Who are these guys? Never before in my 40 years of voting for the starters in the All-Star Game had I been asked that question, especially for first baseman in the American League. We have always had a wide range of candidates to select from, stars like Boog Powell or Norm Cash and Eddie Murray or Mark McGuire.
Even as recently as ten years ago, the American League ballot registered numerous stars at first base. Most valuable players such as Miguel Cabrera of Detroit and Justin Morneau of the Twins were included along with Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Mark Teixiera of the Yankees as options to start in the 2008 Summer Classic.
First basemen used to serve almost universally as the most feared hitters, usually in the cleanup or somewhere in the heart of the batting order. They now have lower collective batting averages than any other infield position, and their home run totals are the worst.
This decline is exemplified by the 2018 All Star ballot, which lists half of the candidates with batting averages below .230. Even more surprising, given the tradition of power associated with first baseman, nearly a third of them have yet to hit double digits in home runs.
Of course, there are three former MVPs on the list, but that trio of guys has far surpassed the prime numbers. Cabrera still represents the Tigers, but he’s out of season. Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is hitting thirty points below his career average, and the Angels’ Albert Pujols is exactly about the league average in home runs and hitting percentage.
Since none of those three deserve it, fans have justifiably placed their votes elsewhere. However, it has not been easy, as there are no outstanding players at first base in the American League.
José Abreu of the Chicago White Sox receives the most votes, even though he has one backup per season. Helping his cause is the fact that he is a former Rookie of the Year and has been around for five years in a large commercial city.
Most of the other options are relatively unknown, including the player who ranks first among his teammates in WAR. Matt Olson leads all first basemen in that category, but because he plays in Oakland and is relatively young, he lags behind in the voting.
The most successful teams have won for the most part despite, rather than because of, their first base. Houston’s Yuiri Gurriel is hitting .300, but his numbers pale next to other Astros stars like José Altuve and Carlos Correa.
The Yankees’ Greg Bird is arguably the seventh-best hitter in a New York lineup with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. Mitch Moreland is having a good season, but his numbers still can’t match those of Red Sox teammates Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, JD Martinez and Xander Bogarts.
A look at the Senior Circuit provides further hope for the fate of first basemen, the home of stars like Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmdit. My ballot would be a lot easier to fill out if, for some unfathomable reason, one of those guys were transferred to an American League team before the All Star voting ended.