Monday, July 15, 2013

Who's Your First Baseman?

As we enter the All-Star break, reacquaint yourself with why it's so pointless to award World Series home field advantage to the winner of an exhibition game. After that, I'll show the first baseman and how they rank.
I introduced the concept of the scatter graph in my post on shortstops, and I use it here with different metrics--weighted on-base average (wOBA) courtesy of the nice people at FanGraphs and fielding percent, even though fielding for first basemen is an afterthought at best. I'm always amused when I read "Moneyball" and Scott Hatteberg worried about making the transition from catcher to first and whether he would be able to field the position adequately (I then call Ken Harrelson to set me straight on advanced metrics and to explain why Billy Beane is among the best GMs in baseball). My fielding percent is NOT the traditional measure--I made some adjustments using this data from Baseball-Reference. The vast majority of putouts by first basemen consist of catching the ball, which doesn't interest me--the fielding plays I'm looking for are:
Putouts where he catches the ball, typically a line drive, pop-up or foul ball
Unassisted outs
Any assist, which implies he threw the ball to someone for an out
Any GDP that he STARTS
Any bunted ball fielded
The only errors that matter to me are the ones made fielding or throwing (which account for about 80% of errors at first). From this I calculate the standard fielding percent of:
1- (errors/(putouts + assists))
I suspect I might have some double-counting of fielding opportunities somewhere in here, but I'll live with that. 

Since first base is primarily an offensive position, the lines move from what I used for shortstop--now the midpoints are a wOBA of .335 and fielding percent of .971, making our quadrants:
Upper right        GREAT (wOBA above .335, fielding above .971)
Upper left           HMMM (wOBA below .335, fielding above .971)
Lower right         MAAAAYBE (wOBA above .335, fielding below .971)
Lower left           RUH ROH (wOBA below .335, fielding below .971)

Same order as the shortstops, here are the GREATS:

Typical stats are shown, as well as BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and wOBA. The first box contains FanGraph batting and fielding WAR values and the second group my adjusted fielding metrics. I was surprised to see Anthony Rizzo in this group given his uneven performance so far this year. He'll be a Cub for awhile, as he's owed over $65 million through 2021. If he can improve his power numbers even slightly, he'll be a relative bargain as the end of that contract approaches, but he needs to start producing on a much more consistent basis. Chris Davis has been on a two-year tear and at 27 is just reaching his prime years. Freddie Freeman made every LA Dodger fan furious by taking the All-Star slot destined for Yasiel Puig, and between them, Matt Adams and Allen Craig are giving Cardinals manager Mike Matheny a conundrum as to how to get them both in the lineup at the same time. I've been waiting three or so years for Prince Fielder to become the next Mo Vaughn, and if it hasn't happened yet, maybe it won't. Paul Goldschmidt has the potential to be the best first baseman in the NL if he can continue to make incremental improvements. 

Before I move to the next set, consider this: First base is quite possibly the easiest position to fill on a team--find a decent-hitting left-handed hitter with adequate (not even outstanding) fielding ability. I've heard it casually mentioned that getting a player with an OPS of .800 shouldn't be difficult, but guess what? Of this 45-player sample, 14 meet that standard. The easiest position to fill, and it's safe to say that 15-20 teams would be more than happy to make an upgrade.

Yeah, I MAAAAYBE would take Joey Votto, but I'd sure have to think about it. I'd MAAAAYBE take Miguel Cabrera, Patrick Corbin, Cliff Lee, Carlos Gomez and Yadier Molina as well (hey, is that sarcasm? YES!). Yes, my arbitrary standards make Votto look worse than he is, and probably the same with Adrian Gonzalez as well. The rest of these guys? They'll do, but at what price and with what deficiencies? Adam Dunn has batted .311 with 6 HR and 20 RBI in his last 22 games to move his season average to .212--way to go, big fella! He's doing what he's expected to do, hit home runs and drive in runs, and if he can bat in the .250 range, he'll be fine, but he's not exactly the second coming of Keith Hernandez in the field. As for the rest, James Loney has entered the vagabond stage of his career, same with Mike Napoli, and the A's need an upgrade at 1st almost as much as they need a better shortstop.



