Top NL First Basemen in 2009

Albert Pujols (STL):  Far and away the best player in baseball, as he has been since he arrived nearly a decade ago.  Nobody approached his offensive production and he remains the best fielding first baseman in the game.  As such, his overall production exceeded 225 runs – a staggering total.  I show Pujols as about 50 runs better than the next most productive player in the game.  The question going forward will not be whether Pujols belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether Pujols is the greatest player God invented.  (178.7 Runs Created, 46.8 Runs Saved = 225.52 Total Run Production)

Adrian Gonzalez (SD):  In most years, this kind of production would lead his league – much less his position.  Instead, he’s just the second most productive player in baseball.  No wonder the Red Sox (and everybody else) wants him.  Dependable and rangy at first base, hits for power and has a solid OBP.  And, he’s doing this in San Diego – the hardest place to put up decent offensive numbers.  It took a while for Gonzalez to reach his fullest potential, but you have to like the total package.  (143.3 Runs Created, 31.05 Runs Saved = 174.38 Total Run Production)

Ryan Howard (PHI):  Had a normal season for him (45 – 151 – .279), but seems to be getting more comfortable defensively.  Howard hit .207 with just 6 homers in 222 at bats – I have no idea why any team would let him face a righty (39 – 108 – .320 in 394 at bats).  By the way, his splits against lefties were WORSE than his career rate (.226 with 53 homers in 935 at bats).  So that’s not a good thing.  (127.6 Runs Created, 11.66 Runs Saved = 139.25 Total Run Production)

Prince Fielder (MIL):  The second most productive hitter in baseball, but his range at first base is now problematic.  In 2006, I showed Fielder as being slightly above average (where Ryan Howard is now).  In 2007 and 2008, he was about ten runs worse than average.  Last year, he was atrocious.  Some of this could have been his pitching staff (Corey Hart had lousy numbers in right field), but giving him 20 runs back still makes him about 10 runs worse than average.  Of course, when you create 150 runs of offense, you can live with the glove.  (157.9 Runs Created, -31.0 Runs Saved = 126.88 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  A third baseman, but probably should play first base instead.   If he played first base regularly, he’d rate here…

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  Had a surprisingly good season defensively – frankly, I’m stunned, but if you look at how few assists the rest of the infielders had and then see how many putouts he had, you realize that Cantu takes charge of the infield and makes the most of his time out there.  Additionally, he’s a reasonably productive hitter – an old school definition RBI guy, gets lots of chances and seems to drive in runs whenever called upon.  He’s NOT that productive a hitter – he’s good, but not that good.  However, if he fields like Derrek Lee used to, it’s a valuable package.  (84.9 Runs Created, 25.3 Runs Saved = 110.24 Total Run Production)

James Loney (LAD):  Looking at his stats, I can’t see a difference between Loney and Cantu.  Medium range power, RBIs when opportunities arise, solid defense.  (90.4 Runs Created, 17.58 Runs Saved = 108.03 Total Run Production)

Adam LaRoche (PIT/BOS/ATL):  Had a reasonably good year with the glove – better than any in recent years (since 2006, for sure).  Coupled with decent power and a fair eye, LaRoche was reasonably productive in 2009.  That he’s suddenly moving around more than a regional sales director makes me think his career will start moving downhill, but for now he’s still worth keeping around.  And, compared to what the Diamondbacks had last year, LaRoche is a significant step forward.  It would help him measurably if he could hit in April.  The Pittsburgh job now lands on Jeff Clement, a former Mariner prospect who hasn’t shown major league hitting ability yet.  (99.8 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 107.5 Total Run Production)

Joey Votto (CIN):  Missed time this summer dealing with ailments both mental and physical, otherwise he would have rated higher.  Votto is a surpremely talented hitter and a tolerable fielder.  Mashed lefties and righties with equal aplomb in 2009 but gets more walks and power against righties.  I’d love to have him on my team – and he’s my pick to have a crazy breakout season.  (112.6 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 107.33 Total Run Production)

