Opening Day is still months away, but it’s never too early to start looking at how the National League East is shaping up. Let’s take a look, position by position, at how each team shapes up around the diamond. Of course a lot can still happen between now and Opening Day – players may be traded, free agents may sign, injuries may change things, etc. But for the time being let’s see where each team stands as we rank the division’s starting first basemen.
1. Freddie Freeman (Braves) – We can’t stand him, but man… he is good. He’s 25 years old and signed through 2021, so he’ll be haunting us for a long time. Since his rookie season in 2011, he’s averaged 153 games played while hitting .287 with 21 HR, 34 doubles and 89 RBI with a .368 OBP and .466 slugging. He’s been better against righties, hitting .300 in 2014 and for his career – but he’s held his own against lefties, batting .260 in 2014 and .258 overall. He’s the best first baseman in the National League East.
2. Lucas Duda (Mets) – Duda will be entering his age 29 season in 2015 and finally had his breakout season in 2014 after winning the first base battle over Ike Davis. In 2014, Duda slammed 30 HR and 92 RBI while batting .253 with a .349 OBP and slugging .481. He was particularly good against righties, hitting .273 with 28 HR. He really struggled against lefties – 21.5% of his official at bats were against left handed pitching, but he only hit 2 HR and 10 RBI while batting just .180. Duda showed he was a force, but he’s going to need to improve against lefties. His 30 HR was third in the National League and his 92 RBI was fifth. He vaulted himself into the second best first baseman in the NL East after his 2014 season. He’ll need to follow up with another solid campaign to stay there and perhaps even challenge Freeman.
3. Ryan Howard (Phillies) – The 35 year old Howard is on the down slope of his career and has never been the same since tearing his Achilles in the 2011 postseason. He made 141 starts at first base in 2014, but put up only a .223 batting average with 23 HR and 95 RBI. He struck out 190 times, leading the league. The left handed lifting slugger actually hit better against lefties, hitting .230 while slugging .447 (versus .353 against righties). He may be on the back nine of his career and he’s not putting up $25 million per year numbers anymore, but he’s still dangerous, isn’t a guy you can LOOGY, and was third in the National League in RBI. He may slide another spot down if the next guy on our list can regain his form, but don’t count the Big Man out just yet.
4. Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals) – Zimmerman is listed first on the Nationals depth chart. Injuries, the departure of Adam LaRoche, and the $74 million owed over the next 5 seasons (before the 2020 team option / $2 million buyout) necessitates the move despite Ryan playing only 18 major league innings at first base. The 30 year old appeared in only 61 games in 2014 while hitting ,280 with 5 HR and 38 RBI with a .342 OBP / .449 SLG. Time will tell if he will have healed up enough to return to the form that averaged 140 games played, a .284 batting average, 22 HR, 33 doubles, 83 RBI and a .351 OBP / .476 SLG over the previous 8 seasons. Until he shows otherwise, he is the fourth best first baseman in the NL East. If he has another season like the one he had in 2014, he’ll drop down to number five.
5. Garrett Jones (Marlins) – Jones is the incumbent first baseman for the Marlins and is signed through the 2015 season. The 33 year old is coming off a 2014 season in which he hit .246 with 15 HR and 53 RBI while getting on base at a .309 clip and slugging .411. He’s also struggled against lefties – none of his 15 home runs in 2014 came off of lefties and just 3 of his 53 RBI were off southpaws. Over the last 5 seasons, he’s averaged 148 games while hitting .249 with 19 HR, 30 doubles, 67 RBI, and a .308 OBP and a .438 slugging. He’s not going to overwhelm you, but you know what you’re going to get – the fifth best first baseman in the National League East.