Has Bryce Harper Taken the Title of MLB’s Best First Baseman?

The Phillies superstar is on track to make his eighth All-Star Game in his first full season at a new position.

Rhys Hoskins of the Milwaukee Brewers and Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies speak during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 03: Rhys Hoskins #12 of the Milwaukee Brewers and Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies speak during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park on June 03, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

When Major League Baseball released the first update on All-Star Game voting last week, Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies had a rather commanding lead at first base in the National League, with more than 1.1 million votes, as opposed to the 713,858 votes for his top competitor: Freddie Freeman of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With Harper on pace to make the All-Star Game for the eighth time, has the 31-year-old — in his first full season at his new position — seized the crown as the best first baseman in baseball?

At least as far as the 2024 season has gone, it’s pretty hard to argue that anyone has been better at the position than Harper. Among all qualified first basemen in MLB, Harper owns the top marks in terms of slugging percentage (.558), OPS (.955), wRC+ (163), wOBA (.403) and fWAR (3.5). His 18 home runs rank second behind Josh Naylor of the Cleveland Guardians (20).

Speaking as someone who covers Harper on a day-to-day basis, he’s not a finished product at first base defensively. He’s still refining some of the finer details of playing first base, like which foot to put on the bag, when to lay out on a grounder or defer to the second baseman, etc.

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Still, only Christian Walker of the Arizona Diamondbacks has more outs above average (OAA) among first basemen than Harper’s six, so if this is the baseline for him at the position, that’s pretty remarkable.

Freeman is having another tremendous season for the Dodgers, with 21 doubles, 46 RBIs and a .901 OPS. Like Harper, he’s a former MVP who’s on track for his eighth All-Star Game appearance. And like Harper, Freeman will probably one day have a plaque in Cooperstown.

Considering Freeman finished third in NL MVP voting last season, it’s hardly a hot take if you give him a slight edge over Harper when it comes to ranking MLB first basemen. Freeman will turn 35 in September, so it’s fair to wonder how much longer he can keep up his peak production. But so far, there’s been no slippage from the three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

Matt Olson has had a relatively disappointing season after leading baseball with 54 home runs and 139 RBIs a year ago, but he has heated up in a big way in June, with an .842 OPS. Olson was very much in the discussion for the top first baseman prior to the 2024 season, and with a big second half, he could reinsert himself in the discussion after the regular season.

With all due respect to the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ryan Mountcastle, there is clearly a power imbalance between the leagues in terms of first basemen, with the bulk of the best players at the position currently in the NL.

That’s what makes the idea of any of Walker, Pete Alonso and Paul Goldschmidt being moved before the July 30 trade deadline such an intriguing possibility. Among AL contenders, the Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees and Guardians could all look to add a first base/DH type.

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For the time being, though, almost all of the game’s elite first basemen play in the NL, with Harper, Freeman and Olson at the top of the list.