Have you noticed how bad American League first basemen have been this season? Yonder Alonso has been terrific in a breakout season, after changing his swing to hit more fly balls. He already has 11 home runs, matching his career high set in 2012. Logan Morrison has been pretty good, though he’s another player with a long track record of mediocrity.
After that? Miguel Cabrera missed some time on the disabled list, Carlos Santana is off to a slow start, Mike Napoli looks old, Eric Hosmer hasn’t been good, and Jose Abreu and Chris Davis are struggling.
Now, compare that to National League first basemen. Ryan Zimmerman, Freddie Freeman and Eric Thames rank first, fifth and sixth in the majors in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which credits hitters for the value of each hit. Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Matt Carpenter and Mark Reynolds rank in the top 22. Then you have Anthony Rizzo, Wil Myers and Brandon Belt, all All-Stars in 2016. This has turned into a loaded position.
That leads to a fun discussion: Which is the best position in the majors?
I’ll rank each position in each league, considering what has happened this season as well as last year.
1. National League 1B (.281/.371/.539)
Top five: Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Ryan Zimmerman
Indeed, National League first base ranks as the best position in the majors. Only three teams rated below average in value at the position, according to Baseball-Reference.com, and the addition of Thames and the rejuvenated Zimmerman have added two stars to a position already loaded with depth. Thames looks like the real deal, Carpenter remains one of the most under-appreciated players in the majors, and neither can crack my top five.
2. National League 3B (.261/.331/.445)
You have the reigning NL MVP and another of the game’s all-around stars in Arenado, but what lifts this position is the potential breakout performance of Suarez, who is hitting .327/.408/.600 entering Tuesday, with improved strikeout and walk rates that suggest some of that improvement is going to stick. Jedd Gyorko is tearing it up for the Cardinals, and Jake Lamb and Travis Shaw are slugging .500. There are few glaring holes, and eventually Franco will improve on that .217/.292/.374 line.
3. American League CF (.255/.332/.402)
The overall offensive numbers aren’t anything great, especially once you get past Trout, but what makes this group rank high -- besides the best player in baseball -- is its ability to run down fly balls. Kiermaier is a spectacular two-time Gold Glove winner, and Kevin Pillar, who is off to a good start the plate, isn’t far behind him. Byron Buxton might prove to be as good as Kiermaier, and Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr. are also elite defenders. Jacoby Ellsbury is also playing his best baseball in years.
4. American League 3B (.244/.323/.430)
This position would deserve a higher ranking, but Donaldson has spent much of the season on the DL and Adrian Beltre has spent the entire season on the DL (though Joey Gallo has performed well in his place). Seager and Longoria are off to slow starts, perhaps to be replaced by Ramirez and Sano as new stars at the hot corner. Alex Bregman was supposed to be in that group as well, but he has yet to hit a home run.
5. American League 2B (.240/.313/.385)
This might have been the top position in 2016. Altuve and Cano finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting, Dozier slugged 42 home runs, and Kinsler, Pedroia and Jason Kipnis all registered at least 4.8 WAR. The best second baseman so far this season has been the Yankees' Starlin Castro, however, and Kinsler and Pedroia are off to slow starts, with age a possible concern for those two. Throw in Rougned Odor's all-or-nothing approach that features too much nothing, Brad Miller's lack of power so far and some distinct weak spots, and this group gets downgraded for now.
6. National League CF (.248/.316/.401)
This is a fun group, and you could easily include defensive wizards Billy Hamilton and the up-and-coming Manuel Margot in the top five. Phillies fans will argue that Odubel Herrera deserves consideration as well. Pollock is looking healthy again, and Yelich could end up hitting over .300 with 20-plus home runs and solid defense. The loss of Adam Eaton hurts, and some terrible starts by the various Giants (.176) and Mets center fielders (.153) lower the offensive numbers, though Michael Conforto could end up the regular for the Mets.
7. American League SS (.258/.309/.396)
Lindor versus Correa isn’t even an argument at the moment, given Lindor’s big advantage in the field and an early-season power stroke that his him on pace for 30-plus home runs. Segura is proving that his offensive output with Arizona in 2016 wasn’t a fluke, and Elvis Andrus, who is not in the top five, remains an asset, as he has added more pop. There are some huge holes at the bottom of the list, though; Anderson’s poor approach continues to hurt him, and Hardy’s decline from All-Star to waiver-wire fodder is nearing completion.
