The Hall of Fame officially recognizes a player by where they played the most games, that’s why Musial, Banks, and Carew are on the list of first basemen.
Hall of Fame standards vary by position, but a C-WAR score of 100 is usually the minimum of being Hall worthy. Ideally a player’s peak is 40+ and his career average is 60+. The average C-WAR line for a Hall of Fame first baseman is: 69.7 career average/46.1 peak/115.9 C-WAR. Remove Musial, Banks, and Carew and the line is 66.6/44.1/110.7
How to read the chart below:
The player’s name is followed by their career WAR from Baseball-Reference (BR), FanGraphs (FG), and Baseball Prospectus (BP). Those three numbers (or two, BP doesn’t publish historical WAR data prior to 1950) are averaged out (AVG). The AVG is the first half of C-WAR. Next you will find the player’s five best years in a row (BR-5), followed by the player’s three best additional seasons (BR-3), both according to Baseball- Reference’s WAR. Next to that is the total peak value (PK) of the five best years, and three best additional years added together. PK is the second half of C-WAR. Adding AVG+PK=C-WAR. The seasons next to PK are the five best years in a row (5 YEARS), followed by the three best additional years (3 YEARS +). The last number is C-WAR. Players highlighted in gold are members of the Hall of Fame. Players in blue are still active. You can zoom in and out of the chart with the magnifying glass symbols on the right, and download the entire PDF.
Please note that Baseball Prospectus’ WARP system is very unstable and produces frequent changes to a player’s value. The numbers below are up to date as of 11/24/12
Below is the chart for first basemen.
Some notes on the chart:
1 Stan Musial 131.4 AVG/69.6 PK/201 C-WAR
Musial played half of his career in the outfield including several peak years, but more games at first than anywhere else. His peak falls below Gehrig’s but ranks 2nd among first basemen. He averaged 8.7 wins a year during his 8 year peak and ranks 12th all-time in wOBA (.435) and 11th in wRC+ (158).
2 Lou Gehrig 116.5 AVG/72.8 PK/189.3 C-WAR
Gehrig has the highest peak value at first base with 72.8 wins. He averaged 9.1 wins a year during his 8 year peak. His career wOBA of .477 ranks first among first basemen, and third all-time. His wRC+ of 173 also leads all first basemen. Using Baseball-Reference, in 1927 Gehrig had the best single season WAR that a first baseman has ever had at 11.5, he has six of the top 14 individual seasons at first. His career was cut short at age 36.
3 Jimmie Foxx 102.4 AVG/63.3 PK/ 165.7 C-WAR
Not quite as good as his contemporary, Gehrig, but still an all-time great. Foxx averaged 7.9 wins a year during his 8 year peak. His wOBA of .460 ranks 4th all-time, and his wRC+ of 158 ties with with Musial for 10th.
4 Albert Pujols 92.4 AVG/67.3 PK/159.7 C-WAR(and counting)
Pujols has the third highest peak among first basemen trailing only Gehrig and Musial. During his 8 year peak he averaged 8.4 wins a year. His wRC+ of 164 ranks 2nd among first basemen, and 9th overall. His peak might be behind him, but his career numbers will continue to grow. He is well on his way to becoming the best first baseman ever to play, especially when you consider Gehrig played in a segregated league, and Musial played before the league was fully integrated.
5 Cap Anson 89.9 AVG/45.3 PK/135.2 C-WAR
Perhaps baseball’s first great compiler Anson’s peak ranks 18th among first basemen. He played for 27 seasons, that’s the most played by any non-pitcher enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Anson was the 1st player to reach 3,000 hits and finished his career with 3, 418, however taking his numbers at face value is a mistake as he played in a grossly inferior league when the game was still developing.
6 Roger Connor 83.5 AVG/50.6 PK/134.1 C-WAR
Connor’s peak is solid averaging 6.3 wins a year, but like Anson he played in the late 1800’s against inferior competition. He was a better player than Anson, even though he didn’t play nearly as long. Connor like Anson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame but taking their numbers at face value is mistake. I would certainly rank players like Willie McCovey and Eddie Murray higher than both Connor and Anson despite their lower C-WAR scores.
