Positional Power Rankings: First Base

For an explanation of this series, go ahead and read the introduction. All the posts in the series can be found here.

First base, unsurprisingly, has the best hitters out of all the positions in baseball, although what separates the very first basemen according to the ZiPS and Fan projections is fielding. Obviously, the “true talent” side of things is not my work, I just adjusted playing time and depth charts, prorated, and so on. Just a couple of notes before we get started. Obviously, this a more of a subjective exercise, as I am not a doctor who can tell you want is going to happen with player injuries with any expertise. More importantly, I am not a mind reader who can say how a certain manager will react if his young first basement has a nasty slump in June. I view this charts sort of like subjective versions of projectinos — I am simply trying to reduce the error. by listing potential players who might play at the positions and rough playing time amounts. I have no doubt that there will be some things in here that look pretty silly in retrospect, and perhaps even now. With that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings.

30. Mariners

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Justin Smoak B 550 0.231 0.326 0.376 0 0.5
Utility Carlos Guillen B 100 0.245 0.314 0.380 0 0
LF/1B Mike Carp L 60 0.252 0.317 0.414 0 0.1
3B/1B Alex Liddi R 10 0.228 0.292 0.387 0 0

All those people who said that the Mariners should have taken Jesus Montero over Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee trade sure look silly now that Jack Z. got them both, huh? Sorry, sorry… The Mariners are in a position where they need to let Smoak sink or swim, and they do not really have any other options. Despite the problems, Smoak has a good walk rate and has shown bursts of power, and at 25 it is far too early to give up on him — just ask Alex Gordon.

One has to enjoy the irony Carlos Guillen being there in case someone else gets injured for once. Mike Carp is slated to start in left field, last I checked, but he also has spent time at first base, so he might get some time there. Alex Liddi is another guy who is more likely to be in another position on the depth chart (third base), but he might get a few plate appearances.

29. Padres

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Yonder Alonso L 580 0.256 0.329 0.401 -4 0.5
RH 1B/OF Jesus Guzman R 60 0.266 0.324 0.399 0 0.1
LH 1B/OF Mark Kotsay L 20 0.254 0.307 0.355 0 0
Prospect Kyle Blanks R 60 0.233 0.315 0.407 0 0.1

The straight-up projections do not love the Padres’ first basemen, but there is enough youthful upside here that this projection has to be taken with a grain of salt. Alonso was not thought of as having monstrous power potential, and what he does have will be hidden by the Joy of Petco, but getting on base and hitting for good average and decent power will play. Jesus Guzman will be fight for playing time, but he might have his uses in San Diego and elsewhere as a right-handed bench bat. Mark Kotsay continues his mysterious late-career run in the majors taking at-bats away frmo more worthy players (99 of the league). Kyle Blanks is the wild card — a huge guy who has shown serious power at times, but has had injury problems and poor performance at others. It is tough to see how he fits onto the roster to start the year. But there might be something there with blanks if Alonso or one of the corner outfielders goes down.

28. Athletics

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Daric Barton L 320 0.241 0.351 0.359 4 0.7
Reserve Brandon Allen L 250 0.212 0.310 0.375 1 0.1
Depth Kila Ka’aihue L 50 0.226 0.329 0.373 0 0
Prospect Chris Carter R 100 0.268 0.312 0.416 -2 0

Perhaps caught up in the spirit of the Moneyball movie, Billy Beane has stacked his first base depth chart with left-handed Quad-A sluggers (or, in Barton`s case, “slugger”). While Allen is currently viewed by many as trade bait, others see him as the likely starter over Barton, so the playing time estimations above reflect that. Kila Ka’aihue is there as AAA depth in case Allen gets traded and Barton bombs again. Chris Carter is sort of the Kyle Blanks of this situation. Carter was most a first basemen in the minors who made people think he would end up as a DH. Naturally, the As moved him to the outfield. With the team loaded with outfielders (sort of), where he fits is a mystery, but he does not exactly have Orlando Cepeda and Willis McCovey ahead of him on the depth chart, either.

