Tex, Youk ... or ???

Youkilis Teixeira The current Red Sox-Yankees series, aside from featuring the two best teams in the majors -- with apologies to the Dodgers, but let's be serious -- also features two of the game's great first basemen. Which one is better, though? NESN's Evans Clinchy believes the answer is obvious ...

    Shortly before noon, MLB.com released the updated vote totals in the American League All-Star selection process. Normally, this isn't big news - the early leaders in the online fan voting generally stand their ground and hold on to their starting roles. This week, the AL turned out true to form for the most part - seven of the eight early favorites remained on top.
    Everywhere except first base.

    We're seeing an odd development. Kevin Youkilis, who returned from the 15-day disabled list on May 20 and wasted no time going on a tear at the end of the month, was the early leader in fan voting, and with good reason - his .470 on-base percentage is best in the major leagues by a country mile; no one in baseball, first baseman or otherwise, comes close. And yet Youkilis, who was the early leader despite many votes being cast during his injury, has been surpassed by a hair by the Yankees' Mark Teixeira.


    So who deserves to win? And perhaps more importantly, who actually will?

    To answer the first question, Youkilis is unequivocally the best first baseman in the American League. (And if Albert Pujols were to be hit by a bus tomorrow morning, Youk would be the best in baseball.) Youk's OBP is off the charts - it's 81 points higher than Teixeira's and 135 points above the major-league average of .335.

    You just can't say enough about that level of production. Never underestimate the value of not making outs - Youkilis is the most efficient hitter in the game. He may not have the same home run or RBI totals as some of the game's elite sluggers, but he does have a higher slugging percentage than both Teixeira and the Mariners' breakout slugger Russell Branyan. The power is certainly there. Youkilis is also an elite defensive infielder, which only ices the cake.

It's true: Youkilis is a fine first baseman (and he's a pretty good third baseman, too). But Teixeira is also a fine first baseman. Perhaps not as fine as Youkilis. But fine, none the less. So sure, we can give Youk a little frosting. But it's not even enough to cover a mini-cupcake.
Getting to the larger question, is Youkilis really -- and unequivocally -- the best first baseman in the American League?

Yes, Youkilis scores big points for his big on-base percentage. What Clinchy doesn't mention is the most impressive fact of all: Youkilis' .474 on-base percentage is the best in the majors.*

* No. 2 on the list is Chipper Jones, and raise your hand if you thought Chipper could duplicate last season's brilliant performance (he wrote, with both hands studiously not raised).

But let's just stick with American League first baseman. And let's throw a non-Branyan into the mix. Do you know which American League first baseman has scored and driven in the most runs? It's neither Youkilis nor Teixeira nor even the unlikely Branyan. It's Justin Morneau.

As some of you might recall, I wasn't a huge fan of Morneau's MVP Award three years ago. But man, he's one hell of a player, and this year he's been better than ever. Morneau has scored 46 runs and driven in 54. Teixeira has scored 40 and driven in 51. Youkilis has scored 34 and driven in 35.

I do know that runs and RBIs are largely context-driven, but should we completely ignore Morneau's edge over Youkilis in the counting stats? If all that matters is what the player has done in the first 10 weeks of the season, shouldn't we give Morneau some special cupcake icing for his off-the-charts clutch stats?

Ah, but those are merely transitory, right? Well, so is Youkilis' .353 batting average (and by extension, his .474 on-base percentage). I want to see the best first baseman in the league, rather than the first baseman who's having the best couple of months. So who's the best? I don't have the slightest idea. Looking at a reasonable projection, we come up with the following season-ending lines:

Youkilis: .315/.424/.539
Teixeira: .288/.390/.568
Morneau: .318/.394/.581

You can throw park effects and baserunning and fielding into the mix, and you can probably come up with any answer you like. In 10 years, we'll probably be able to figure out which of these guys had the better career. But trying to figure out which of them is the best first baseman in 2009? In the middle of June?

In the end, nobody's going to remember which of them started the All-Star Game. At most, someone will remember which of them were All-Stars, period. And all that's obvious right now is that all three of them deserve that honor.