7 Pete Rose 83.4 AVG/49.1 PK/132.5 C-WAR
Rose ended up playing more games at first than anywhere else, but none of his peak years happened there. He averaged 6.1 wins a year during his peak, so he wasn’t just a compiler. Rose is currently banned for life by major league baseball, until that changes, there is no Hall of Fame in his future. Unlike players associated with PEDs, Rose isn’t even eligible to appear on the ballot.
8 Jeff Bagwell 79.3 AVG/51.5 PK/130.8 C-WAR
Yes, Jeff Bagwell was that good. He averaged 6.4 wins a year during his 8 year peak. That’s 8th among first basemen, 6th if you remove Carew, and Banks. You can make a compelling case that Bagwell is the 5th best first baseman ever to play. Bagwell should already be in the Hall of Fame but is being unfairly excluded because of suspicions of steroid use. Bagwell never tested positive, never was the subject of a federal investigation, he wasn’t named in the Mitchell Report, no eyewitnesses have ever claimed to have seen him use or provided him with PEDs, and he has denied ever using steroids.
9 Dan Brouthers 78.5 AVG/50.7 PK/129.2 C-WAR
Brouthers’ peak is just a tick higher than Connor’s. Perhaps it was Brouthers who wast the best first baseman of the 1800’s, his wOBA of .436 ranks higher than either Anson’s or Connor’s as does he 156 wRC+. Impressive numbers for his time, but I don’t think he or his Hall of Fame contemporaries could play in today’s game.
10 Rod Carew 76.4 AVG/52.2 PK/128.6 C-WAR
Carew ended up playing more games at first than second, so he makes this list. Three of his peak years (76, 77, 78) were played at first. Carew is better known as a second baseman (I’ll include him on that list as well) but his numbers still measure up at first.
11 Frank Thomas 73.3 AVG/48.7 PK/122.0 C-WAR
Thomas’ dominant bat more than made up for his sub-par defense and base-running. Often compared to Bagwell, Thomas was the better hitter of the two, even if Bagwell was the slightly better overall player. Thomas averaged 6.1 wins a year during his 8 year peak. His .416 wOBA ranks 8th all-time among first basemen, his wRC+ 0f 154 ranks 10th. Thomas was the only active player who cooperated with the Mitchell report and was an early whistle blower of the “steroid era”, so he need not worry about the BBWAA moral police affecting his Hall of Fame candidacy. Thomas should be enshrined his first year on the ballot in 2014.
Among batters with 5,000 plate appearances or more, Musial, Gehrig, Foxx, Pujols, Brouthers, Thomas, Greenberg, and Helton are all members of .300/.400/.500 club. Only 13 others are in that group (21 total), that’s a smaller number than those who have achieved either 3,o00 hits or 500 home runs.
Skipping around a bit:
Ernie Banks ended up playing more games at first than short, but only one of his peak years (68) was played at first base. He’s a great player, a deserving/obvious Hall of Famer who averaged 6.6 wins a year during his peak. I’ll also include him on the shortstop list where he belongs.
Interesting to see the differences in Harmon Killebrew’s career WAR totals. His 22.6 difference between Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs is the largest discrepancy at first base. Killebrew also played all over the field. Only three of his peak years were played primarily at first (61, 65, 67), two were played in left (63, 64), and three were split between third and first (66, 69, 70).
Johnny Mize missed three full seasons (43-45) while serving in WW2. All of his numbers, both conventional and advanced would be much higher had he played during his age 30-32 seasons. His .433 wOBA ranks 6th all time among first basemen.
Dick Allen’s exclusion from the Hall is a mistake. He averaged 5.9 wins a year during his peak, and his traditional numbers .292/.378/.534 with 351 home runs are deserving as well. His OPS+ of 156 is higher than Killebrew’s (143) and McCovey’s (147), and his wRC+ of 155 ranks 18th all-time. With the election of Ron Santo, Allen has a legitimate claim to be the best player not in the Hall, at least the best player not associated with steroids or gambling.
