We return from our detour through the index to look at the rankings for first basemen. These rankings are based on the Steamer projections in the six primary categories. Projections are never perfect because they are based on a number of factors that are impossible to predict accurately. Batted ball luck, durability, and actual ability is difficult to predict.
Yet, looking at them is still instructive because the younger players were invariably hurt by the three-year outlook we went with earlier. So, take these rankings for what they are worth. Like with the index, the real story is not in the absolute rankings, but the distance between one guy and the next.
Anthony Rizzo—Chicago Cubs
Projection: .281, 29 HR, 92 Runs, 90 RBI, 7 SB, 76 BB
A part of Rizzo’s charm is that he gives you a little bit of everything. There is someone that does each skill a little better, but he gives you the combination. He also happens to be on one of the most talented teams in baseball. We might say the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, or Astros are better, but that’s still a pretty short list.
Freddie Freeman—Atlanta Braves
Projection: .287, 26 HR, 89 Runs, 90 RBI, 8 SB, 78 BB
Freeman is moving up in the world a lot like the Braves are. They aren’t quite to the same level as the Dodgers and Cubs, but they are the defending NL East champs and you could argue they are even better. Of course, so are the Mets, Phillies, and Nats.
Paul Goldschmidt—St. Louis Cardinals
Projection: .277, 27 HR, 92 Runs, 87 RBI, 11 SB, 92 BB
You could argue for Goldy as the top first baseman and wouldn’t argue too strenuously. Projecting runs and RBI is a fool’s errand. Even projecting stolen bases is hard. So, you leave yourself with the other numbers and he’s right there in all of them. Like Rizzo, he gives you a little of everything.
Rhys Hoskins—Philadelphia Phillies
Projection: .249, 35 HR, 87 Runs, 95 RBI, 5 SB, 80 BB
Funny how we pay so much attention to new faces in new places, but the best guys are usually the guys that are already there. As of this writing, neither Bryce Harper nor Manny Machado have agreed to a deal. Either may wind up in Philly and that would certainly change the perception, but Hoskins still might be the top bat in town.
Joey Votto—Cincinnati Reds
Projection: .278, 21 HR, 87 Runs, 78 RBI, 3 SB, 108 BB
Votto is the best first baseman in terms of pure offensive production, but most of those numbers don’t show up on a fantasy stat sheet. The rumor mill had the Reds adding J.T. Realmuto and if that happened you would have to take them seriously in the NL Central. I’m not sure how much that affects Votto though.
Cody Bellinger—Los Angeles Dodgers
Projection: .267, 30 HR, 80 Runs, 89 RBI, 4 SB, 67 BB
Bellinger has multiple position flexibility (as does Rhys Hoskins) and there is some doubt as to whether he will wind up at first or in the outfield. I’d bet on both. Either way, he is a flawed offensive player, but there is enough protection around him to give him some cover. The added flexibility will help throughout the year.
Matt Olson—Oakland Athletics
Projection: .244, 32 HR, 81 Runs, 90 RBI, 2 SB, 70 BB
The first AL first sacker is a relative newcomer. All positions go through ebs and flows like that. Like some of the guys above him, he is a flawed offensive player, but he is a gifted defender and he plays for a team without many other options. That has a way of boosting his plate appearances.
Jose Abreu—Chicago White Sox
Projection: .280, 27 HR, 77 Runs, 89 RBI, 2 SB, 40 BB
When you put a free swinger on a young team you see diminished returns. Pitchers know they can get him to chase, so he won’t be quite as good as when he first played for the Sox. There is always the chance he could move to a contender in a trade and if that happens we could see a slight uptick in performance.
Eric Hosmer—San Diego Padres
Projection: .265, 22 HR, 76 Runs, 75 RBI, 6 SB, 65 BB
Hosmer is a throwback to the old days of free agency. A fool and his money are soon parted. Yes, there are some really smart people working for the Padres, but either they were out of the room when that decision was made or their voices weren’t heard. He isn’t as bad as he was a year ago though.
Miguel Cabrera—Detroit Tigers
Projection: .283, 21 HR, 69 Runs, 74 RBI, 1 SB, 62 BB
There is a huge debate going in and around the game about the effects of toxic contracts. Make no mistake, Cabrera has a toxic contract. Still, is that as much of a barrier to spending as some contend? If healthy, Cabrera is still a top ten first baseman and if that is the case then he is still worth something.
