Earlier this week, we got into Buster Olney’ recent player rankings, covering both the best starting and relief pitchers in the game.
Unsurprisingly – even if it would have been slightly unexpected a few years ago – the Chicago Cubs fared quite well across the board.
On the starting side, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester made it into the top ten in all of baseball, while Kyle Hendricks – a 2016 NL Cy Young award finalist – just missed the top ten, but was mentioned honorably thereafter.
On the relief side, the Cubs’ last closer, Aroldis Chapman, was right up near the top, while their next closer, Wade Davis ranked fifth – and would have ranked even higher, according to Olney, if there were not some outstanding questions about his healthy.
Today, we’re going to pivot along with Olney, and work our way into the first of his positional rankings (others are rolling out this week, too).
As you can probably tell by the title and the featured image, our discussion today is first basemen. Here are the results, with Olney getting input from evaluators around the game:
- Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
- Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
- Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
- Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
- Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
- Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
- Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
- Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
- Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Honorable Mentions: Matt Carpenter (Cardinals), Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox), Wil Myers (Padres), Brandon Belt (San Francisco Giants), Mike Napoli (Free Agent), Ian Desmond (Rockies).
The National League, as you can see, boasts the best of the best when it comes to first basemen, with each of the top four coing from the DH-less league. And, to be quite sure, there’s a pretty dramatic drop off in talent immediately following number five, Miguel Cabrera. Anthony Rizzo, as you can see, is ranked quite highly, as the third best first baseman in the game.
Is that a fair ranking?
Well, by 2016 WAR, the top three would include the same personnel with just Votto and Rizzo switching places. By wOBA, Rizzo and Goldschmidt would move down a spot, while Cabrera slides up to number three. By Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), the Cubs Gold Glove Award winning first baseman, Rizzo, actually takes the top spot and Freddie Freeman slides down to third. So, in total, I think that Rizzo’s third place ranking – when considering his superior defense, but top three/four offense – is about right.
According to Olney, Rizzo might be baseball’s “best problem solver,” meaning that he is exceptionally good at making adjustments. If you’d like an example of how that plays out on the field, consider his stats against lefties (.282 wOBA/75 wRC+) in 2013 against the same stats against lefties (.411 wOBA/165 wRC+) in 2014. That’s not an adjustment, that’s a complete overhaul. (And consider the changes he made after coming over from the Padres.)
And although we’ve long known that Rizzo is capable of making ridiculous plays from time to time (tarp catch, ledge catch), Olney reports that evaluators regard him as the “pre-eminent defender at his position.” He is said to have exceptional hands and a strong ability throw and make plays. That’s a glowing review and squares with the stats (leader in DRS, second in RZR, third in UZR) and his shiny new Gold Glove.
You were right! From 2015-2016, Anthony Rizzo narrowly beat out the 2016 NL MVP in RBI:
Anthony Rizzo: 210 RBI
Kris Bryant: 201 RBI https://t.co/AGAoG6aYzp
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 5, 2017
And hey, he doesn’t just rank out well against his teammates or other first baseman. No, Anthony Rizzo has been one of the most valuable players in all of baseball for three straight seasons:
Since 2014, Rizzo is tied for 4th most WAR in MLB:
M. Trout: 26.3
J. Donaldson: 22.9
A. Beltre: 16.7
P. Goldschmidt: 16.4
A. Rizzo: 16.4 pic.twitter.com/rkjR1Opl1M
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 3, 2017
And all of this, of course, goes without saying how big of an influencer in the charity world, and his popularity on the North Side of Chicago.
Kris Bryant may be the reigning MVP, but Anthony Rizzo – the longest-tenured Chicago Cub – holds a special place in the hearts of fans, a distinction he’s earned by almost every measure.
More From Bleacher Nation