Daric Barton Returns, Brandon Allen Free Again

Brandon Allen has been set free. With Daric Barton eligible to return from a stint on the disabled list, the Oakland Athletics designated Allen for assignment. The 26-year-old started two of the Athletics’ first four games but now finds himself on waivers — free to be claimed by any team. While Barton’s return likely meant that Allen would lose playing time, he is far from a franchise first baseman. And this may have been the wrong move for the rebuilding A’s.

Barton has been successful in the past, but the 26-year-old is far from ideal at first.  He has shown the ability to take walks at an elite level — and play terrific defense — but he provides virtually no power from a position that demands it. Last season, the average first baseman  posted a .439 slugging percentage — the lowest number at that position since Barton entered the league. Even in his best year, Barton’s slugging percentage was just .413. While Barton’s ability to take a walk is valuable, pitchers adjusted by pounding the strike-zone against him and were confident that he wouldn’t hit for enough power to hurt them. Outside of 2008 — when a ridiculous 12.1 UZR boosted his 5.1 WAR — Barton has barely rated as a passable first baseman.

The problem is that Oakland’s current first basemen are a bit of a motley crew. The team already had Barton, Allen and Chris Carter last season; but the team chose to sign on-base machine Kila Ka’aihue during the off-season. Carter and Ka’aihue both posted strong numbers throughout their minor league careers, but they never got regular playing time with their former teams. While Carter might have been seen as a first baseman of the future, his stats are very similar to Allen’s. Due to the glut of castoffs and similarly skilled players at the same position, the A’s released Allen knowing they could get similar production out of the others.

Allen was projected to be the worst hitter among the A’s first base options, according to ZiPS.

Daric Barton 0.241 0.351 0.359 0.319
Brandon Allen 0.212 0.310 0.375 0.304
Chris Carter 0.268 0.312 0.416 0.311
Kila Ka’aihue 0.226 0.329 0.373 0.311
2011 First Basemen 0.263 0.338 0.439 0.337

As you can see, ZiPS projected every Oakland first baseman as a below-average option. While Allen and Carter look like similar players on paper, ZiPS gives Carter a much better projection. Seeing how Allen had the lowest projection among the group, it’s hard to be upset at the A’s decision to let him go.

The main question here is whether Barton should be starting. Barton’s .319 wOBA is the best among the remaining three A’s first basemen — and nearly all of the value comes from his ability to get on base. While Carter and Ka’aihue project slightly worse, their .311 wOBAs really aren’t far behind.

What sets Barton apart is his defense. He’s already projected to be the most valuable offensive first baseman on the team, but he’s also regarded as one of the better defensive first basemen in the majors. Ka’aihue and Carter would certainly provide more power, but neither carry strong defensive reputations.

While none of them seems like the answer at first base, neither Ka’aihue nor Carter has received enough playing time in the majors to write them off. Barton might be a useful player, but he shouldn’t be starting on a contending team. And by the time the A’s are ready to contend, Barton isn’t likely to be on this team.

At the same time, Barton has the best track record of the bunch. While he isn’t fully recovered from an off-season shoulder injury, Barton could be a useful trade chip if he can rebound to his previous offensive production. If the A’s moved Barton at the deadline — or he struggles with his recovery — they’ll see if their other options have a future with the club. If Barton struggles — and the A’s can’t find a takers at the deadlin —, they would still be better off playing Ki’aihue or Carter in the second half. Playing Barton right now seems to be the smartest option, but if he’s still on the team in August, Oakland needs to find another option.

Print This Post

Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

17 Responses to “Daric Barton Returns, Brandon Allen Free Again”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jay says:

    Pirates, Brandon Allen. Brandon Allen, Pirates. You two should really talk.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PiratesHurdles says:

      I have been a big fan of the Allen idea for the Bucs the last few years, but I’m not so sure now. He basically would replace Garrett Jones and I’m not sure that is a real upgrade. Jones for all his faults is actually a pretty decent platoon bat who can almost competently handle 1B.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mingy says:

        but terrible defensively and on basepaths – whereas Allen has a better track record.

