NL Central Smackdown: 1st Basemen

I was going to try and get this up before the season started, but that clearly didn't happen for a variety of reasons. But that's no excuse to let the work go to waste. Basically I thought it would be fun to go through each position player in the division and the starting pitchers and see how we rank them. Who’s the best now? Who will be the best over the next 3 years? I'll be using Baseball Prospectus's WARP-3 numbers for the most part, which includes both offense and defense and most importantly for this exercise, projections for the next three years. Once we get through the eight positions and the starting pitchers, I'll finish it off with a Bill Simmons inspired (ripped off) trade value chart.

Here are the ground rules. We're trying to figure out who you'd rather have on your team. Do your best to take your Cubs bias out of the equation if possible (that shouldn't be hard for some of you). But we're also trying to figure out who has the best players on the their team right now, so I'm going to use the players projected to get the most playing time this year. Sure, Jay Bruce will eventually take over center field duties in Cincinnati, but who knows when. The chart after the jump includes their 3-year WARP-3 averages (2005-2007) and their projected 2008-2010 averages.The final column, appropriately labeled "Rob's Rankings", are simply how I ranked them before looking at any stats. For the most part I was pretty close to what the numbers bear out. I should also note that I did my rankings before the season started.

We'll start off with the toughest and most talented position, the first basemen. Your gladiators after the jump....

Player 3-Year Warp-3 Average
3 Year Warp-3 Projection
Rob's Ranking
Derrek Lee 6.6 4.27 4
Prince Fielder 5.62 (2 Years) 5.77 3
Albert Pujols 9.97 8 1
Lance Berkman 7.13 4.97 2
Joey Votto N/A 5.23 5
Adam LaRoche 4.27 2.9 6







The Justification: I almost feel bad about ranking Lee fourth on the list with his hot start. Pujols at the one spot is a no-brainer, the best hitter in the game and his defense is vastly underrated. The 2-4 spots were then essentially coin flips. Berkman's about 6 months younger than Lee which doesn't mean much, but he can play a more than passable right field when needed. And personally, I just think he's a little better hitter. Lee certainly gets the edge on Fielder with the glove, but with Fielder just about to turn 24, I think most GM's would trade Fielder for Lee right now. Joey Votto is well on his way to making a name for himself, but he's still too much of a risk at this point. Adam Laroche fits right in with Pittsburgh and their long tradition of sucking ass.

I've put up a ranking poll and I hope all take a moment to put in their votes. What I'll do is add up everything once we get through all the positons and try to get a composite of who's the best team. I'm not exactly sure how I'll do the pitching. It would be pretty hard to rank 30 pitchers and then the bullpens. I might just do the bullpens as units or the whole staff and I'm open to suggestions.

You may be asking, am I ranking the best players for this year or for the next few years? Well that's a question that GM's face every day. Where's the line and where's the trade-off? So choose wisely...

Please note, you do have to register to vote. This isn't some scheme to solicit registrations, it's just an anomaly of the site and the poll software that's built in. Trust me, I'd love to fix it, but I haven't found another piece of integrated software that does these ranking polls which I really like. Plus if you register, you get a better user experience as I tend to test everything as a registered user and you get an uncached version of the site. You can also view the results of the poll after you vote, instead of having to wait until I close it. It takes all of two minutes to register and unlikes some sites, I'll be more than happy to cancel your account if you wish. You'll never receive any spam from us either...promise.

If you liked this article, consider supporting us during TCR's April Pledge


Very impressive list of talent -- Pujols, Lee, Berkman and Prince, plus the up-and-coming Votto. After Phat Abert, as you said, it's shades of grey and a matter of taste -- Lee for defense and speed, Berkman as a pure hitter, Fielder for youth and power.

Everyone must be taking the day off just like the Cubs. I was expecting quite the outcry about ranking Lee 4th.

Fwiw, added a "Recent Posts" block on the left sidebar below "featured posts". I'm hoping to merge that into one "block" where "Featured Posts" currently resides and use a tab to go between the two, but haven't figured that out yet.

I'll cry out in response to Lee at 4th. I can see having him 2nd behind Albert Pujols, especially if you are unconcerned by Pujols's elbow issues and don't share my belief that some day his hamstrings will explode in a gory mess. But putting him behind Berkman and Fielder is, I think, unfair. I think you haven't properly accounted for the value of a phenomenal defensive first basemen. Lee is by far the best first baseman in the game today, may be the best I've ever seen, and he makes the rest of our infield defense look great. Lee saves runs, and as underrated as Albert may be defensively, Lee blows Pujols out of the water. I don't even want to talk about Fielder's defense. Berkman is okay with the glove, but not significantly better with the bat, so he ranks behind Lee too.

I myself ranked Lee 1st and Pujols 2nd, but I personally see it as a tie in which Pujols clearly wins with the bat and Lee clearly wins with the glove. Pujols would certainly win that contest if it weren't for my own concerns about his health.

PS. Anyone else see the note on RotoWorld that the Giants are considering shifting Zito to the bullpen? That made me laugh out loud. What a horrible direction that organization is headed.