27. Pirates

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Garrett Jones L 570 0.252 0.317 0.432 -3 0.8
Utility Casey McGehee R 75 0.262 0.311 0.398 0 0
Prospect Matt Hague R 75 0.260 0.319 0.377 0 0

I probably missed someone, but I’m not sure it was anyone who would add “depth” to the “depth” chart above. Garrett Jones has shown flashes, but at the moment he projects as a first basemen with some power, but not enough to make up for the low on-base percentage. After that, the Pirates have Casey McGehee, a player whose bat really only plays at tird. Matt Hague hardly looks like a world beater, but he might make for a good platoon partner for Jones. I debated putting Pedro Alvarez somewhere on this chart, but at least at the moment the Pirates look like they are going to leave him at third.

26. Astros

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Carlos Lee R 400 0.274 0.323 0.441 -2 0.7
Utility Matt Downs R 50 0.255 0.315 0.413 0 0.1
“Prospect” Brett Wallace L 250 0.258 0.322 0.403 0 0.3
Utililty Chris Johnson R 20 0.255 0.294 0.403 0 0

Is the Carlos Lee contract about to end? Time flies, does it not? Brett Wallace is not all that promising, but Downs and Johnson are just utility players. With Lee in the last year of his contract, the Astros are probably hoping that he goes on a hot streak so they can dump some of his salary. Even if they cannot trade him, after the deadline there is no point to having him play out the string, so they might as well give Wallace some playing time, even if they are not overly optimistic about his potential. This is speculation, of course, but it is a depressingly muddled situation.

25. Rockies

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Todd Helton L 500 0.267 0.356 0.402 1 1.4
LH Backup Jason Giambi L 60 0.246 0.356 0..486 -1 -0.2
RH Backup Jordan Pacheco R 60 0.262 0.317 0.363 0 0

Todd Helton is years away from his monstrous, arguably-Hall-of-Fame-level peak, but despite the power outage, getting on base and playing good defense has value, even at first base. Health and age make me cautious when projecting his playing time. Giambi is a guy who makes sense as a left-handed platoon bat in the American League, so naturally the Rockies have him in the National League where he actually has to use his glove. Giambi was an exception to my policy of projecting everyone without a Fan Projection as “0,” that just did not make sense. Pacheco is an adequate right-handed bench bat.

24. Nationals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Adam LaRoche L 450 0.236 0.313 0.415 2 0.7
OF/1B Michael Morse R 200 0.273 0.331 0.475 0 0.8
Utility Mark DeRosa R 50 0.244 0.300 0.277 0 -0.2
Utility Chris Marrero R 20 0.262 0.319 0.380 0 0

The Nationals probably wish they could trade LaRoche so they can move Morse to first and have Jayson Werth and (they hope) Bryce Harper on the corners of the outfield. For now, they need to play LaRoche, but if he gets hurt again or they pass the deadline with LaRoche hitting poorly, I can see Morse getting more of the at-bats. Either way, I do not see LaRoche sucking up the playing time. The other guys are generic utility payers.

23. Orioles

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Chris Davis L 450 0.250 0.299 0.440 0 0.7
3B Relief Mark Reynolds R 220 0.218 0.320 0.361 0 0.7
C Relief Matt Wieters B 10 0.268 0.334 0.429 0 0
Depth Nick Johnson L 20 0.223 0.350 0.318 0 0
Prospect Joe Mahoney L 20 0.254 0.299 0.380 0 0

Too bad the Orioles do not seem to plan on putting Wilson Betemit at first (although it could happen, I guess), as that would make three awful-fielding third basemen on this chart. Someone has to play third, I guess, and apparently it will be Reynolds to open the season, but when Davis likely bombs (again, and not the good way), the incentive to pretend that Reynolds can play third will power, so he might get some time there. The Nick Johnson Dream lives on in Baltimore, although on a minor-league deal it is kind of a fun dream to have. Mahoney might make an appearance.

I did not believe the Wieters thing until I saw him listed on the first-base chart on the team website and saw he played there a bit last season. It is bad enough when teams move a questionably-gloved catcher without an elite bat to first because of a problematic glove. With Wieters, while his bat has not lived up to the original hype, he has become one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Hopefully for Orioles fans, they will not continue that particular insanity.

