Best at First Base: Astros' Bagwell and Berkman vs. Cardinals' McGwire and Pujols

The 1990s will unfortunately always be known as the Steroids Era. Of all the great performers in that decade, few of their reputations have remained untarnished in subsequent investigations into performance enhancing drug usage in MLB. In the long run, this is a good thing for baseball and its fans. The innocence of the sport may have been sullied for a short time, but its integrity has at least in part has already been restored by the naming of names and the cleaning up of America's Pastime.

Our own Jeff Bagwell has for the most part been able to elude the sort of accusations that the other sluggers have had to withstand. Of course, it is more than likely that McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, et al were in fact users of performance enhancing drugs. Bagwell has never had the sort of ties that made the speculation surrounding the aforementioned ex players that much more believable.

Regardless, Jeff Bagwell stands as an example of humility, sportsmanship and above all else great play in a town that heretofore had never truly embraced professional baseball. His hard nosed, tough, and smart style of baseball won the hearts and affection of thousands of fans and the respect of his opponents as well. After he retired from baseball following the 2005 season, Lance Berkman took over at first base on a full time basis. While the Astros have yet to reach the heights of great play that they did during the Bagwell era, the contributions from first base has remained steady.

In terms of Wins Above Replacement, here is what the Astros have been able to pencil in at first base since Bagwell's rookie campaign of 1991:

Season Player WAR
1991 Bagwell 3.6
1992 Bagwell 7.3
1993 Bagwell 7.2
1994 Bagwell 9.0
1995 Bagwell 5.1
1996 Bagwell 10.6
1997 Bagwell 9.0
1998 Bagwell 9.7
1999 Bagwell 8.5
2000 Bagwell 5.7
2001 Bagwell 8.2
2002 Bagwell 5.2
2003 Bagwell 4.4
2004 Bagwell 3.0
2005 Berkman 3.8
2006 Berkman 6.4
2007 Berkman 1.9
2008 Berkman 8.4

 

Eighteen seasons of All Star caliber play at first base. The only season close to being considered pedestrian was Berkman's 2007 season where struggles in the field, and a lower than usual SLG resulted in a WAR of 1.9.

A total WAR of 117 is the result of Bagwell and Berkman's handiwork, or a 6.5 WAR/season.

The only other team that can boast similar production from a pair of successive first baseman in recent seasons is the St. Louis Cardinals. Mark McGwire from the middle of 1997 to Albert Pujols currently have amassed a WAR total of 100.5. That total divided by the 11.5 seasons (roughly) that those two have manned first base for the Cards works out to a per season average WAR of 8.7. A sizeable advantage over our pair of All Stars, but considering how Pujols may go down as perhaps one of the top five right handed hitters of all time, and that McGwire's St. Louis seasons were more than likely marked by his usage of PED's, and the Bagwell/Berkman years stand as a generation's worth of spectacular play. While St. Louis' duo may have outpaced our own so far, Pujols will have to keep producing for more than six more seasons in order to equal Bagwell and Berkman's tenure (18 season).

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