Baseball BeatAugust 01, 2003
Nobody Asked Me, But...
By Rich Lederer

In the aftermath of the Frank Thomas article, I thought it would be timely to rank my top ten first basemen of all time.

 1.  Lou Gehrig
 2.  Jimmie Foxx
 3.  Mark McGwire
 4.  Frank Thomas
 5.  Jeff Bagwell
 6.  Johnny Mize
 7.  Hank Greenberg
 8.  Willie McCovey
 9.  Harmon Killebrew
10.  Eddie Murray

The first two are easy. Lou Gehrig ranks number one by almost every sabermetric measure, whether it be OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TA, or RC. Jimmie Foxx ranks second in most of these categories. Stan Musial would rank among the top three if he was listed as a first baseman. Stan the Man played more games at 1B than any other single position, but he appeared in almost twice as many games in the OF as 1B.

On the other hand, the next five players are much more difficult to rank. Mark McGwire had the highest peak value. Mac's 1998 season (.299/.470/.752 with 70 HR) was one for the ages, but what is less known is that his 1996 season (.312/.467/.730 with 52 HR) was nearly as good. Those seasons rank as two of the best ever for a 1B. As noted in the Let's Be Frank About the Big Hurt article, Frank Thomas ranks 6th all time among all players in career OBP, 13th in SLG, and 9th in OPS and OPS+. Among 1B, only Gehrig ranks higher in all four areas. Jeff Bagwell and Thomas have had parallel careers. Bags has been a much better fielder and baserunner than Big Frank, but he ranks behind his American League rival in number of seasons with OPS+ of > 150 (six vs. eight) and > 175 (two vs. six) as well as career OPS+ (155 to 163). Thomas-Bagwell or Bagwell-Thomas, I'm OK either way.Johnny Mize and Hank Greenberg both ended their careers with OPS+ of 158, but Mize created 10% more runs and had more seasons with OPS+ of > 150 (ten vs. seven) and > 175 (four vs. zero) than Greenberg.

The case for Greenberg and Willie McCovey is that they led the major leagues in OBP, SLG, OPS, and/or TA for several five-year rolling periods with the latter also having led the N.L. in OPS and OPS+ for three consecutive years (1968-1970). Harmon Killebrew's most comparable player was McCovey, yet the Killer falls short of his N.L. competitor in both peak and career totals. Eddie Murray earned the nickname "Steady Eddie" for his longevity and consistency, which allowed him to accumulate counting stats rivaling those of Gehrig and Foxx without putting up comparable rate stats.

One could also make a case for both Frank Chance and George Sisler. Chance was the best first baseman during the first decade of the 1900s (although he played 100 games or more just six times and never appeared in more than 136 in any single season), and Sisler was the premier first sacker between Chance and Gehrig. That said, Sisler and Bill Terry have generally been overrated throughout baseball history because of their high batting averages.

Just Missed: Dick Allen
Coming on Strong: Jim Thome
Least Appreciated: Will Clark
Sadly Forgotten: Dolph Camilli

Check back tomorrow for a new article on a different method to rank home run hitters. Two of the top five names will shock you.

Photo credit: Matthew Fulling