22. Dodgers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter James Loney L 580 0.277 0.334 0.407 3 1.3
1B/OF Juan Rivera R 100 0.265 0.318 0.408 0 0.1
1B/OF Jerry Sands R 20 0.235 0.308 0.415 0 0
LH Utility Adam Kennedy L 20 0.258 0.307 0.362 0 0

Given the continued hilarity of James Loney, it is amazing that Dodgers are even this high on the list. The brilliant plan to back him up apparently involves two outfielders and Adam Kennedy, a classic aging utility man without utility. Loney still will get most of the at-bats, I think, as Rivera can only platoon for one guy at once. No word on what Ned Colletti offered Juan Pierre.

21. Phillies

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Ryan Howard L 300 0.248 0.335 0.485 -2 0.9
RH Utility Ty Wigginton R 200 0.249 0.312 0.399 -1 0
LH Bench Bat Jim Thome L 150 0.247 0.349 0.494 -1 0.6
OF/2B John Mayberry, Jr. R 50 0.246 0.300 0.427 0 0.1
Utility Michael Martinez B 20 0.231 0.277 0.339 0 -0.1

This is a mess both from the perspective of the Phillies and of those trying to project what is going to happen with playing time. Ryan Howard is out “indefinitely,” and the platoon of Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome, while it has some potential, also has some pitfalls — namely, Wigginton cannot hit righties and it seems unlikely that Thome (who ZiPS actually projects as far better with the bat than Howard) can stay healthy if he plays first base with regularity. If anything, I may have shorted Mayberry and Martinez on the plate appearances at first. Insert Ryan-Howard-in-the-first-year-of-his-extension-joke here.

20. Blue Jays

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Adam Lind L 580 0.264 0.315 0.466 -3 1.3
DH/RH 2B Edwin Encarnacion R 100 0.261 0.331 0.457 -1 0.3
Prospect David Cooper L 40 0.251 0.311 0.376 0 0

A Lind-Encarnacion All-or-Nothing platoon would make a lot of sense for the Jays, but the problem is that someone has to DH. It seems like 2009 was a million years ago for Lind, but he an Encarnacion at least will hold up their end of Toronto’s Home Run Derby. David Cooper probably will get some playing time at some point. If Lind does not get it going soon, the Jays need to start looking for a new first baseman for the run they obviously want to make very soon, if they haven’t started shopping already. It is not as if Prince Fielder or Joey Votto are the only options out there better than a two-headed Lind/E5 combo.

19. Indians

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Casey Kotchman L 400 0.275 0.342 0.403 3 1.1
RH Utility Jack Hannahan L 20 0.223 0.303 0.347 0 0
RH 1B/OF Shelley Duncan R 20 0.228 0.309 0.398 0 0
Catcher Relief Carlos Santana B 160 0.246 0.361 0.449 0 0.7
“Prospect” Matt LaPorta R 120 0.253 0.321 0.422 -1 0.1

Casey Kotchman is the nominal starter, which is okay, but there are other factors here. Hannahan and Duncan are useful players in various ways, but they are not the main issues at work. One is Cleveland’s desire to get Carlos Sanatana time at first, even though his bat is far more impressive at catcher (this motif will re-appear). The other is whether or not Matt LaPorta actually can hit in the majors. As with Justin Smoak, Alex Gordon offers a bit of hope here, although Gordon had at least shown something in the majors prior to his 2011 breakout. LaPorta could conceivably get a lot more time, but based on the ZiPS projections, there is not much chance he will impress the decision makers enough to get that chance. This does not look like the season for Cleveland to wait around while a guy struggles.

18. Rangers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Mitch Moreland L 520 0.264 0.329 0.424 -2 0.9
Utility Michael Young R 140 0.291 0.336 0.431 0 0.3
C Relief Mike Napoli R 60 0.272 0.361 0.538 0 0.4

The Rangers are still stacked just about everywhere, but not first base. They dropped out of the Fielder bidding, but I doubt that reflects much confidence in Mitch Moreland. Some are thinking that he was playing hurt last season, but I am always skeptical of that sort of analysis. If Moreland stumbles, that means more time for Michael Young at first. Mike Napoli played well at catcher last season, but is coming off an an ankle injury, so the Rangers may want to give him more time at first and DH.

