Baseball season is back and the season is rounding into form. Former MVP and Cy Young Award winners are producing, other players are going down with a series of injuries, and fans around the globe are hoping it is their year. With that in mind, three Sports Unbiased writers got together and decided to debate the best players at each position throughout Major League Baseball. The format is simple, each writer makes a choice and then the writer that went first gets an opportunity for rebuttal. For the sake of these debates there is no “Best of the American League” or “Best of the National League.” Every player on every team is fair game. Up first in the series are the first basemen. Is it Joey Votto or Albert Pujols? Did either of them make the cut? Let’s get to it and see who Brian Reese, Jen Rainwater and Adam Solowiei chose as their best first baseman in Major League Baseball.
Brian: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
In his third full year in the majors, Paul Goldschmidt is the undisputed leader of a very young Arizona Diamondback team. 2013 was Goldschmidt’s breakout year when he was voted to his first All-Star game and won the NL Home Run Crown (tied with Pedro Alvarez), while also winning the Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove for his work at first. He batted .302 with 36 home runs, 182 hits, and 125 RBI. At only 26 years old, this guy has earned the honor of being called the league’s best first baseman because he can do it all. He hits for average, he hits for power, he can play the field, and he’s highly respected within his organization and around the league. Arizona general manager, Kevin Towers, praises his young first baseman by saying “I have not found a flaw in this guy. It’s incredible what he does on the field and who he is as a person.” This guy has yet to reach his full potential and I predict that he has a few batting championships and multiple Gold Glove awards to come in what will ultimately be a very impressive career. If you haven’t seen this guy play yet, or paid attention to the team Arizona has put together this year, be sure to check them out because they have a chance be perennial National League West champions for years to come.
Jen: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman is not only the new “Face of the Braves” after signing the largest contract in Atlanta history, he is also one of the league’s premier first baseman. At only 24 and in his third year in the majors, Freeman finished in the top five for last season’s NL MVP Award and was selected to his first All-Star game. In his rookie season he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Freddie is consistent and constantly improving on both defense and offense. He has pop in his bat and his power hitting and slugging percentage have only improved each year. He can be counted upon to hit doubles to any part of the park. He batted .319 last season, first among all first baseman and since his rookie year has cut down on his strikeouts and upped his number of walks. While he may not have the same number of accolades as Goldschmidt who admittedly did well in awards last season, he is younger and has a ton of potential to continue improving as he has already shown this season. In the spring he was 21-57 giving him a .368 batting average and had seven walks and eight strikeouts in 67 plate appearances. So far the 2014 season has gone well for Freeman who is 3-9 with two home runs in his first three games.
Adam: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
While Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman are both logical choices, I think the ball might have been dropped a bit when it comes to current Major League Baseball first basemen. Shockingly nobody chose the Baltimore Orioles Chris Davis. At 28 years old it took Davis a bit to find his home. He finally got a chance to be a full time player with the Orioles and his last few years have been nothing short of amazing. Last year alone, Davis led all MLB first baseman in OPS (1.004), Slugging Percentage (.634), home runs (53), runs (tied with Goldschmidt at 103) doubles (42) and RBI (138) while finishing sixth in on base percentage (.370). In 2013, Davis was fifth in offensive WAR, the best of all first basemen.
While Freeman is younger, Davis has not been a workhorse until finding his way in Baltimore. Everyone knew he had the potential but he was a late bloomer who appears to have found his stride. Are his otherworldly numbers to be expected every season? Probably not but even at 70 percent of that he is a dominant force for the next five to seven years. He finished third in American League MVP voting but only because he was in the American League with Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. If his numbers were in the National League you are probably reading about the 2013 MVP. Goldschmidt and Freeman supporters will argue about potential. However, Davis is the now and in the now he is the best first baseman in baseball.
It’s hard to argue the recent success of both Freddie Freeman and Chris Davis. 2013 was a breakout season for both of these players, as they had career highs in every major statistical category. Chris Davis is directly the reason why Miguel Cabrera did not join Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams as two-time Triple Crown winners. Freddie Freeman is the youngest of the three players and has shown tremendous abilities at the plate. However, I firmly believe that both of these players will dip considerably in 2014, specifically with their batting average, while I see Paul Goldschmidt continuing to tear up the National League and will ultimately represent the Diamondbacks in the All-Star game.
Goldschmidt is a five tool player in every sense of the expression. In the past two seasons, Goldschmidt has a better batting average than Davis (.294 vs. Davis’ .278), he draws more walks (159 vs. Davis’ 109), more stolen bases (33 vs. 6), and he strikes out a whole lot less (just 275 to Davis’ 368). Goldschmidt is also a better fielder with fewer errors and a Gold Glove last season for his work at first base. If Chris Davis is lucky enough to play another 10 seasons, he will transition into a designated hitter by 30, while I believe Goldschmidt will have a long and prosperous career on the right side of the infield.
Freddie Freeman is an intriguing pick for best first baseman in baseball. He did have a great 2013 campaign and had a better batting average than Goldschmidt (.319 to Paul’s .302). However, Arizona’s first baseman outperformed Freeman in virtually every other offensive category including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, hits, runs, walks, and stolen bases. Both Freeman and Davis play like your prototypical first basemen.
Goldy is already off to a tremendous start in 2014. In eight games he is batting .387 with 12 hits and 4 RBI. These numbers will continue to stay consistent all season and by the time the season is over, Paul Goldschmidt will be viewed around baseball as the league’s best first baseman. You heard it here first.
The beauty of sports is the debate and here we believe that debate breeds understanding, excitement and eye opening insight. There you have it, the writers believe the best first baseman is Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman or Chris Davis. Did any of their arguments sway you? Is there someone else you think should be considered the best? Vote and leave a comment below.
This article was updated to properly credit Paul Goldschmidt with winning the NL Home Run Crown with Pedro Alvarez and to properly capture the two-time Triple Crown Award winners.