A Slightly Sabermetric (But Not Really) Ranking of NL East First Basemen

The next stop in our NL East 2017 rankings: First Base

  1. Ryan Zimmerman – Nationals – 2016 WAR: -1.3

Zimmerman still has all of the support as the opening day starting first baseman for the Washington Nationals despite coming off of a career worst season at the plate and the recent signing of Adam Lind. Zimmerman slashed .218/.272/.370 in 2016, a career low in all three categories. He recorded a wRC+ of 67 which is the first time in his 12 year career he was under league average set at 100. With all of the struggles at the plate, Zimmerman seems to be improving at first base where he recorded a -1.0 UZR last year, not good by any means and the worst in the division, but it was an upgrade from 2015. I came across an article by Jeff Sullivan of fangraphs.com that was published back in December where he raises the question, was Zimmerman bad or was he just unlucky? Sullivan explains Zimmerman’s average exit velocity on balls in the air in 2015 was 94.5 MPH and he slugged 1.016 on those balls. In 2016 his average exit velocity on balls in the air was 94.3 MPH and he slugged .760 on those balls. That seems pretty unlucky to me. Jeff does a much better job of explaining this, in a much more Jeff Sullivan way I might add, so I have linked his article below. Despite the “unluckiness” I still think I would take the other four guys over Zimmerman in 2017. He will still hit the ball hard more often than not but the K% was at a career high last year while the BB% and ISO were at career lows. (Not including the 20 games he played in 2005)

  1. Lucas Duda – Mets – 2016 WAR: 0.1

    mets-spring-baseball

Jeff Roberson/AP

With these rankings I was set in stone with number five and number one, the three guys in the middle can certainly be debated. For now, after only playing 47 games last season, Lucas Duda slides in at number four. Take away the injury season of 2016 and the cameo appearance in 2010 and Duda has played in at least 100 games the remaining five seasons. Two of those seasons were exactly 100 games due to injury, but hey, 100 is 100… He broke out in his rookie season of 2011 where he slashed .292/.370/.492, but like all big power-hitting lefties, you know the ones I’m talking about, his splits aren’t very good against left handed pitching. Duda’s numbers have been trending downward and his age 30 season was a tough time to get injured.

Lucas Duda Career

PA AVG OBP SLG HR K% ISO
2011 347 .292 .370 .482 10 16.4% .189
2012 459 .239 .329 .389 15 26.1% .150
2013 384 .223 .352 .415 15 26.6% .192
2014 596 .253 .349 .481 30 22.7% .228
2015 554 .244 .352 .486 27 24.9% .242
2016 172 .229 .302 .412 7 20.9% .183

Two take aways here:

  1. Even though the market is down on big and powerful left handed hitting first basemen, Duda is, and for the foreseeable future will be, a legitimate power threat in the Mets lineup.
  2. These aren’t rollercoaster numbers we are looking at. When Duda is healthy and consistently in the starting lineup, i.e 2014 and 2015, he can put together some decent numbers.
  1. Tommy Joseph- Phillies – 2016 WAR: 0.9

Whether Tommy Joseph is the long term replacement of Ryan Howard at first base or not remains to be seen by many, I think he will be there for years to come. He appeared in 97 games at first base, starting in 74, in his 2016 rookie campaign where he was serviceable as the Phillies continued to wean themselves off of Howard. Another power hitting first baseman, Joseph got his big league career off to a decent start last season where he slashed .257/.308/.505 with 21 home runs in 347 plate appearances. At 6’1, 220 lbs, he was pretty much the type of player you would expect from a high slugging first baseman, albeit this time from the right handed batter’s box. There was a low walk rate at 6.3%, accompanied by a middle of the road strikeout rate at 21.6% (not bad for a rookie) and an ISO at .248 (outstanding for a rookie replacing arguably the best power hitter in franchise history.) I think, by comparison, Jospeh had a very good year at the plate. When you combine that with his pretty much average defense, which can be a novelty at first base for a guy with his kind of bat, and his better than average baserunning for the position, it all adds up to proof that Joseph will be holding down first base in Philly for awhile. The potential is there and with Howard completely out of the way, we could be seeing a breakout year from Tommy Joseph.

  1. Justin Bour – Marlins – 2016 WAR: 1.3

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Joe Frisaro/MLB.com

Justin Bour, listed at 6’3 265 lbs and I think maybe even a little bigger, is a scary guy at the plate. The sound that the ball makes coming off of his bat is the one that we all long for at times like this, over four months removed from baseball. Seriously, this dude hits balls over the outfield wall that are still going up as they go over the fence. He is not even 45 feet down the basepaths by the time some of his home runs have left the ballpark. The MLB has been discussing the extension of the netting behind the dugouts for years, but when Justin Bour is up you almost need netting behind the outfield wall. He hit a homerun off of John Lackey last year that had an exit velocity of almost 112mph with a launch angle of 28 degrees; per StatCast. In other words, he launched a missile. Sorry, the guy hits the ball hard and no matter how many new stats and measurements come out I will always love a guy that obliterates baseballs. With that being said, here are some stats and measurements.

Here are Bour’s 2015 and 2016 numbers despite only playing 90 games last year due to an ankle injury that spiraled into other things:

2015 2016
PA 446 321
HR 23 15
AVG .262 .264
OBP .321 .349
SLG .479 .475
ISO .218 .211
wRC+ 118 114

Bour is also a better than average fielder with a UZR of 2.0, as well as an average baserunner with a UBR of 0.1. I bring this up because it is rare to find a powerful first baseman that also has a sure glove and good enough baserunning skills. Lucky for us, we have two of those guys in this division.

  1. Freddie Freeman – Braves – 2016 WAR: 6.1

The hometown favorite of the Atlanta Braves was pretty much the only guarantee to not get shipped out of town during the Braves total teardown and rebuild of the organization, and for good reason.

The Slightly Sabermetric

Category

Freeman NL First Basemen Rank (minimum 300 PA’s)

WAR

6.1 1st

wRC+

152

2nd

BsR

1.1

3rd

ISO

.267

2nd

BB% 12.8 %

5th

DRS 9

2nd

These numbers tell us that there are a lot of “one trick ponies” when it comes to first basemen in the NL. Freeman might not be the BEST power hitting first baseman or BEST fielder, but I think behind Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo he is the best first baseman in the league. This is in comparison to guys like Joey Votto who had better power numbers but is way behind everywhere else, or Wil Myers who had a better UZR but didn’t hit for a great average. Freeman is definitely a franchise piece in an era where you can’t say that about a lot of first basemen.

The Not Really Sabermetric

Category Freeman NL East First Basemen Rank (Minimum 300 PA’s) 
HR 34 2nd
RBI 91 6th (1st NL East)
AVG .302 2nd
OBP .400 3rd
SLG .569 1st
SB 6 4th

The 2007 second round pick of the Braves is one of the best all-around first basemen in the game today. The fans love him, his teammates love him, the front office loves him, and he loves Atlanta. After a healthy season in 2016, expect to see Freeman put up big numbers again, especially with better pieces around him.

What do you all think of our NL East First Baseman Rankings? Comment below!

Stats Courtesy of: Fangraphs.com

Feature Photo Courtesy of: Curtis Compton/AP/AJC

Jeff Sullivan: Was Ryan Zimmerman Actually Bad?