17. Brewers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Mat Gamel L 620 0.264 0.341 0.433 -3 1.4
Utility Taylor Green L 50 0.264 0.324 0.423 0 0.1
Depth Travis Ishikawa L 20 0.231 0.306 0.365 0 0
OF Corey Hart R 50 0.270 0.333 0.481 0 0.2

The long-awaited Gamel Era begins! It had better, because there really are not any other options. Gamel seems to have some on-base skills, but is bad everywhere on the field and not much power. Green is a utilit man, and Ishikawa is nothing more than minor-league depth. There was some talk of Corey Hart getting time at first base or even moving there full-time if they Brewers added another corner outfielder, but they did not add such a player and Hart got hurt, anyway. Still, if Gamel falls apart Hart might get some time there.

16. Cubs

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Bryan LaHair L 340 0.262 0.324 0.469 -1 0.9
Utility Jeff Baker R 50 0.250 0.299 0.375 0
Prospect Anthony Rizzo L 330 0.246 0.320 0.436 1 0.9

Jeff Baker is simply a utility player. The main plotline here involves a) how much rope Bryan LaHair has, and b) whether Anthony Rizzo can force him out. Rizzo is going to get his shot eventually. I split the difference. If LaHair bombs, Rizzo will come up sooner. If LaHair hits well to start the year, Rizzo may have to wait a bit longer. Rizzo seems to encourage conflicting evaluations, but at the moment, the Cubs really have no other long-term solution close to the majors.

15. Braves

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Freddie Freeman L 640 0.279 0.344 0.455 -5 1.9
Utility Eric Hinske L 60 0.234 0.316 0.413 -2 0
Utility Martin Prado R 20 0.281 0.325 0.417 0 0

One of the easiest teams to figure out, the Braves’ first base situation seems pretty safe with Freddie Freeman, even if the Fans follow UZR in being unsure of his fielding. Freeman’s plate discipline was unimpressive last season, but he was only 21. Few would put him on Eric Hosmer‘s level, and that makes sense for a variety of reasons, but Freeman looks like he has a bright future. Hinske continues his run as a utility man for the corners, and if the Braves need a right-handed bat here and there at first, Martin Prado has done it before.

14. Giants

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Aubrey Huff L 400 0.261 0.329 0.422 -2 0.6
Prospect Brandon Belt L 220 0.268 0.365 0.452 1 1.1
Utility Brett Pill R 20 0.267 0.298 0.412 0 0
C Relief Buster Posey R 80 0.287 0.358 0.440 0 0.3

Apparently the Giants are hoping that riding Huff about his conditioning will have the same effect on him that it did on Pablo Sandoval a year ago. Combined with his well established “good every other year” tendency, BOOM. That totally justifies burying Brandon Belt yet again (can’t have him taking playing time from Melky Cabrera or Nate Schierholtz, either). Add in their desire to devalue Posey’s bat by giving him playing time at first base, and the Giants are not really on track to maximize their talent. This is the saracastic, negative view of things: talent trumps all, and if Huff start out of the gate slow, Belt could get time sooner rather than later. ZiPS sees Belt bat as good enough that, given the chance, he should replace Huff eventually. I am guessing the Giants give Huff time to play himself to the bench, but it is just a guess.

13. Rays

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Carlos Pena L 620 0.215 0.341 0.447 1 2.2
DH/OF/1B Luke Scott L 20 0.245 0.325 0.447 0 0.1
2B/Utility Ben Zobrist B 30 0.261 0.355 0.444 0 0.1
OF Matt Joyce L 30 0.254 0.342 0.453 0 0.1
C Utility Stephen Vogt L 20 0.255 0.291 0.381 0 0

First base is seen as a weak spot for the Rays, but here they are in the top half of the league. Carlos Pena is about an average overall player at this point. He will not get all the plate appearances, but they Rays do not have an obvious platoon partner for him. Zobrist plays everywhere, but he is also needed elsewhere on the diamond. Scott has played some first in the past to not-great reviews, but he might get some time there. Joyce was rumored to be getting some practice in at first during the off-season. Vogt is a versatile guy, too, although he only really hits well enough to play catcher. None of these players, other than maybe Zobrist, makes sense as a platoon partner for Pena. A team can’t have everything, I guess.

