MLBN drills down to find Top 10 first basemen

January 22nd, 2016

First base is one of the most power-packed positions in the Majors, full of hitters who hit in the middle of their respective orders. In 2015, first basemen combined to average 115 WRC+, the best among position groups in the Majors, according to's Mike Petriello.

MLB Network revealed its top 10 first basemen on Thursday night, based on results from "The Shredder" -- an algorithm based on player performance that accounts for both offense and defense that was put together by MLB Network's research department "without emotion or bias." Host Brian Kenny and guest host Carlos Pena also provided their top 10s.

"The Shredder" uses an objective methodology to rank players at each position based on their past track records as well as their future projection. It weighs the offensive and defensive statistics for a player in both one- and two-year increments and places more emphasis on defense at positions that are on the right of the defensive spectrum, i.e. catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field. It also takes into account a player's durability as well as the offensive environment of his home park. (In other words, it gives more credit to home runs hit in San Diego as opposed to Colorado.)

Here is MLB Network's list of Top 10 first basemen:

1. Paul Goldschmidt

2. Joey Votto

3. Miguel Cabrera

4. Anthony Rizzo

5. Edwin Encarnacion

6. Jose Abreu

7. Adrian Gonzalez

8. Freddie Freeman

9. Chris Davis

10. Brandon Belt

Cabrera had been ranked No. 1 on the list by The Shredder in each of his first two seasons as a first baseman, and manned the top of the third-base list during his final two years at that position. But injuries last season combined with another outstanding season from Goldschmidt helped unseat Cabrera from the top spot this year. The analysts and computers all agreed that Goldschmidt cemented himself at the top of the rankings after another outstanding season.

Carlos Pena:

  1. Paul Goldschmidt

  2. Miguel Cabrera

  3. Jose Abreu

  4. Anthony Rizzo

  5. Edwin Encarnacion

  6. Joey Votto

  7. Eric Hosmer

  8. Adrian Gonzalez

  9. Chris Davis

  10. Albert Pujols


  11. Paul Goldschmidt

  12. Joey Votto

  13. Miguel Cabrera

  14. Anthony Rizzo

  15. Jose Abreu

  16. Edwin Encarnacion

  17. Freddie Freeman

  18. Adrian Gonzalez

  19. Chris Davis

  20. Brandon Belt

    "This guy is the best out there. He does everything," Pena said. "He can hit for power, hit for average, steals bases, it's just a complete package."

    Goldschmidt has become a perennial Most Valuable Player Award candidate now at first base, appearing in three consecutive All-Star Games, collecting a pair of Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Slugger Awards. In 2015, he batted .321/.435/.570 with 33 homers, 110 RBIs, a 1.005 OPS and 8.8 bWAR.

    Biggest disagreements

    After an impressive 2015, where exactly Votto ranked on the list was a topic of some contention. Votto established himself once again as one of the best hitters in the game with the Reds last year, when he hit .314/.459/.541 with a 1.000 OPS and 174 OPS+ and finished third in the voting for the National League MVP Award. For that, the computer and Kenny tabbed Votto as the No. 2 first baseman in the Majors. Pena strongly disagreed, however, and placed Votto sixth on his list.

    "Trust me, believe it or not, the OBP will go up because pitchers will be even more scared of him and not pitch him," Pena said. "So I think he's sacrificing a little bit, there's a happy medium that I think he could achieve that he's not doing right now."

    "I see the singular greatness of what he does," Kenny countered.

    In fact, Kenny's list closely mirrored the computers, with the same 10 players, albeit with a few switched in the rankings. Pena had a bit of a different list, including both Albert Pujols (10th) and Eric Hosmer (7th) while leaving off Freeman and Belt.

    "I think the Shredder has done a tremendous job," Kenny said. "I'm not going to question the Shredder."

    "On my list, you had to have a little more thumb," Pena said. "When you look at a first baseman, you want to see that ball go out of the ballpark."

    Biggest risers

    It's hard to rise from year to year with some of the best talent in the game making up this list. And yet Rizzo continues to climb, jumping from seventh at the end of last season to fourth this year. Rizzo smashed 31 homers with an .899 OPS and finished fourth in the NL MVP Award voting while he helped guide the Cubs to the postseason.

    If the computers have been underrating Encarnacion for years, they are beginning to come around, as he moved up on the list for the third consecutive year. After turning 33 earlier this month, he's no longer in the prime of his career, but the power numbers are still there, with 39 homers in 2015 and a .557 slugging percentage. After placing 10th in 2014, Encarnacion moved up to sixth at the start of last season, and now ranks fifth.

    "This position is one of the stacked positions in the game today," said Vince Gennaro, the president of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).