Pete Alonso vs. Freddie Freeman vs. Josh Bell: Who’s the best 1B in the NL East?

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Matt Weyrich
·6 min read
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Alonso vs. Freeman vs. Bell: Who’s the best 1B in the NL East? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With the NL East shaping up to be one of baseball’s most competitive division races, NBC Sports Washington’s Matt Weyrich is previewing the 2021 season by ranking each team at every position on and off the diamond. Points will be awarded to teams based on their spot in each ranking with a final tally released just before Opening Day.*

Up next in the series: first base.

1. Freddie Freeman (ATL) – 5 points +1 for top-5 position player in division (6 total)

2019-20 stats: 218 G, 954 PA, .307/.409/.573, .982 OPS, 249 H, 51 HR, 57 doubles, 3 triples, 164 R, 174 RBI, 132 BB, 164 SO, 8 SB (3 CS), .996 fielding percentage, 7 errors, 1 DRS

No contest here, as the reigning NL MVP takes the top spot in these rankings. There’s certainly room to argue that an MVP award given in a shortened season doesn’t equate to one earned over the course of a full campaign, but Freeman was due for the honor after finishing among the top eight in four separate seasons prior to 2020.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of his game is his gap-to-gap power. Since 2011, Freeman leads all hitters with 341 doubles. Still just heading into his age-31 season, Freeman will once again be the anchor in the middle of a talented Braves lineup.

2. Pete Alonso (NYM) – 4 points

2019-20 stats: 218 G, 932 PA, .252/.350/.559, .909 OPS, 203 H, 69 HR, 36 doubles, 2 triples, 134 R, 155 RBI, 96 BB, 244 SO, 2 SB (0 CS), .989 fielding percentage, 17 errors, -7 DRS

It was always going to be hard for Alonso to replicate his rookie season after setting an MLB record for the most home runs hit by a player in his first year, but the Mets’ first baseman took a step back from superstar to merely a very good hitter in 2020. His on-base percentage dropped nearly 30 points as pitchers attacked him with more fastballs, pushing up his whiff rate on offspeed pitches.

However, Alonso still tied for the third-most homers in the NL with 16 while trailing only Freddie Freeman in isolated power (.260) among NL first basemen. The 26-year-old has struggled in the field, tying Josh Bell for the most errors of any first baseman in MLB over the last two seasons. Yet as long as he’s racking up the homers, no one in Queens is going to mind.

3. Rhys Hoskins (PHI) – 3 points

2019-20 stats: 201 G, 890 PA, .230/.368/.465, .833 OPS, 166 H, 39 HR, 42 doubles, 5 triples, 121 R, 111 RBI, 145 BB, 216 SO, 3 SB (2 CS), .992 fielding percentage, 13 errors, -5 DRS

Drama! Hoskins lands at third place over Bell for one reason: consistency. While he hasn’t performed at the level he did as a rookie, Hoskins has finished with an OBP over .350 and slugging percentage above .450 each of the last three seasons. Bell has only exceeded both of those thresholds in the same season once in his career: 2019, when he had his breakout season.

While Bell has shown the potential to perform better than Hoskins, the latter is a safer bet to be a reliable middle-of-the-order bat in 2021. Hoskins won’t pile up the hits and he isn’t a particularly good defender, either. He does, however, have a floor of 30 home runs complemented by strong on-base skills. It’s enough to put him over Bell — for now.

4. Josh Bell (WSH) – 2 points

2019-20 stats: 200 G, 836 PA, .263/.350/.514, .864 OPS, 190 H, 45 HR, 40 doubles, 3 triples, 116 R, 138 RBI, 96 BB, 177 SO, 0 SB (1 CS), .987 fielding percentage, 17 errors, -9 DRS

About the same age as Hoskins, Bell has put together one stellar season, two above-average ones and a lost 2020 campaign that never saw him get going. The ceiling is impressive: Bell totaled 37 home runs, 116 RBIs and a .936 OPS in 2019. But the Pirates opted to sell low and trade him after he posted a .669 OPS last season, giving him a change of scenery with two years left on his rookie deal.

Bell’s true potential likely lies somewhere closer to his career OPS of .814, though the Nationals are hoping that he can do a bit more after slotting him in behind Juan Soto in the lineup for most of the spring. He has a lot to prove playing in a new city and coming off a down year. If he comes through, this list could end up looking very different next season.

5. Jesús Aguilar (MIA) – 1 point

2019-20 stats: 182 G, 585 PA, .251/.335/.414, .749 OPS, 126 H, 20 HR, 22 doubles, 0 triples, 70 R, 84 RBI, 66 BB, 121 SO, 0 SB (1 CS), .991 fielding percentage, 7 errors, 1 DRS

The Marlins are set to enter the 2021 season with Aguilar hitting cleanup, relying on the 31-year-old to tap into the power he displayed in 2018 when he hit 35 home runs and made the NL All-Star team. He should get a bulk of the playing time at first base even with the presence of Garrett Cooper, who has no clear path to playing time after Adam Duvall was acquired to play his secondary position of right field.

Miami would’ve probably liked to rotate Aguilar in at DH like it did last season, but he’ll stick at first for now with MLB not close on an agreement with the players union to keep the universal DH around. His defense is a bit suspect, but he actually grades out as one of the better defenders in this group.

*Scoring will be determined as follows:

Max total = 100 points

  • 5 points awarded for each of the best position players, 4 for second-best, etc.

  • 1 bonus point awarded for each of the five best position players in the division

  • 6 points awards for each of the top three starters, 5 for the next three, etc.

  • 1 bonus point awarded for each of the two best starting pitchers in the division

  • 5 points awarded for each of the top three bullpen arms, 4 for the next three, etc.

  • 5 points awarded for the best manager, 4 for second-best, etc.

  • 5 points awarded for the best GM, 4 for second-best, etc.

Scoring breakdown = 45 max points for hitting, 45 max points for pitching, 10 max points for coaches/GMs

Other NL East position rankings:

Right field: Soto, Acuña Jr., Harper, Conforto, Duvall

Left field: Ozuna, Smith, Schwarber, Dickerson, McCutchen

Center field: Nimmo, Marté, Robles, Pache, Kingery

Second base: McNeil, Albies, Segura, Castro, Chisholm/Díaz

Shortstop: Turner, Lindor, Swanson, Gregorius, Rojas

Third base – March 18

Catcher – March 19

Rotations – March 22

Bullpens – March 23

Managers & coaching staffs – March 24

GMs & front offices – March 25

Composite rankings – March 26