Rob Neyer is on fire today, his first day with SB Nation. He recently posted a retrospective piece on predictions he wrote during the 1999-2000 offseason. It was a guess on who the top players at each position would be in the time period from 2000-2009.
His guess at the time for first base was a young, up-and-coming first baseman in the New York Yankees' organization, Nick Johnson. It was a good guess, as Johnson was the team's No. 5 prospect according to Baseball America before the 200 season. His power was reaching close to the 20-home run mark and he could draw a walk or two or several. He played in Triple-A Columbus in 2001 and saw a September call-up. Then he finally reached the majors for good in 2002, but injuries have severely diminished his career. His best season came in 2006 when he was with the Washington Nationals. He had a 149 OPS+ in a career-high 147 games.
So, that turned out incorrect. We certainly won't hold that against Rob. As to whom the correct answer is? Well, that is a bit up to debate. Neyer selects the Colorado Rockies' Todd Helton. It's a pretty fair choice. From 2000-2004, Helton finished in the top 20 of National League MVP voting each year, though he peaked at No. 5 in 2000 (1.162 OPS that year).
The real answer should actually be Albert Pujols, baseball god. He's been money ever since he first stepped onto a major league field in 2001 for the St. Louis Cardinals. There really shouldn't be a debate over this.
The reason why Neyer omitted Pujols? He played third base and left field before settling in at first permanently in 2004. Technicalities and such.
So, if Pujols is the king at first base, where does Todd Helton rank? Let's use weighted On-Base Average, or wOBA, to figure this out (explanation on wOBA here). You can check out the results over at FanGraphs.com for this. Well, look at that. Albert Pujols is no surprise at the top of the list. Right behind him comes Todd Helton at .423. A .330 wOBA is about average, which means Helton was almost 100 points above average!
Helton's teammate, Jason Giambi, comes in third (ignore Will Clark since he only played the 2000 season) with a .410 wOBA, but he'd like be out on having been the designated hitter for so many years.