There are a lot of great first basemen on playoff teams, but there is only one Albert Pujols.
After having a fairly easy time ranking the catchers on the teams contending for playoff spots yesterday, I had to spend a lot more time on the first basemen that are potentially playoff-bound. The thing that makes it so difficult is that none of these teams has a particularly weak 1B. They all have shown that they can lead their respective teams, and all are proficient on offense and defense. This is the list that I came up with. I expect at least a few objections.
1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
OK, I don’t expect any objections on this one, though. Pujols is simply the best player in the Majors right now, hands down. From an offensive standpoint, he looks like the next candidate to be the player who will break all the major records. He’s no slouch defensively, though, either. This season, Pujols has only committed 12 errors this year and did win a Gold Glove in ’06. The Cardinals success, or lack thereof, in the playoffs this year lies heavily on The Machine.
2. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
Up to this point in the 2009 season, the $180 million dollar man has paid off with dividends for the New York Yankees, leading the AL in both home runs and RBIs. The All-Star has also continued to live up to his reputation of being a very good defensive first baseman by committing only 3 errors on the year, putting him in line to potentially win his 2nd career Gold Glove.
3. Ryan Howard, Phillies
If not for Albert Pujols, Howard would be the NL first baseman everyone is talking about for the MVP this year. His power numbers are fantastic, as always, and his average at .275 is a significant improvement from last season. He is the heart and soul of the Phillies’ powerful offense along with Chase Utley and is one of the most dangerous men to have to face in a big spot in the league. His defense is a bit suspect at times, committing 14 errors this year after 19 the previous year, but it’s a necessary risk for Philadelphia to take because it’s not like they can use him at DH in the NL.
4. Kevin Youkilis/Victor Martinez, Red Sox
Initially “Youk’s” position at the beginning of the year along with David Ortiz, Youkilis now splits time at first with Victor Martinez, usually replacing Mike Lowell at third. Either one of them is a great option to have in the position, though, as they have combined to commit only one error in 99 games at first this season. Also striking is the fact that they both are hitting over .300 this year and both have hit over 20 HRs and have over 90 RBIs.
5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
In his first full season as solely a first baseman, Miguel Cabrera has excelled for the battling Detroit Tigers, hitting .329 with 33 home runs and 101 RBI, while only committing 7 errors in the field. Unfortunately for Cabrera, he’s no longer a third baseman, which means that this year he is not in the MVP candidate talks in spite of his numbers.
6. Todd Helton, Rockies
Ol’ Reliable for the Colorado Rockies, all Helton wants is another chance to win a World Series like he had back in 2007. His power numbers are significantly decreased from his prime, but he’s still hitting .323 for the year and hasn’t committed more than 5 errors in a season since he committed 11 in 2003. He is the face of the Rockies’ organization and there might not be a guy in the league who wants to win more than Helton.
7. Adam LaRoche, Braves
Getting out of Pittsburgh might have been the best thing to ever happen to Adam LaRoche’s career. At first, he was sent to Boston, where he lasted a whole six games before being sent to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman, where he has gone onto hit .344 in 52 games with the Braves and become the protection in the lineup that they have needed for Chipper Jones. He’s also amongst the best defensive first basemen in the game, with a fielding percentage of .999 this year.
8. Kendry Morales, Angels
Another beneficiary of change, Morales finally got his chance to play full-time this year with the departures of Casey Kotchman and Mark Teixeira, and has solidified himself at the position for the LA Angels of Anaheim. The 26-year old has been a catalyst for the Halos’ offense at times, hitting .303 with 33 home runs and 105 RBIs. His defense has been passable, as well, committing 8 errors on the year. However, it remains to be seen how Morales will react to his first time in the playoff spotlight. If he struggles, the Angels might be in trouble against the Red Sox.
9. James Loney, Dodgers
Loney was a guy that a lot of people predicted to have a breakout year with the Dodgers, but hasn’t really lived up to those expectations, hitting almost identically to his numbers from last year. In 2008, Loney hit .289, with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs. This year, Loney is hitting .285, with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs. No, that is not a typo. He is the exact same player he was last season. He has improved defensively from ’08 though, cutting his errors down from 13 in ’08 to seven in ’09. Loney just doesn’t match up with the rest of the guys on this list, and isn’t necessarily the guy Joe Torre’s Dodgers are counting on to drive their offense in the playoffs.
10. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
It’s not even that I think Cuddyer isn’t good, because he is pretty darn good and he’s having a career year in ’09, with highs in hits, home runs, and slugging percentage, but he’s not a first baseman by trade. Cuddyer is a player who can play just about any position on the field, but was forced to stick to first after Justin Morneau went down with his season-ending back injury. In 28 games at first, Cuddyer has committed four errors, which, when looking at the rest of these guys’ defensive stats, is not very good. I just worry about a player who is placed into an unusual situation in important games and what could potentially happen.