The quality of first basemen in the NL Central has fallen quite a bit since the days when Pujols and Fielder would terrorize the Midwest all summer long. The first base situation is unclear in two cities and questionable in two more, leaving Joey Votto as the lone superstar at the position. A couple of good seasons in Chicago and St. Louis could change the story, but for now the NL Central is home to the worst collective group of first basemen of all MLB divisions.
The Joey Votto Tier
Though he gets some crap from baseball dinosaurs (some in his own organization, unfortunately) for low RBI totals, but make no mistake, Votto remains one of the best overall hitters in the entire game. Since the 2009 season that exploded him into the upper tier of MLB hitters, Votto has triple slashed .318/.431/.548 (good for a 162 OPS+), accumulating roughly 30 WAR, and walking FIVE HUNDRED TIMES in that time span. Votto’s power may be slipping ever so slightly, but as the reigning king of OBP that shouldn’t be of much concern. – Tommy
Joey Votto is just simply awesome. Last season he almost walked more (18.6%) than he struck out (19%). He does everything well, hits for average, power and obviously gets on base a whole hell of a lot. He does play half of his games at Great American Ballpark but his numbers just do not disappoint. It is hard not to assume he will post another 6 win season because he has been right around there since 2010. I expect him to be around there again. – Kenny
Second Place – Cardinals (Allen Craig* and Matt Adams)
In distant second is the Cardinals’ confusing first base situation. Allen Craig has drawn a ton of praise from traditionalists who just love high batting averages, but as a full-time starter Craig hasn’t come close to repeating the huge .315/.362/.555 (151 OPS+) 2011. As he gets more exposure to the league, it’s tough to see him ever really becoming that .900+ OPS monster people originally saw, and it’s likely he settles in as a 2-3 WAR player for many more years.
The Cardinals, though, may have the third best first baseman in the division as well in Matt Adams. Adams mashed his way through the minors, and has the potential to be even more valuable than Craig at the plate. Adams probably won’t ever hit .315, but he could easily be a .290 type hitter with a similar walk rate as Craig and much more power.
Altogether, it’s tough to tell how the Cardinals will handle these two once Oscar Taveras hits the bigs (can you imagine a platoon of these two hitters?), but rest assured the Cards will be left with a great first base situation.
Unfortunately these two will have to be rated ahead of Rizzo because both of them are just overall better hitters. Come on it is the Cardinals so they have two guys that hit for good average, power and get on base. So really who is surprised here? Both of them boast OPS’ north of .800, Cardinal voodoo magic strikes again.
*Allen Craig is listed at 1B for me because the likelihood of #Oscar replacing him in RF at some point this season is very, very high.
Middle of the Pack – Cubs (Anthony Rizzo)
The Cubs are blessed to have finally found a reasonable long-term answer at first base in Anthony Rizzo. Though he is not yet (and quite possibly never will be) as good as Craig or Adams, he’s a strong defender with extreme pop who should fall backwards into a 2 win season as long as he’s healthy. I will not lie, though, I am worried about Rizzo’s contact rate and struggles against lefties, both of which make me think his ceiling, failing a BABIP fluke, is more .260/.350/.460 than .280/.380/.500. On a side note, the Cubs are the only team in the division with an appreciably valuable 1B prospect in the minors, Dan Vogelbach, but he almost certainly won’t be a 1B as a Cub.
If Rizzo hit the lefties better, he would almost surely make it harder for me to not pick him number 2 because his numbers would be a lot better across the board. Sure he had a “down” year but he still was playing gold glove defense and probably should have won that award. His offense numbers were not horrible; the numbers I was worried about was his OBP% and SLG%. Rizzo will never hit for a crazy average but should SLG better and get on base at a higher rate. Expect a much better year from #44.
Fourth – Pirates (Gaby Sanchez)
Might as well just flip a coin on who should be 4 and 5. Sanchez gets the upper hand for me because he does things on the field better which is not saying much. Sanchez did get on base at a good clip last year (.361). Expect the Pirates to try and upgrade.
Worst in Show – Brewers (…Juan Francisco? Hunter Morris? Lyle Overbay?)
Not a very good defensive first basemen is saying it nicely, I’ve seen him just completely whiff trying to catch a couple of throws but…He hits home runs…
Tire Fire Tier
I’m going to put the Pirates and the Brewers together, only because you can’t really compare two teams that don’t have a starting first baseman. I mean sure, technically Gaby Sanchez is going to start in Pittsburgh, so that might give them a leg up on the horrific hodge-podge of washed-up players at first base in Milwaukee, but that’s splitting hairs. If forced to choose between Sanchez and Mark Reynolds/Lyle Overbay/Juan Francisco, I’m taking the empty spot in the lineup.