Best First Basemen of 2008

Other positions:  2B | SS | 3B | DH | LF | CF | RF | CA

Like I did last year, I'm going to spend the few two weeks discussing the top ten players at each position based on 2008 performances.  This year I'm using Justin's stats, which have all the nice features of the home-brewed stats I calculated last year, but with the added benefit of making Justin do all the work:

  • BaseRuns-derived offensive linear weights, with park adjustments.
  • League-adjusted replacement-level, since AL pitching is stronger than NL pitching.
  • Proper position adjustments using the CA - SS - 2B/3B/CF - LF/RF - 1B - DH spectrum.
  • Combined STATS and BIS zone ratings converted to runs to measure fielding.

Players are listed at the position they played the most, but the defensive numbers from all positions are included, and players' contributions to multiple teams are combined. For the top ten players at each position, I've listed their offensive contribution above replacement level and their defensive contribution (position adjustment plus fielding relative to position) compared to average.  Position and fielding are broken out in the table at the end.  If you add offense plus position, you'll get a number with the same use as VORP, but better.

To help you put the Total Value number in perspective, here are some benchmarks given a full season of playing time:

  • League-average is about 20 runs above replacement.
  • The cut-off for true All-Stars is in the 40 run range.
  • Top 5 MVP candidates are worth at least 70 runs above replacement.
  • MVP winners have been in the 90-100 run range the past few years.

Without further ado, here are the top ten first basemen of 2008 (2007 numbers here):

10. Justin Morneau (47 off, -21 def, 27 tot) -- This MVP "candidate" has a reputation as an above-average fielder, but the numbers didn't back that up this year.  Even with a ten run bump to his defensive score, he was about as valuable as Christian Guzman and Placido Polanco.

9. Carlos Delgado (40 off, -12 def, 27 tot) -- I've written a lot of negative things about Delgado in the past few months, so I'll come up with something positive this time: while he appeared to be done as a major league player through the first two months of the season, his second-half performance pretty much assured his spot in the 2009 Mets lineup.

8. Adrian Gonzalez (47 off, -16 def, 31 tot) -- It's not often you find a first baseman who isn't overrated, but AGone just might be one (although he's also not underrated).

7. Miguel Cabrera (49 off, -17 def, 32 tot) -- Quick quiz: who led the American League in home runs and finished third in RBIs in 2008?

6. Carlos Pena (44 off, -6 def, 37 tot) -- Coming off his huge 1.038 OPS in 2007, Pena was looking like a huge disappointment early in 2008 (.737 OPS through May).  But he rebounded after returning from an injury, helping the Rays fend of the Red Sox throughout August and September.  Using WPA, there's an argument to be made for Pena as AL MVP (although it's a relatively poor one).

5. Joey D Votto (38 off, 0 def, 37 tot) -- Geovany Soto will run away with Rookie of the Year honors, but Votto deserves to finish a close second.  Although Dusty attempted to turn him into a hacker, Votto held on to his walking skills and flashed a better-than-expected glove.

4. Kevin E Youkilis (54 off, -4 def, 50 tot) -- The Greek God of Walks saw his walk-rate drop once again in 2008, while he swung at and made contact with a higher percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone.  That didn't seem to hurt his 2008 performance, but I wonder if pitchers will make adjustments next year.

3. Lance Berkman (68 off, 6 def, 74 tot) -- What surprises me is that Berkman is still only 32 years old.  He has many more seasons left to do his best Jeff Bagwell impersonation, including the excellent range at first.

2. Mark Teixeira (65 off, 9 def, 74 tot) -- Mark Teixeira had one of the best five seasons in the majors, but it flew under the radar thanks to splitting time between the non-competitive Braves and the too-good Angels.  Why some Yankee fans don't want to sign him to a $25MM per-year contract is beyond me.

1. Albert Pujols (89 off, 9 def, 98 tot) -- Yes, he's still good.  His advantage over Youkilis, the number four first baseman, is as large as Youk's advantage over replacement-level players.

Here's a table listing the top 25 (with ties) most productive first basemen in 2008:

Rank Player Off Pos Field Total
1 Albert Pujols 89 -11 20 98
2 Mark Teixeira 65 -12 21 74
3 Lance Berkman 68 -11 17 74
4 Kevin E Youkilis 54 -8 4 50
5 Joey D Votto 38 -11 10 37
6 Carlos Pena 44 -10 4 37
7 Miguel Cabrera 49 -10 -7 32
8 Adrian Gonzalez 47 -12 -4 31
9 Carlos Delgado 40 -12 -1 27
10 Justin Morneau 47 -12 -9 27
11 Jason Giambi 41 -8 -12 25
12 Ryan J Howard 37 -12 -3 22
13 Prince Fielder 42 -12 -12 22
14 Derrek Lee 29 -12 2 19
15 Adam LaRoche 28 -10 -2 17
16 Lyle Overbay 20 -12 7 15
17 Ronnie Belliard 22 -1 -6 15
18 James A Loney 18 -12 7 14
19 Casey Kotchman 14 -11 9 13
20 Todd Helton 10 -6 9 13
21 Christopher Davis 19 -3 -6 10
22 Pablo E Sandoval 8 0 2 9
23 Oscar Salazar 7 -1 2 8
24 Nick Johnson 10 -3 1 8
25 Ryan N Shealy 7 -2 2 8
26 Paul Konerko 17 -9 -1 8

And the least productive:

Player Off Pos Field Total
Ross Gload 0 -8 -7 -12
Mark Sweeney -8 0 0 -8
Kory C Casto -3 -2 -2 -7
Ben Broussard -6 -2 2 -6
Chad A Tracy 2 -5 -3 -5
Aaron Boone 0 -3 -2 -5
John B Bowker 2 -5 -2 -5
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