Todd Helton (COL):  Still hits well – power stats like Loney but gets on base more often.  His fielding draws raves, but with a stiff back and older wheels, he’s really just a dependable ball catcher who doesn’t have much range anymore.  I wrote about how much Helton has been helped by playing in Colorado, but even at that, he’s been a good player for a lot of years.  When he comes up for the Hall of Fame ballot, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.  (99.9 Runs Created, 0.8 Runs Saved = 100.69 Total Run Production)

Derrek Lee (CHC):  His back and neck must have really been bothering him as his defensive contribution – usually in the top three or four at first base – was actually among the worst fielders at the position in 2009.  His bat returned to form, however, and he’s been a good hitter (occasionally great hitter) for a long time now.  If I were a betting man, however, I’d be picking Lee as one player who might slip in 2010.  At the end of the season, Lee turns 35 – so time and various injuries are going to start working against him.  As a Derrek Lee fan, I don’t want to see this happen – but the Cubs will have to plan for replacing Lee in the next couple of years.  (114.7 Runs Created, -16.7 Runs Saved = 97.98 Total Run Production.)

Lance Berkman (HOU):  Already appears to have lost a step as a fielder and hitter and that decline contributed to Cecil Cooper’s firing.  Even having slipped, Berkman puts runs on the board.  Now 34, Berkman is in a race against father time…  Hey, Astros fans – who has been a greater player over his career:  Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell?  (98.9 Runs Created, -4.9 Runs Saved = 94.07 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Not much of a fielder here or in left field – but I think I’d rather him be at first base.  Offensively, he’s still a force – but he’s a poor man’s Prince Fielder.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved – 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Took over when Carlos Delgado could no longer play; he’s mobile and a fair hitter.  Considering what the rest of the league has above him, Murphy is going to have to step up considerably to help the Mets long term.  I think he can get up to where Cantu or Loney are, but he’ll never be GREAT.  At this point, the Mets would settle for solid.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Travis Ishikawa (SF):  A smooth fielder with middling power, at this position it’s not going to cut it – which is why the Giants acquired Aubrey Huff.  I think Ryan Garko would have been a better option for 2010, but they didn’t ask me…  Ishikawa might hang around for years as a pinch hitter, low cost option for the position.  (41.1 Runs Created, 23.26 Runs Saved = 64.34 Total Run Production)

Casey Kotchman (ATL/BOS):  A glove man who hits like Ishikawa, too.  Has moved around a lot because he doesn’t put many runs on the board.  Now in Seattle, I bet the Mariners fans will miss Russell Branyan by mid July.  (53.0 Runs Created, 5.1 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Run Production)

Nick Johnson (WAS/FLA):  A coveted free agent, but I’m not sure why.  He gets on base, but doesn’t create a TON of runs because he has marginal power.  As a fielder, he’s abysmal.  Here’s an odd stat for you.  Nick Johnson’s defense at first base was so poor that he cost the Marlins more runs with this glove than he actually produced with his bat.

You think I’m kidding?  Let’s look at putouts per inning data.  When Jorge Cantu played first, he had 829 putouts in 850 innings.  When Johnson played first, he had 192 putouts in 260.2 innings.  In the same number of innings, that works out to 626 putouts – or 200 (!) fewer than Cantu had.  Does Johnson catch any pop ups, foul balls or line drives?  Apparently not.  Maybe he’s a ground ball repellent – when in the field, the pitchers only got fly balls to the outfield for outs.  I digress.

He’s a DH/#2 hitter – which I imagine might be his job with the Yankees in 2010.  (78.0 Runs Created, -23.3 Runs Saved = 54.7 Total Run Production)

Chad Tracy (ARI):  Got the most action there, but really only played half a season for the Diamondbacks.  He’s gone – thankfully – and Adam LaRoche will improve the output at this position immediately.  (28.4 Runs Created, -5.1 Runs Saved = 23.33 Total Run Production)

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