Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: First Base

This is a continuation of a look at MLB's Top 10 by position.

First base is a position loaded with talent throughout MLB. It is most likely the most stacked position in the league. Ryan Howard is typically a difficult player to rank. He can go from being the most feared hitter in all of baseball to looking like he couldn't hit a slow-pitch softball in the blink of an eye. MLB network fairly and correctly ranked Howard sixth on their list.

10- Kendry Morales, Anaheim Angels
9- Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
8- Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
7- Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
6- Ryan Howard, PHILLIES
5- Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
4- Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
3- Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
2- Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
1- Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

Pujols always tops this list and it seems he may continue to be the best and most productive first baseman in the game for another decade. Cabrera is an absolute beast at the plate; he is one of the best overall hitters in the game and always seems to be in contention for the Triple Crown. He actually out-hit Pujols in several categories last year including average, RBI, doubles, on base percentage and slugging percentage. Pujols, on the other hand, plays much better defense.

Gonzalez is primed to put up a huge season in the friendly confines of Fenway Park for the Red Sox this season. For years, many have wondered what Gonzo could do if he left Petco Park. Finally, the baseball world will get its answer in what could be a career year for Gonzalez, hitting in the middle of a stacked lineup in a small ballpark.

No arguments with Votto (last year's NL MVP and deservingly so) and Teixeira rounding out the top five. Tex has ended up being a God send to the Bronx Bombers. With many of their regulars aging and declining in production (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada to name a few), Tex has been the one consistent dominant force in the Yankees' lineup.

Howard had a strange year for the Phils last season. His average is up, falling just under .280 each of the last two seasons and his strikeouts were down last year, although he got fewer at bats due to injury. While Howard is making more of an effort to put the ball in play, his power numbers have decreased, especially last year. After hitting 58 home runs during his MVP season of 2006, Howard hit 47, 48 and 45 over the next three seasons respectively. Last year, he slugged just 31 long balls. His RBI total was drastically down too; he drove in 108 runs after knocking in 149, 136, 146 and 141 the four seasons prior.

Pitchers are getting more comfortable facing the big man. In 2006, he was intentionally walked 37 times. In 2007, 35 times. Then in 2008, he was intentionally walked only 17 times. Even worse in 2009, while posing a career high 616 at bats, Howard was intentionally walked just eight times. Last year, the number rose slightly to 11.

Pitchers obviously feel more comfortable and confident while pitching to Howard. Those numbers are certain to have something to do with Jayson Werth batting behind him as well, but Howard has shown opposing pitchers how to get him out. Don't expect his walk total to increase this season if the Phillies don't find a suitable replacement for Werth to bat in the five hole.

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