Brandon Belt—San Francisco Giants
Projection: .253, 18 HR, 69 Runs, 66 RBI, 4 SB, 76 BB
Is Belt really a starting quality fantasy first baseman? That might be more of a philosophical question. If you could guarantee 600 plate appearances the answer is a resounding yes. Of course, that also assumes you are playing in a walks/OBP league. There might be too many caveats there.
Max Muncy—Los Angeles Dodgers
Projection: .236, 23 HR, 70 Runs, 69 RBI, 3 SB, 72 BB
Muncy might become eligible at second base this year. The Dodgers have a group of players capable of moving around the diamond. It makes them a better bet than the Cubs or anyone in the NL East moving forward. Muncy is likely to take a step backwards this season at the plate, so that hurts his value some.
Carlos Santana—Cleveland Indians
Projection: .251, 20 HR, 70 Runs, 66 RBI, 3 SB, 70 BB
Santana is clearly a better player than Yonder Alonso. Maybe if he had been in Cleveland last year they would have made it to the ALCS. Given how thoroughly the Astros kicked them that might be farfetched. Cleveland still has Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, so they aren’t terrible, but they are a much thinner group this time around.
Jesus Aguilar—Milwaukee Brewers
Projection: .242, 27 HR, 69 Runs, 81 RBI, 1 SB, 52 BB
Most projection systems have a regression to the mean model. So, players like Aguilar have to prove themselves before getting the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes this pessimism makes sense and sometimes it’s just a hedging of bets. Take a look at his batted ball data if you like, but this feels like a “prove it” kind of projection.
Justin Smoak—Toronto Blue Jays
Projection: .239, 25 HR, 71 Runs, 77 RBI, 1 SB, 69 BB
There’s a reason why Steamer and other projections systems do what they do. Smoak and Logan Morrison were the toasts of 2017. Smoak took a step back and Morrison turned into a pumpkin. This feels right, but there is also the possibility that Smoak could join a contender via trade, so stay tuned.
Josh Bell—Pittsburgh Pirates
Projection: .270, 15 HR, 58 Runs, 60 RBI, 4 SB, 59 BB
Fans can make themselves wondering when a player will take the next step. Sometimes they never do. Pirates fans have been waiting for Bell to develop a little more power. This year might be the year. Maybe it happens in 2020. He’s not a bad guy to have around even if it never happens. You just have to accurately peg his value.
Kendrys Morales—Toronto Blue Jays
Projection: .249, 21 HR, 57 Runs, 62 RBI, 2 SB, 42 BB
The knee injury that derailed his career as a star didn’t completely kill him. Morales still has value in deeper leagues where he also qualifies at first base. In some leagues he will only qualify in the utility spot. He’s not good enough to stick there. Like in real baseball, there are fewer and fewer spots for pure DHs.
Edwin Encarnacion—Seattle Mariners
Projection: .238, 24 HR, 60 Runs, 68 RBI, 1 SB, 57 BB
It’s hard to fathom someone going from 100+ RBI a season to 68 overnight. I don’t buy that personally, but the Mariners are also in rebuilding mode. Maybe he gets dealt before Opening Day and these numbers change. I have to think he is good for 80 RBI just by virtue of the fact that he is who he is. I’d adjust accordingly.
Ryan Zimmerman—Washington Nationals
Projection: .263, 19 HR, 51 Runs, 62 RBI, 2 SB, 34 BB
We all know that person at work. Everyone feels for him or her because something is going on in their life that just keeps them from being at their best. Then, you realize that there always seems to be something going on. Emergencies cease to be emergencies when they are always happening. Freak injuries cease to be freak injuries when they always seem to be happening. It’s hard to call someone fragile when you haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. Maybe unlucky instead?
Ian Desmond—Colorado Rockies
Projection: .268, 14 HR, 47 Runs, 49 RBI, 12 SB, 30 BB
Desmond gets the nod over C.J. Cron because he potentially has multiple position flexibility. Cron may actually put up slightly better numbers, but when you have the thin air of Colorado and multiple position potential that has to count for something. He also gives us some speed that we don’t normally have at the position.