Most of the defensive numbers I've seen show Pujols and Lee as comparable fielders.

Let's use Rate2 for example:

Pujols the last 3 years: 101, 108, 109 (2005-2007)

Lee: 105, 106, 106

And clearly, Pujols is the better hitter.

As the Warp-3 numbers bear out (WARP3 includes offense and defense), Lee is actually projected as the 5th best first basemen over the next 3 years. They do tend to give way too much credit to minor league numbers in my opinion, so I couldn't possibly give Votto the nod over Lee. 

As for the Berkman, Fielder, Lee dilemma toss-up. I truly do think it's a toss-up. I think if you asked Hendry to trade Lee for Berkman, he wouldn't do it and Wade wouldn't trade Berkman for Lee. On the other hand, your GM is something stupid if they wouldn't trade Lee or Berkman to get Fielder considering their age and salaries.  

My completely non-expert and very biased opinion is that those defensive stats are very limited. I think defense is even harder to measure than offense and at some point you have to just trust your eye, even if your eye is not exactly professional. I see that you are ranking them according to their stats, but I see Lee's defense as a little bit intangible, or at least difficult to measure, and my eye tells me he's far better than Pujols, and the two of them are both better than rest of their competition. But, the way I'm looking at it, it's just a matter of opinion at that point.

My completely non-expert and very biased opinion is that those defensive stats are very limited.

I don't disagree, their good for a frame of reference, but can never capture the full picture. You have to eyeball it a little bit. I'd take Derrek over Pujols if it was just about defense, but it's not that big a discrepancy to make up for the vast difference in their offensive games. Unless you think the 2005 Derrek Lee is going to keep showing up year after year. I, of course, doubt that will happen at age 32.


I can't say I expect Derrek to hit .335 with 40+ homers again, but another year of OBP near or above .400 and 35+ HRs seems possible. Meanwhile, I imagine that Pujols could see his production drop off if he starts to accumulate injuries. That elbow is going to need surgery at some point, and I see that as a major concern either this year or next.

My own unsupported opinion that Pujols will turn out more prone to injury than Lee helps level the playing field, if you believe it. Honestly though, if we're talking the next five years, I take Pujols. If we're talking the next two, I'm worried about that elbow. Who can predict which will be more durable over the next 8-10, except to point out that Lee is older?

Regardless of injury, I still think Lee's defense puts him ahead of Berkman and Fielder. I suspect, however, that Fielder is going to improve as a hitter, unless he lets his weight get (more) out of control. I also think he'll be best suited to DH shortly.

Prince Fielder is a great player with a bright future but is not a complete hitter, yet. Lee, right now is a much better baseball player.

I agree with Lee/Berkman/Fielder being fairly even, though I'd put Lee at #2 just because he's the most complete ballplayer. And for all the points Fielder gets for his youth, he should definitely lose some for his physical conditioning. He may be shaving productive years off his career with every mayonnaise-drenched Boca burger he inhales.

I see people are heeding the "take your Cubs bias out of this" as Derrek Lee currently leads the voting. Yeesh!!!

Albert Pujols = Sure-thing HOFer
Derrek Lee = Not at all

Whoa - "sure-thing HOFer"??? IF he maintains his current production level for a few more years then yes he'll get in. But he's at just 864 runs, 881 RBI, and 287 HR. People would have said the same thing about Albert Belle when he was averaging 37 HR and 120 RBI for 10 years, but then he gets degenerative osteoarthritis in his hip and is done for good. You just never know. Is Pujols a likley Hall of Famer, sure, but if he retired today would he be in - no way.

Whoa - "sure-thing HOFer"???

Alright, Sure thing "barring unforeseen catastrophic event" HOFer... 

Pujols though is an incredible athlete, something you really can't say about Belle, who was kind of a slug in the outfield. Just consider all the position changes he's already made and handled quite well. I would be suprised if injuries completely derailed his career. This elbow injury sure hasn't hurt him for 2+ years now. 


assuming Pujols age is correct (and that's quite an assumption), I'm not sure we've seen a more incredible player in our lifetime. Derrek Lee has put up a WARP-3 number comparable to Pujols in all of one season (2005 of course). Saying Lee is even close to Pujols is quite an insult to Sir Albert.

But since he's a Cardinal, I'll let it pass . :) 

Just consider all the position changes he's already made and handled quite well.

This doesn't support your argument. Switching to easier defensive positions should not be a problem for MLB players. A successful position change, in and of itself, does not indicate defensive prowess. A successful position change to a more difficult position does. Let's remember we're talking about 1st basemen.

That all said, Pujols is head and shoulders above any other 1st baseman in this division. Ranking him lower than Lee is silly. Pujols is a great defensive 1st baseman as well.
for 5 days, hand injury...not considered serious.

Probably get flamed for this, but


Yeah, that's right.

Ha, I just saw Rob ranked LaRoche last.


You know, in hindsight, I think I'd rather have Fielder than LaRoche... flip those two.

