For so long, first base was where teams parked their top sluggers. Historically, it's been the best hitting position on the field, often with a dedicated player to fill the corner spot. But as the careers of some likely Hall of Fame players near an end, and as the nature of the position and the game both change, is the prototypical, iconic slugging first baseman an endangered species?
Thus far this season, first base production is nearly at an all-time low. Through Sunday, MLB first basemen had combined for a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) mark of 99. If that holds, it will be their worst collective performance since 1948 and the third-worst of all time. The metric is useful for this sort of evaluation because it adjusts for ballpark factors and run-scoring environments, allowing one to compare the relative strength of a position from year to year and era to era. A wRC+ mark of 100 represents a league-average offensive performance.
Since 2018, the position has endured one of the softer periods in its history. First basemen have averaged a 113 wRC+ since the DH came into play, tops in the game. But after sitting in the 110 range for most of the 21st century, first base production dipped to a 105 wRC+ in 2018 and 2019, finished at 108 in last year's short season, and stood at 99 after Sunday's games.
At a time when the game has never needed offense more - MLB's batting average sits a woeful .234 - first basemen were hitting .228 and slugging under .400 through Sunday. Where did the sluggers go?