As we enter the final stretch of the 2023 series, Pitcher List is ranking the top 10 at every position in baseball.
Previous entries in the Pitcher List 2023 Positional Rankings Series [include links to any previously published article in the series]: Catcher, 1B
The first base rankings saw some exciting young players playing their way into this ranking with outstanding second halves. And on the top end of things, this list hosts two would-be National League MVP candidates if not for the outstanding efforts of their teammates. You know who I’m talking about.
10. Spencer Torkelson, DET
As we’ll do in the eighth spot, we’ll reward a young bat who’s overcome a lot of adversity early on in his big league career. As a polished college bat selected number one in a no-brainer pick, Torkelson came in with the can’t-miss label and struggled heavily in his first year.
In 2023, things also didn’t start off well for Tork. However, the power has really turned around since July, with Torkelson posting a .529 slugging percentage in the second half of the season.
Part of why Torkelson also gets this spot is that after a while in the 1B rankings, things get very murky, and there were no final great options.
9. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR
This year we saw the floor of Vladdy Jr. as a big leaguer. He’s hitting the ball hard like he always will, and there is no glaring flaw one could look to. Yet, the result has been eerily similar to the numbers he put up as a rookie.
A .436 slugging percentage is certainly not what you expect out of one of the bigger power threats in the game today. The strikeout rate was even down, and looking at all the numbers I wouldn’t necessarily be worried about Vladdy in the future. Things just didn’t click for the former AL MVP runner-up in 2023.
8. Triston Casas, BOS
This might be a tad high for Casas, but I’m gonna give him extra credit for what has been tremendous growth in the second half. To reach a .860 OPS with the start to the season that he had is an impressive feat.
Through March and April, Casas was hitting .133 and had a slugging percentage below .300. But Boston stuck with their highly touted prospect and the kid figured it out in the ensuing months, with a 182 wRC+ in the second half.
Those early numbers were always going to significantly influence his final line, but he’s finishing the year about as well as anyone on the list
7. Nathaniel Lowe, TEX
It’s funny how sometimes all it takes for a singular player to earn more respect is the improvement of the players around him. Lowe has been significantly worse as a hitter than he was last season, taking a dip in wRC+ from 141 to 122. However, given the surrounding cast and what it has produced, he’s probably gotten more national attention than he did last season.
Both the average and power dropped quite a bit for Lowe in 2023, but what has allowed him to stay afloat as a good hitter has been the large increase in walk rate, going from 7.4 percent in 2022 to nearly 13 percent in the following campaign.
6. Pete Alonso, NYM
How long do I wait until I rank the only other dude besides Olson who has a shot at hitting sixty was my question, and I just could not wait any longer. Yes, Alonso’s average is disappointing, but in the words of the wise man, he gets on base.
Nathaniel Lowe has an average more than .50 points higher (.276 to .225), and yet he trails big in wRC+ (122 to 132), and it’s because Alonso’s power output is as inevitable as a stolen base from Ronald Acuña Jr. Even amidst what has been by all accounts a worst-case-scenario season for the New York Mets.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, STL
The reigning NL MVP hasn’t been bad, especially not when you consider his age. However, the contrast of last season’s outrageous numbers really does him a disservice here.
At the end of the day, Goldy is likely to hit 25+ homers, be somewhere around 80 and 90 RBI, score a lot of runs on a very mediocre offense, and even deliver double-digit stolen bases as the sneaky baserunner he’s always been.
He’s basically been Nathaniel Lowe with a little more pop, yet Lowe gets more general praise because he wasn’t coming off the best season in the league last season.
4. Yandy Díaz, TBR
Would I rely on Diaz as a top-five first baseman for next season? Definitely not. However, one cannot ignore the results in front of him. And the reality is that with a power surge early on, Diaz has fueled a campaign that resulted in a 152 wRC+ in the last month of the year, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Diaz has always been a good hitter, but until this year lacked the power to really be in this position. A slugging percentage in the high .500s across the season’s first couple of months really gave him a different floor.
3. Christian Walker, ARI
Corbin Carroll and Zac Gallen get all the headlines in Arizona, but Christian Walker is as much a part of this team’s winning efforts as anyone. The D-Backs’ first baseman has quietly put up the best season of his career, with a .247 ISO, .345 OBP, and an above-league-average strikeout rate (19.1).
Walker’s defense might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the reigning NL Gold Glove winner has defended his crown about as well as anyone could, bolstering an Outs Above Average mark in the 97th percentile.
As a big contributor on both sides of the ball, Walker ranks third among first basemen in fWAR at 4.0
2. Matt Olson, ATL
Us Matt Olson truthers have been waiting for the year that it would all click for the power-hitting first baseman, and in 2023, it has finally happened. It’s easy to overlook the human element, but it had to have been difficult for him to come in and replace the club hero that was Freddie Freeman.
Still, all things considered, he was solid last year, even if unspectacular with his worst slash line in a 162-game campaign since his sophomore year in 2018.
Should we expect an HR/FB rate in the 30’s for the future? Probably not. However, we already know that we ought to tame the 50+ homer expectations for next season. Olson’s pop is more than established, and we saw that with the 34 homers he hit in a down year in 2021. He’s still going to be a great option at first.
1. Freddie Freeman, LAD
Under normal circumstances, Freddie Freeman would be well on his way to his second MVP campaign. Thanks to the superhuman efforts of Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuña Jr., he’ll have to settle for some scattered votes. I’ve dubbed Freeman as the Roto Savant for his steady reliability in every facet of the format, whether you’re playing AVG or OBP.
Freeman currently leads the NL in OBP (.414) and poses a .336 batting average which would also lead the league if not for Luis Arraez joining the Marlins. And last but not least, Freddie has an outside shot at hitting 60 doubles on the year, currently with 53.
As I wrote in this article, it really does not matter that he is only going to hit close to 30 bombs when everything else is this absurd. Oh, and he also has 17 stolen bases.
Freeman does all of this with one of the more well-executed approaches at the plate in the big leagues. Not coincidentally, alongside Betts and Acuña Jr., Freeman is one of three hitters in the majors to have a 60 grade or better in every facet of the PLV model from Kyle Bland. So SZ Judgement, Dec. Value, Contact, Power, and Hitter Performance. He’s really, really good.
All stats as of Friday the 9th in September.