8. National League 2B (.268/.332/.394)
There isn’t a lot of flash here, but the position is pretty deep from top to bottom. Murphy is mashing once again, and Hernandez is proving that he is the Phillies' second baseman of the present and future. Baez shares time with Ben Zobrist and remains a tantalizing talent, and LeMahieu, last season's batting champ, is off to a mediocre .270 start. The three guys listed as weak spots have been terrible so far but were good in 2016 and should improve, which means every NL team should have at least a decent second baseman.
9. National League LF (.263/.339/.467)
Even with Giants left fielders hitting .160/.241/.227, this group has the second-best offensive production of any position. Ozuna is off to a monster start; remember, he was an All-Star last year before an injury slowed him in the second half. There are some major defensive issues, however, with the likes of Kemp, Schwarber and Yasmany Tomas, and Braun’s metrics are terrible as well. If somebody can find Gregory Polanco's bat, please return it to him.
10. National League C (.249/.317/.404)
This group is better than you might think, with solid offensive production. The Brewers’ pair of Jett Bandy and Manny Pina actually leads the NL in weighted on-base average (wOBA). Plus, even Hedges is showing power and comes with a good defensive reputation.
11. National League RF (.255/.331/.441)
Harper is playing like an MVP again, and Stanton is mashing home runs. Hot starts from Bruce and Scott Schebler have boosted the offensive numbers, and slow starts from stalwarts such as Gonzalez and Hunter Pence (plus Andrew McCutchen before he moved to center field after Starling Marte's suspension) have dragged this group down.
12. National League SS (.238/.300/.384)
Seager finished third in the MVP voting as a rookie and is off to a solid start. Turner and Crawford have spent time on the DL but are All-Star candidates otherwise, and Cozart is hitting .351 thanks to a .427 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Russell has turned into a Gold Glove candidate while we wait for his bat to mature. What drags this group down are some terrible hitters at the bottom, along with poor defenders such as Aledmys Diaz and Asdrubal Cabrera. There’s some upside here if young guys such as Swanson, Arcia and Trevor Story start playing better.
13. American League RF (.258/.340/.421)
Thank the baseball gods for Aaron Judge. At least he gives us another potential American League All-Star outfielder in a generally mediocre group. Remember that Michael Saunders, Ian Desmond and an aging Carlos Beltran were All-Stars last year. I’m not buying the hot starts for Avisail Garcia and Steven Souza, so I left them out of the top five, but at least they’re hitting, unlike Bautista, Joyce or Mark Trumbo.
14. American League LF (.239/.317/.393)
Weak spots: Alex Gordon, Blue Jays, Angels
There are some decent players at the top but no MVP candidates. It’s telling that Benintendi, a rookie, is probably the best all-around left fielder in the league. There are some big issues at the bottom, starting with Gordon, who is a shell of the player he was just a few years ago. The Toronto platoon of Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera has hit .225 with a .268 OBP, and the Angels' platoon of Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere has been even worse. Heck, you could throw Melky Cabrera or the Rangers’ sorry situation (Delino DeShields at the moment) in here as well.
15. American League C (.226/.298/.368)
Getting Sanchez back will help, but outside of McCann and a fluky 60 at-bats from Alex Avila, nobody is doing much damage at the plate. Perez is probably vastly overrated at this point, a sub-.300 OBP guy who has never graded well as a pitch-framer, and Lucroy hasn’t hit at all. Zunino and Sandy Leon are showing that their solid 2016 seasons at the plate were probably accidents more than real improvement.
16. American League 1B (.246/.318/.423)
Top five: Miguel Cabrera, Yonder Alonso, Carlos Santana, Jose Abreu, Chris Davis
Yuck. As you can see, this group is barely outhitting middle infielders. This is a reminder that all things are cyclical. In 2001, Jim Thome hit .291/.416/.624 with 49 home runs, and in 2002, he hit .304/.445/.677 with 52 home runs. He didn’t make the All-Star team either season.