Paul Goldschmidt running the bases.
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First Base Belongs to the NL Central

The National League Central Division had the best grouping of first basemen in all of Major League Baseball in 2018. When the St. Louis Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt that grouping became even better. It’s a scary thought, but heading into 2019 there isn’t another division in MLB that can touch the NL Central first basemen.

If we start with hitting as our baseline, because above all else first basemen are expected to rake, the division’s dominance is stark. The DRC+ MLB leaderboard for first basemen in 2018 reveals that 5 of the top 10 were all currently in the NL Central (Matt Carpenter was at first for the Cardinals last year, but obviously won’t be this year). The only outlier is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Josh Bell down at the 24th spot. He still put up a positive DRC+ though, and overall no other division came anywhere close at generating positive outcomes from the batter’s box.

DRC+

3. Matt Carpenter138
5. Paul Goldschmidt135
   Jesús Aguilar135
8. Anthony Rizzo130
10. Joey Votto128
24. Josh Bell103

Impressively, this group grades out well defensively, too. However, this is also the category I would caution people about the most. Fielding metrics are notoriously dicey on a year-to-year basis and first base is an area of particular murkiness. Still, based on the metrics we have, the NL Central proves to be the cream of the crop. FRAA believes three of the top ten defenders at first come from this division, with the only negative mark coming from Josh Bell. Admittedly it is a horrendous FRAA that fuels Pirates fans nightmares, but it is the only bad one in the bunch.

FRAA

1. Anthony Rizzo14.4
2. Joey Votto11.6
8. Jesús Aguilar3.6
15. Paul Goldschmidt1.7
21. Matt Carpenter0.7
54. Josh Bell-6.8

I hope you weren’t reading expecting this group to dazzle on the basepaths. They are first basemen, and that position is notorious for being sluggish. Cody Bellinger was the best among all first basemen in 2018 with a 3.3 BRR, and the NL Central grouping was, well, easily the worst in all of baseball. Not a single positive in the group, and Anthony Rizzo’s number probably still wouldn’t beat Billy Hamilton running barefoot on one leg while wearing a blindfold all season long.

BRR

30. Josh Bell-0.8
33. Jesús Aguilar-1.1
35. Paul Goldschmidt-1.3
37. Matt Carpenter-1.5
46. Joey Votto-2.6
58. Anthony Rizzo-5.8

Putting the numbers all together is where one can see just how much better the NL Central first basemen are compared to the rest of the league. Similar to DRC+, Carpenter, Goldschmidt, Rizzo, Votto, and Aguilar all rank in the top 10 in bWAR. Bell is the only outlier, his 0.4 bWAR is just above replacement level. It’s still not enough to make any sort of dent in the overall production of the rest of the group.

bWAR

1. Matt Carpenter5.8
   Paul Goldschmidt5.8
5. Anthony Rizzo4.4
6. Joey Votto4.2
8. Jesús Aguilar4.0
19. Josh Bell1.3

To put these numbers in a little bit of perspective, this group combined for 25.5 bWAR. Every first baseman who had a positive bWAR in the NL West, minus Goldschmidt, equals out to 13.0. This NL Central grouping was over 12.5 wins better. If the top 10 non-NL Central first basemen are added together they were only able to produce 4.9 more bWAR than the 6 person NL Central group. One area where the NL Central is head and shoulders above the rest of the league is first base and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Lead photo courtesy of Dylan Buell – Getty Images

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