managed to produce a 117 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR. An aggressive pull hitter, he may benefit quite a bit from Citizens Bank Park’s cozy dimensions.
Also receiving votes: Brandon Belt, Matt Carpenter, Edwin Encarnacion, Logan Morrison, Wil Myers, Justin Smoak