        Allen also represents an upside that Jones doesn’t have. I’m also a big fan of the Allen to Bucs idea – Pirates have a lot of replacement level options (Nick Evans, Matt Hague) that they could throw in there if it is a disaster

        Jones could be traded to AL team where his versatility and DH against RHP would be more useful. He’s a butcher in the field

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. philbak says:

    Why not play Kila at DH?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Michael F says:

    Brandon Allen is basically a Wily Mo Pena who walks.

    He has a ton of power, but he just can’t make the contact necessary to stick around. Unfortunately he’s really best suited as a bench bat option for a National League team.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. CircleChange11 says:

    As you can see, ZiPS projected every Oakland first baseman as a below-average option.

    It’s that, not lack of opportunity that is hurting Kila and Allen.

    Of course, thanks to Alex Gordon, every prospect that drastically under-performs is simply not being given enough of a chance.

    Teams cannot afford to play a below average bat at 1B or DH.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Vlad says:

      “Teams cannot afford to play a below average bat at 1B or DH.”

      And yet, every year, half of them do it anyway.

      This ain’t Lake Wobegon.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Socrates says:

    Barton is the best right now, and I am not sure he also isn’t the best option in the future.

    He is 26 and will not turn 27 until August. He already has 439 games in the majors (he made his debut at 22). As a matter of fact, he is a year younger than Ka’aihue, a year older than Carter, and 6 months older than Allen.

    While Allen, Ka’aihue, and Carter have torn up the minors, Barton was a starting 1B in the majors. It is possible (maybe even likely) that he would have shown the same upside in the minors had he spend much time there.

    Barton is a far superior defensive player.

    We know that Barton is not going to contribute 30 HRs regularly, but I dont see why a 26 year old that has shown some great peripherals in his hitting skills cant develop enough power to regularly hit 15 to 20 HRs.

    Offensively his upside is probably somewhere between John Olerud and Lyle Overbay (defensively he is closer to Olerud). Olerud and Overbay broke out in his age 27 season.

    Barton seems skilled enough to post 4 WAR seasons through his prime seasons and because of the type of skills (Defense, OBP) that will get him that value, he will come at a MUCH cheaper price. Barton might be the EXACT type of player that Oakland needs.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • suicide squeeze says:

      Agreed. If we’re looking at who has the best chance of posting 4 WAR seasons going forwards, it helps that Barton has actually already done that. He may not be the sexiest pick to man 1B this year, but I think he’s the right pick.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Paul Clarke says:

    While Barton’s ability to take a walk is valuable, pitchers adjusted by pounding the strike-zone against him

    This doesn’t really show up on PitchF/X: 53.8% zone% in 2011 versus 53.4% in 2010 (BIS data shows more of a bump, but I’m reluctant to compare that year to year). The main differences between 2010 and 2011 are a big drop in power – whether measured by ISO, HR/FB or PWR – and a big drop in BABIP that’s likely at least partly related to the drop in power. I imagine the torn labrum he suffered at some point in 2011 is significant here.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Austen says:

      Yeah, Barton made comments last year eluding to the fact that he’d suffered the injury in April and played through the pain.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. suicide squeeze says:

    I don’t think that a 12.1 UZR is too ridiculous. Especially when he had higher ratings in other metrics (17 in DRS and 16 in TZ). Even if you regressed that UZR for 2010, it wouldn’t have shrunk his WAR by more than half a win or so.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • suicide squeeze says:

      Oops….my bad. I meant to quote this, but quoted myself instead:

      “Outside of 2008 — when a ridiculous 12.1 UZR boosted his 5.1 WAR — Barton has barely rated as a passable first baseman”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. TD says:

    Not a fan of this move at all – Barton hasn’t shown he’s all the way back from his injury yet and we basically know his upside.

    Allen had a very good spring training, has a great minor league track record, better than we thought on D – and we cut him after 3 games? 2 of which were against Felix Hernandez? You’d think Fangraphs would be all over that lack of sufficient sample size***

    Vote -1 Vote +1