Braves: Ranking the First Basemen in the NL East

Fredde Freeman is one of the many Braves impending free agents

Teams in the National League East have seriously beefed up their position player groups this off-season. One could argue that every single team took strides forwards. Starting with this article, we will do a weekly review of each position group in the division. And what better place to start than where the reigning NL MVP hailed from — first base.

We will review each player as subjectively as possible and then rank them, but it is essential to remember a few things. Offense is not everything. We will factor in defense and base running ability by using metrics such as defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) and Ultimate Base Running (UBR). Another metric that will be looked at is OPS+, which takes a player’s OPS and adjusts it based on league average, factoring in things like ballparks.

Let’s start with the Atlanta Braves. Freddie Freeman is obviously one of the best first basemen in baseball. On top of the 3.2 WAR he posted last year, Freeman led the league in doubles, walked more than he struck out, had a slash line of .341/.462/.640 and a 186 OPS+ (which equates to 86% above league average). It was, of course, a shortened season, so the rate stats like OBP would have regressed. Still, his career slash line is very elite .295/.383/.509 and a 139 OPS+. Freddie’s downfall is that he is subpar defensively. He accumulated -0.3 dWAR in 2020. I know he has won a Gold Glove, but historically, the process of choosing the winner is flawed. However, that is a subject for another day.

Up next is Pete Alonso. Following his unbelievable rookie season, some baseball fans may have argued that he was among the best first basemen in the game after just one season. Well, Pete had a sophomore slump last year, finishing with only 0.3 WAR. His slash line of .231/.350/.559 and 123 OPS+ were solid but not as video game-like as his rookie year. Alonso also struggles mightily defensively. In 218 games played thus far, he has accumulated -2 dWAR. Remember, fielding percentage is not everything. Range, arm strength, and reaction time are all essential too.

Washington found an upgrade at first base this offseason by trading for Josh Bell. Bell is streaky, but when he is on, he terrorizes pitchers. To be fair, though, Bell only had one All-Star level season, which came in 2019. That year, he had an OPS+ of 141, but in no other season has he eclipsed 111. In 2020, Bell finished with an 83 OPS+ and provided the Pirates with negative WAR. He does own a career OPS+ of 116 and his career slash line over five years is .261/.349/.466. Time will tell if the shorter season was the issue or if 2019 was just a flash in the pan. Defensively, Bell has never been good. He owns a career -7 dWAR over five years. That is abysmal, folks.

Now, onto the Marlins. ESPN has Garrett Cooper as the starter. Aguilar could win the battle in spring training, but we will stick with Cooper because it should be his job to lose. Last year, in 34 games, he accumulated 0.5 WAR. If you go by WAR per game, that was higher than Alonso and Bell. Cooper had a career year, posting .283/.353/.500 slash line and 130 OPS+. Granted, it was only 37 games, but it was still excellent for a player that most people probably did not think about much last year.

Finally, we have Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies. His downfall is his defense. He should be a DH, as he is arguably the worst with the glove of the five players mentioned, accumulating -5.2 dWAR in four seasons. He is not improving either, with a -0.9 mark in only 41 games last year. He does hold his own with the bat, though, boasting a career OPS+ of 125. He has also accumulated a 5.6 WAR in three-and-a-half seasons.

 

So, with all this in mind, let’s rank the group.

  1. Freddie Freeman
  2. Pete Alonso
  3. Rhys Hoskins
  4. Josh Bell
  5. Garrett Cooper

Let’s hear your opinions in the comments!

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