2012 was *not* a good year for first basemen across the league. Only three players topped four wins, and one was a part-time DH (Edwin Encarnacion). In 2011, seven players topped four wins, including three that were over 6.5. Bad years from Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols essentially deep sixed the position as a whole, but young players like Eric Hosmer and Yonder Alonso struggling didn't help matters at all. This list was very difficult to put together, and I'm sure there is going to be a lot of discussion about it.
Finally, when it comes to part-time players (like the aforementioned Encarnacion), I'll be taking their primary position in 2013 into account. For example, Nick Swisher played 259 innings at first in 2012, but he's an outfielder for the sake of these rankings. But Encarnacion, who split time between DH and first base, will qualify as a first baseman since he logged 45% of his games at first in 2012, and is likely going to be playing most of the time there in 2013 depending on what happens with Adam Lind in Toronto.
Remember: this list (and all of the lists we'll be rolling out this week) reflect the order I'd prefer to have the players for the 2013 season. I don't care about 2016, I don't care about 2010, I care about 2013. Got it? Good.
10. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
Aside from his runner-up finish in the 2009 MVP race, Teixeira's career in New York has been thoroughly mediocre, especially considering how much money he's making. He'll be 33 in April, and Teixeira is coming off the worst season of his career, an injury-plagued year where Teixeira was never fully healthy all season. He could easily bounce back this year and have a great season for the Yankees, but I just don't think he's a five to seevn win player anymore. Out of all of the bad contracts the Yankees have right now, I think Teixeira's is second to just Alex Rodriguez's on the scale of how debilitating it is to the team. Yet, he's still a top ten first baseman in the league because of the relative youth of the position.
9. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Rizzo was a disaster in 2011 with the Padres, but ran roughshod through the minors after getting demoted. He began 2012 in AAA with the Cubs and made a mockery of the PCL before getting called up to the majors and performing much better than he did with the Padres. Rizzo belted 15 homers in just 87 major league games in 2012 while also showing solid plate discipline and hitting for a high average, not turning 23 until August. This is a player who could be a top five first baseman in the league in as soon as two years, and probably has the highest ceiling out of all of the young first basemen in the league.
8. Ike Davis, Mets
Davis gets brutalized by many due to his status as a member of a team in a huge market. He played in just 36 games in 2011, but homered seven times and posted a .926 OPS. Davis struggled in the first half of 2012, but exploded in the second half, homering 20 times in 75 games after the All-Star Break while cutting his strikeout rate and increasing his walk rate. He finished the year with 32 homers and a .770 OPS, and I wouldn't be shocked if he belted another 30 with an OPS around .850 in 2013. Be afraid, NL East…be very afraid.
7. Corey Hart, Brewers
Hart, Milwaukee's primary right fielder for the last five years, shifted to first base after Mat Gamel tore his ACL last year. Despite the position shift, the 30-year old Hart had a typical season for him: 30 homers, decent batting average, solid OPS. That's enough to make you a pretty solid starting first baseman this year. Unlike someone like Adam LaRoche (who isn't on this list), Hart has been consistently above average throughout his career, especially in recent years. He's entering his walk year in 2013, and could be in line for a solid enough payday after a good year. He's not exactly Prince Fielder, but he's good.
6. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
I don't know what to make of Gonzalez anymore. After three straight five win seasons, his statline took a huge dip in 2012, his second in Boston. Gonzalez continued to middle along after the August trade that sent him to the Dodgers, homering just three times in 36 games. His 2012 season has given me huge pause as to whether or not Gonzalez is still an elite player in this league, and I'm going to need to seee some evidence on the field that he's still the same guy that he was from 2009 to 2011 that earned him a nine figure contract extension from the Red Sox.
5. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
In his third season with the Blue Jays in 2012, something clicked for Encarnacion, much like it did with Jose Bautista when he came to Toronto. The 42 homers that Encarnacion bashed in 2012 were a career-high and more than he hit in his prior two seasons with the Blue Jays, but it's more than just a power thing with him. Encarnacion also upped his walk rate to 13.0% from 8.1% in 2011 while keeping his strikeout rate consistent, and he also kept his batting average high at .280. Being on a star-studded Toronto team in 2013 will likely help Encarnacion's overall production this year, and if Bautista is healthy, the pair could combine for 100 homers.
4. Allen Craig, Cardinals
Craig has only played in 238 career games, but it has been a great run: 37 homers, a .300 batting average, and playing time at six different positions. And the thing about Craig is that he dealt with injuries for the first two months, missing time after offseason knee surgery and a hamstring injury. With how strong the Cardinals lineup is, Craig could break out in a big way in 2013 hitting in front of Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.
3. Albert Pujols, Angels
It's not that Pujols isn't great anymore…it's just that he's not *as* great. After getting off to an ice cold start to the 2012 season, Pujols caught fire over the summer, homering 21 times in 74 games from June to August. The old Pujols was back in the second half, posting a .935 OPS after the All-Star Break despite a sluggish September thanks to a knee injury. At any rate, he's still an awesome player that could easily jump back up to the top of the list next year, but I can't go any higher after he's struggled in each of the last two seasons.
2. Prince Fielder, Tigers
It was a two-man race for the top two spots in the order, and I had to put Fielder at the second spot. Despite his size, Fielder has been an extremely healthy and durable player over his career, and his first season in Detroit was no exception. But his 30 homers in 2012 were his lowest in a season since his 2006 rookie year, and while his .313 batting average was a career-best, I think Fielder can be better than he was in 2012. The difference between one and two on this list is a razor thin margin, and putting Fielder second isn't a slight on him at all.
1. Joey Votto, Reds
Despite playing in just 111 games in 2012, Votto's 5.9 fWAR was the best among all first basemen in baseball by a full win. His statline for the year was .337/.474/.567, and he walked nearly 20% of the time. Votto was on a crash course for the NL batting title and MVP award before summer knee surgery sidelined him for six weeks. Votto is just a monster offensively, and over the last three years, only Miguel Cabrera has been a better hitter overall. With Cabrera's move across the diamond, the top spot in our first base rankings is ripe for the pickings for Votto.