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Posted at 10:26 AM ET, 01/11/2011

NL East position rankings: first base

By Ryan Korby

It’s time to take a first look at how the Nationals stack up against the rest of the NL East at each position. Let’s start with the position that the Nats filled most recently, first base. In these rankings, I’m only going to consider what I expect each player to do in 2011. While the Marlins’ Gaby Sanchez is six years and four years older than rookie Freddie Freeman and second-year player Ike Davis, respectively, that won’t hurt him in this case as these aren’t prospect rankings. So here they are, debate is welcome:

1. Ryan Howard, Phillies - He’s the only all-star out of the bunch and the one true masher in the division manning first base. That being said, his 2010 WAR of 2 would have ranked him fourth out of this year’s starters. His OPS last year of .859 was nearly 100 points lower than his career average, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. One season does not make a trend. However, if his power truly has been sapped, his horrendous defense (he hasn’t been an above average fielder since his rookie year) could move him from first to worst.

2. Adam LaRoche, Nationals - Given comparable numbers to last season’s rookies this looks like a homer pick, but LaRoche did have a down year last season as well. He struck out nearly 5 percent more than his career average and walked less, too. Besides Howard, he still had the best power with an ISO (Slugging percentage minus batting average) of .207. If Howard gets a pass for last season, so does LaRoche. Known as an adequate defender, the difference between him and Adam Dunn should be noticeable, making him seem even more valuable.

3. Ike Davis, Mets - The theme here seems to be that I’m going against conventional wisdom. Davis did finish behind Gaby Sanchez in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting, but their numbers at the plate were nearly identical. Davis finished with an OPS of .791 to Sanchez’s .788. Davis gets the nod here because of his superior fielding, where he was about 10 runs above average (Sanchez was just about average) and the fact that he has a little better plate discipline than Sanchez.

4. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins - One final point about Sanchez and Davis. Even though I said that their ages wouldn’t affect the rankings, they do in this respect: as a younger player, I expect Davis’s improvement from year one to year two to be greater than Sanchez’s. First base is an interesting position for the NL East. I don’t expect anyone to be bad. The chance for bad play is greatest with the youngest and oldest players. That said, I expect Sanchez to be very serviceable and improve on his 2.4 WAR from last season.

5. Freddie Freeman, Braves - The Braves rookie comes up to The Show while simultaneously being overlooked and heralded by the organization. That’s what comes with being the Braves’ number two prospect behind Jason Heyward. Freeman hit well last year in his first season at AAA Gwinett, sporting an .896 OPS. He only got 24 at-bats with the big league club, which wasn’t enough time for him to get in a groove as he only collected four hits. He’s not projected to be a true slugger, but compares favorably to the rest of the division.

By Ryan Korby  | January 11, 2011; 10:26 AM ET
Categories:  Nationals, Ryan Korby  | Tags:  Nationals, Ryan Korby  
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I'll take 2nd place in any category when it involves the Nats.

Posted by: jmurray019 | January 11, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I agree that LaRoche's defense is a vast improvement over what we had with Adam Dunn, but there's also a vast difference in the production between the two at the plate with Dunn having the lead in that category. I am interested to see how Freeman does in Atlanta. Many people in the know are sold on him as a long-term fixture at 1b for the Braves. If he's as good as advertised, Atlanta's lineup will be much better in 2011 than it was in 2010.

Posted by: VaNat | January 12, 2011 7:57 AM | Report abuse

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