Rafael Palmeiro just barely hits the 40.0 mark with his peak. He averaged 5 wins a year during that 8 year stretch. Among first basemen with at least 3,000 plate appearances his fails to crack the top 40 in either wOBA or wRC+. The lack of true dominance along with whatever boost steroids provided him makes his candidacy far more borderline than his conventional numbers suggest. I’ve gone back and forth about Palmeiro and the Hall but I’m inclined to put him in, however I would also mention his positive steroid test on his plaque, online, and anywhere else player biographers appear. Steroid use is part of Palmeiro’s legacy, but not all it.
Mark McGwire averaged 5.6 wins a year during his peak. His wRC+ of 157 ranks 5th among first basemen, his .415 wOBA ranks 9th and his OPS+ of 163 ties him for 4th. McGwire was a dominant hitter, but at least part of that dominance was boosted by his use of performance enhancing drugs. If you take his numbers at face value, he’s an obvious Hall of Famer, even knocking him down a tier because of his steroid use still puts him in. With the current voting members he has no shot of actually getting enshrined, however I think his exclusion is a mistake.
Todd Helton had one of the best five year stretches anyone has ever had at first base. From 2000-2004 he was worth 36.3 wins, or 7.2 wins per year. That trails only Gehrig, Pujols, Musial, and Jimmie Foxx, and Musial played half of those years in the outfield. Helton’s .419 on-base percentage ties him for 5th among first basemen, his .409 wOBA ranks 11th. Obviously some of his numbers were distorted by playing at Coors Field, however Helton’s dominance during that stretch puts him in rare air. I personally think Helton is deserving of being enshrined in the Hall, however taking his numbers at face value is a mistake, he is more borderline than his numbers would suggest.
Keith Hernandez 58.8 AVG/43.4 PK/102.2 C-WAR
Offensively Hernandez falls short, but he was more of a complete player than many others in the Hall. His peak of 43.4 is strong, averaging 5.4 wins a year during that stretch. That’s more than Eddie Murray (5.1) and Harmon Killebrew (5.0), and on the same level as Future Hall of Famer, Jim Thome (5.4). Hernandez to me represents the line. He should either be the best player not in at first, or in, and used as the minimum standard of entry. Personally, I don’t think Hernandez is deserving, but he is the definition of borderline. Advanced metrics like wOBA, wRC+, and especially WAR help his cause but still show him at or below the line.
You probably expected Don Mattingly to fall short on career value, but his peak falls short as well. He was worth 36.9 wins over his 8 year peak, that’s “only” 4.6 wins a year. That’s a good amount below the HOF peak average of 46.2. Remove Musial, Banks, and Carew, and the peak average drops to 44.1. Mattingly still comes up short. Mattingly fails to crack the top 100 among first basemen with his .361 wOBA, or the top 50 with his wRC+ of 124. Supporters for Mattingly’s candidacy for the Hall can at least say with confidence, he’s better than High Pockets Kelly.
Since Baseball Prospectus does not publish WAR data for players before 1950, this does create a bit of unfair advantage for those players. This is because of the three sites, Baseball Prospectus tends to have the lowest WAR values for a player (especially with pitchers), so it puts modern players (1950-present) at an unfair disadvantage. So to adjust for this, below is the first basemen chart excluding Baseball Prospectus’ WAR altogether.
This list produced only a few modest changes.
Since I calculated peak using only rWAR, below is the chart using just Baseball Reference’s WAR. Another words this is a player’s career WAR plus his eight year peak using on Baseball-Reference. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are not factored in to the chart below at all.
Again, only modest changes from list-to-list here, but all three are valuable to look at.
One other note, because C-WAR focuses only on WAR, it makes it impossible for me to include Negro League players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Nothing distorted stats like the exclusion of black players for over fifty years. While I can’t include them in C-WAR, I do want to mention Ben Taylor, Mule Suttles, Buck Leonard, and Oscar Charleston, all of whom have been elected to the Hall of Fame as first basemen. Who knows how great they could have been, or how different the record book would look if they were simply allowed to have played in the majors.
Many thanks to the incredibly smart people who work at Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. Without their tireless efforts to improve and maintain their sites and information none of this research would be possible.
Any questions or comments about the Hall, or a player listed or not listed above, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @Rosscarey
Originally posted 7/9/12