You know, in hindsight, I think I'd rather have Fielder than LaRoche... flip those two.

you think? Are you related to LaRoche or something?

Yeah, the more I think about it...

Hey Rob G.... any way you can just delete an entire thread? Or change the author name to 'Silent Towel'?

Just wondering.

I can delete individual comments or edit them. Not sure if I can actually change who wrote them though. We won't hold your LaRoche comments against you.

LaRoche Lover!!!

Sounds like lots of yall are drinking the DLee Cubs-Drank

Scott Hatteberg

No way on fielder. He isn't a complete hitter. He maybe. But let's see him .320. I don't think he will. Also, no speed, so walking him is not nearly the penalty it is for Lee who can score on a double. And Lee plays far better defense.

Puljos by far then Lee.

fielder hit 320lbs. sometime after thanksgiving/xmas i believe.

he's way too young to look like an old man. he's barely the player he was 2 years ago as his massive rock of a body is slowly turning into a massive flab of body.

his arms are even starting to get a little jelly and watching him cover 1st is just painful.

So you would be happy if the Cubs traded D Lee for Berkman? I'm going to call BS on that. :)

I would be indifferent myself. Lou would be happy, he can hit from the left side. :)

But honestly, that would be the very definition of a challenge trade. Berkman's probably a little better hitter but not as good with the glove. But Berkman can play RF if needed to offset that. Berkman is actually a better baserunner these days...well at least smarter (Check out the SB numbers). 

my sentiments exactly. Berkman handled Cf competently only a couple of years ago. He is a year younger and hits from the left side. I think Lou makes the DLee/Berkman trade today if it were offered. Lou makes a DLee/Fielder trade Yesterday if he had the opportunity.

must be disappointed Matt Murton wasn't represented. Can't he be added?

Anyway, Scott Hatteberg is not a starter. Berkman is past his prime, fortunately for us. Pujols will most likely be a 1st ballot HOF. World Series ring, and the HR off Lidge, in addition to his consistent MVP-type numbers. Book it.

must be disappointed Matt Murton wasn't represented. Can't he be added?

Wtf did that mean? What would Matt Murton have to do w/ this discussion.

And Berkman is 5-6 months younger than Derrek Lee and one of the few players in baseball hitting better than Lee right now. 

Not sure "5-6 months younger" really gives Berkman much of an edge in youth. Seems to be splitting hairs a bit.

it is "splitting hairs" point was in response to Berkman being past his prime. I doubt Eman thinks Lee is past his prime. 

Although techinically, they both probably are...

Kind of a Dickhead jab at me there E-Man. I put Hatteberg in there as the next guy I would take in the division. Berkman's ability to play a competent OF and Fielders 50 HR power and youth give those guys the edge. Obviously JMHO.

A Dickhead jab? Are you a little sensitive, Dr.?

You can take a little needling, now and then right? Or, as another poster stated previously, unless you are related to Orange Guy?

fwiw, it felt like a dickhead jab when I first read it...

No Dickhead jab intended, Dr.

No offense taken E-man. I probably overreacted.

F U both. And you too, Rob. I reject and denounce all of you.

more dry wit, Whipple?

I refuse to stoop to your level. Shame on you for asking. You have sullied this board with your question. Yes.

I don't think you can do the "trade today" as a measure of players current potential, at least not when comparing Fielder to the rest of the field. Fielder is going to be relatively cheap and under control for a few more years, that means he will be a better value than Lee or Berkman, it doesn't mean he is the better player. If I was looking at building a franchise for the next 5-10 years, I'd want Fielder, if money isn't an object, and I want the most complete player for this year, then I'd pick Pujols, Lee, Berkman, then Fielder.

I voted

Prince (I might have switched those two, I don't remember)

Pujols is a force. The only possible drawback on him is the elbow, which I really do see as a ticking time bomb, which, admittedly should have sidelined him for far longer than it has at this point.

But it does hamper my prospective argument for Lee, that all the statistics here are weighed down heavily by the hand injury that hampered his 2006 & 7 seasons. If you look at what Lee had done before Furcal, and now, when medically, he should be fully recovered, and it's hard not to consider him a better player than the numbers reflect.

But Pujols has the elbow, Berkman has the legs, and Fielder has his fat ass. The catch there is Lee's ailment is somewhat less likely to continue to be a problem moving forward. At least that's what my limited knowledge of sports medicine leads me to believe.

If Votto doesn't turn out to be a long-term stud, I have a hunch that he can still be counted on to be a long-term Cub killer.

LaRoche is capable of getting insanely hot for periods, but he's really not even in a class with the rest of these guys.

But Pujols has the elbow, Berkman has the legs, and Fielder has his fat ass.

Nominated for comment of the day.

I don't know about you but after reading that post, I got wood.

Oh, and Rob, why don't you just admit the real reason we need to register to vote on TCR. It's so we can be called for TCR jury duty.


That was before I read the post where Rob wanted actual opinions and I voted out of love and spite. For accuracy sake...flip Pujols and Berkman.

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