2009 Replacement Level: First Base

As most of you know, the Win Values we present here on FanGraphs are wins above a replacement level player. Replacement level, essentially, is the expected performance you could get from a player who costs nothing to acquire and makes the league minimum. That’s the baseline that players add value over – performance over their no-cost substitute.

However, I know examples can be extremely helpful, so today, we’re going to start looking at some players who currently personify replacement level, and what their respective organizations should expect from them in 2009. We’ll go through all the positions in order to look at what a replacement level player currently looks like at each spot.

First Base

First baseman who settle for minor league contracts are the quintessential Quad-A players. They’re usually the best hitter on their Triple-A club, but have some flaw that keeps them from getting an everyday job in the majors. For some, it’s a lack of power for at a position that demands it. For others, it’s that power is their only real skill and the sole reason they have a professional career at all. Often, they can be useful platoon players or bench bats, and in best case scenarios (Carlos Pena, for instance), they can turn into legitimate stars. Here’s this year’s crop.

Brad Eldred, Chicago (AL), .321 wOBA,
Mike Sweeney, Seattle, .319 wOBA
Chris Shelton, Seattle, .335 wOBA
Josh Phelps, San Francisco, .355 wOBA
Wes Bankston, Cincinnati, .305 wOBA
Larry Broadway, unsigned, .327 wOBA

It’s an interesting mix of players, ranging from soon-to-be-retired Sweeney to the never-played-in-the-majors Broadway. As expected, the average wOBA for this group is quite a bit higher than the catchers, since first base is where bad defenders try to hide, so the pool of potential players is a lot larger. The average wOBA for this group is .327, which is almost league average offense. Running the run conversion formula again, we see:

((.327 – .330)) / 1.20) * 600 = -1.5 runs

Yes, you can get a league average hitter (essentially) for free. The baseline for offense from a first baseman is essentially league average offense. If you’re not getting that, the guy better be a tremendous fielder, or he’s just not very good.

-1.5 runs on offense, -5 runs on defense (these guys aren’t exactly Mark Grace), and a -12.5 position adjustment gives us the result of these guys being about 19 runs below average per 600 PA. Let’s just call it -20 for round numbers sake. That gives us -2 wins for these minor league free agent first baseman over a full season.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

8 Responses to “2009 Replacement Level: First Base”

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  1. Jacob Jackson says:

    This is an extremely valuable series of articles Dave, thank you. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to do them for each position.

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  2. Does that mean that Travis Ishikawa is a nearly average 1B? His wOBA projections put him in the .330’s, though he’s upper end, which is around what these guys have, but his defense is at least average, if not better (by reputation).

    .330+ wOBA means offense above 0:

    .331 CHONE: +0.5 runs
    .337 Oliver: +3.5 runs
    .339 Marcel: +4.5 runs
    .353 Bill James: +11.5 runs

    So he looks like around +5 runs offensively (average of the four), his UZR/150 was roughly +5 runs in 2008, minus -12.5 position, leaving -2.5 runs. If he’s as good as advertised defensively, then he’s roughly at 0 runs, or average.

    Did I miss anything?

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    • Scappy says:


      At worst he should cost your team 0.7 wins, and at best he will net your team 0.4 wins. Given the spread in wOBA he should come in a hair under 0 as you have stated.

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  3. Blackadder says:

    I’m impressed that Phelps projects a .355 wOBA. If teams believed he was going to hit that well, I think he would have garnered a major league contract.

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  4. Brian Cartwright says:

    If you believe bill James, Ishikawa is nearly average. The rest ofthe projections have him as a not far above replacement 1b, well below average for that position (in other words, it’s not very hard to find someone who will do better, at little price).

    Phelps’ hitting has never been the problem. He started as a catcher, and if his defense there was nearly adequate, he would be one of the top offensive cathcers in the majors. Toronto tried, and it didn’t work. At 1b, he’s about average.

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    • OK, lets go with that one. His next best projection has him +4.5 runs, add the +5 for defense, -12.5 for position, that leaves him at -3 runs or -0.3 wins.

      From what I understand, the point of these posts are to find replacement level players, and -2 wins is that level, with 0 considered average. Since -0.3 wins is closer to 0 than to -2, doesn’t that mean that he’s about average with that projection too? And the next lower projection puts him at -4 runs/-0.4 wins, and the worse projection has him at – 7 runs/-0.7 wins, which are both still closer to average than replacement level, or so what I’m getting from this series, and not what you are saying. Am I getting anything wrong there?

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Just use CHONE. Marcel doesn’t include minor league numbers (so is useless for a guy with a limited MLB sample like Ishikawa), the BJO projections are nutty, and Brian has to prove that Oliver’s MLE conversion is predictive. No point averaging all the systems together – CHONE is the best, so defer to it.

        Ishikawa – +0 offense,+0 to +5 defense, -12.5 position, so he’s +7.5 to +12.5, depending on his glove work. Better than replacement level, but below average.

        He looks like a decent bench player, but not a good everyday guy.

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