I am totally and completely without a clue as to how Alex Gonzalez, er, Alex GONE-from-the-majors-zalez made this list--clearly it was his stellar fielding in the 26 chances where he made the play, but I would have LOVED to have been part of that conversation in the spring--"Yeah, we'll platoon A-Gon and Yuniesky Betancourt at 1st, I mean, WHAT CAN GO WRONG?" There's a number of these on the way down and out, led by Todd Helton, Paul Konerko, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena and possibly Ryan Howard, because I don't know what kind of shape his body is in. To be fair, Overbay is part of the Bum-of-the-Month club the Yankees have been trotting out in Mark Teixeira's absence, and I still wonder if they're looking at folks like Justin Morneau or Kendrys Morales--as I write this at the All-Star break they're 3 games out of the wild card with low expectations of getting Teixeira back, but they're not the wild-spending Yankees of old. Yonder Alonso is a victim of playing half his games in San Diego which robs him of power, and Eric Hosmer is having a strange year with diminished power. Both of them have room to improve, but the rest are just playing out the string.

Special note must be made of Albert Pujols, because he was simply too spectacular to just blithely state "Well, guess he's washed up." His St. Louis years were among the best in baseball history, and his "down" 2012 included 30 HR, 105 RBI and a slash line of .285/.343./.516/.859. His power numbers are still okay, but Iike Ryan Howard, I have no idea if he has a rash of nagging injuries that just aren't going to go away. He'll be 34 at the beginning of 2014, and it very well could be that what he is today is what he'll be going forward, but I'm not ready to state that just yet. Here's how his years in St. Louis rank in baseball history (ranked by OPS):
Rk Player H From To Age G PA AB R 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS ▾ Tm
1 Ted Williams 1767 1939 1952 20-33 1427 6448 5096 1275 366 62 324 1264 1329 444 20 14 .347 .484 .634 1.117 BOS
2 Lou Gehrig 1756 1923 1933 20-30 1384 6159 5135 1213 362 125 299 1282 898 550 72 80 .342 .442 .636 1.078 NYY
3 Albert Pujols 2073 2001 2011 21-31 1705 7433 6312 1291 455 15 445 1329 975 704 84 35 .328 .420 .617 1.037 STL
4 Frank Thomas 1755 1990 2000 22-32 1530 6799 5474 1083 361 10 344 1183 1188 835 29 21 .321 .440 .579 1.018 CHW
5 Todd Helton 1878 1997 2007 23-33 1578 6758 5663 1104 455 31 303 1087 980 760 36 26 .332 .430 .583 1.014 COL
6 Rogers Hornsby 1916 1915 1925 19-29 1400 6015 5271 984 327 138 180 958 587 435 114 64 .363 .431 .580 1.011 STL
7 Stan Musial 2023 1941 1952 20-31 1524 6754 5844 1149 415 133 227 1014 846 304 60 12 .346 .431 .579 1.010 STL
8 Manny Ramirez 1585 1993 2003 21-31 1383 5912 5004 959 337 14 347 1140 792 1106 31 26 .317 .413 .598 1.010 CLE-BOS
9 Mickey Mantle 1700 1951 1961 19-29 1552 6697 5519 1244 241 66 374 1063 1129 1136 124 29 .308 .425 .579 1.004 NYY
10 Joe DiMaggio 1947 1936 1949 21-34 1481 6585 5881 1204 334 117 317 1344 649 300 30 9 .331 .401 .589 .990 NYY
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/14/2013.
I don't know if he can get back to that kind of production--probably not, but that is some solid company. It will also be very interesting to see how the Rockies situation will be  handled by the BBWAA when Todd Helton comes up for Hall of Fame review.

Oy. Nate Freiman makes Brandon Moss look like Lou Gehrig, and if the Nationals can put together a winning streak and contend for either the NL East or the last wild card spot (and I say "NO" to both), they might want someone better than Adam LaRoche. Garrett Jones is the mystery to me of this group, since he's put up decent numbers in the past and I never would have considered him a weak spot in the Pirates lineup. I thought they'd be an excellent fit for Matt Garza, but they just might see if they can pick up a first baseman with some pop. I keep hearing that the Rangers and Blue Jays are the likely destination for Garza, although for the life of me I have no clue why the Jays would do that. The rest of these guys--forget it, they're not worth the bandwidth.

I find the small number on this list interesting, because it illustrates what I stated at the beginning--teams need offensive production from first and will live with some deficiencies in fielding, but if there's no production in either facet, these guys are GONE. They might become the next Jason Giambi in that they're almost all left-hand hitters, but there's a low tolerance for a bad first baseman--teams will move on to the next in a heartbeat.

Of all the positions, this is the one with the least difference--every other position (except perhaps left field) can make tradeoffs between defense and offense, although it will become quite clear that the no-hit/good-field player is on the verge of being extinct, for no other reason than that bigger pitching staffs have made the defensive specialist a luxury. As I continue through the other seasons, I'll introduce different metrics, but this is a quick and easy method to see if your team is heading in the right direction--the better teams have fewer question marks, which could come as a surprise to absolutely no one.

No comments :

Post a Comment