12. Twins

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter/DL Justin Morneau L 400 0.272 0.348 0.456 2 1.8
Catcher Relief Joe Mauer L 150 0.302 0.380 0.432 0 0.6
“Doh Mitt” Ryan Doumit B 120 0.256 0.319 0.404 0 0.1
Utility Chris Parmalee L 50 0.243 0.311 0.357 0 0

The Rays were surprising, but if the Twins made the top half of this list, then first base must be weaker than I thought. This was also difficult to write up because of the uncertainty. Morneau could play the whole season, he could sit out almost the whole season if concussion symptoms re-appear. ZiPS is not all that high on his offense as this point, either, but he does project as better over the 400 plate appearances I pulled out of a than many first basemen over 600+. Who knows whether one should take the over or under on either his playing time or performance. Joe “Hometown Discount” Mauer is slated to get time at first base, too, and still gets on-base often enough that it is not a killer to play him at first, but again… Hey, that contract was great for baseball! I mean, it’s going to be terrible for the Twins, but can you imagine the horror if he was in New York or Boston? THE HORROR. And, yes, I “Doh Mitt” is a great nickname.

11. Diamondbacks

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Paul Goldschmidt R 580 0.250 0.340 0.472 -2 2.2
LH Backup Lyle Overbay L 120 0.251 0.333 0.320 0 0.3
Utility Geoff Blum B 20 0.262 0.316 0.369 0 0

Paul Goldschmidt is a fun player. Who knows how long the fun will last, given his skill-set, but hey, I like home runs and walks. He could probably hit 30 for the Diamondbacks if he got all of the plate appearances. However, the Diamondbacks brought Lyle Overbay home, and given that he hits from the other side of the plate from Goldschmidt and cannot play anywhere but first, they seem like they want to give him playing time. Better him than Geoff “I’m still in the league?” Blum, I suppose.

10. Mets

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Ike Davis L 500 0.255 0.338 0.449 5 2.1
Utility Justin Turner R 70 0.265 0.327 0.372 0 0.1
Prospect Lucas Duda L 150 0.256 0.338 0.431 0 0.4

Ike Davis has valley fever (maybe). Meet the Mets! Davis is a good hitter and fielder, but given his injury last year and whatever is going on now, I wanted to be cautious in projecting his playing time. Lucas Duda is a lesser player who is something of a question mark, but he makes sense as the player likely to get the at-bats if and when Davis can’t. Turner is a utility guy.

9. Marlins

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Gaby Sanchez R 640 0.270 0.348 0.436 2 2.5
LF/1B Logan Morrison L 40 0.261 0.360 0.456 0 0.2
Utility Greg Dobbs L 30 0.250 0.293 0.364 0 0
Utility Donnie Murphy R 10 0.226 0.287 0.428 0 0

Gaby Sanchez put the kibosh on the Marlins’ plans to have Logan Morrison force him out. Morrison is horrible in the outfield, but if Sanchez stumbles badly, the Marlins can move him to first. However, despite unimpressive power, Sanchez’s good walk rate, contact ability, and fielding should make that move tough to justify. In any case, the Marlins’ first and second options could start for at first base all but a few teams in the league.

8. Cardinals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Lance Berkman B 590 0.269 0.381 0.471 -4 2.7
Utility Allen Craig R 80 0.276 0.329 0.454 0 0.3
Backup Mark Hamilton R 50 0.249 0.329 0.380 0 0.1

Losing Albert Pujols is rough, but replacing a surefire Hall-of-Famer with a lesser (should-be) Hall of Famer is okay. Berkman probably will not repeat his 2011 performance, but tons of walks and very good power is valuable. Playing first rather than outfield should also give his knees a break. Allen Craig is a good backup at a variety of positions when he is healthy, and, yes, many teams would be thrilled to have him start for them in the outfield, at least. Hamilton is a pretty decent for an end-of-the-bench pinch-hitter. The Cardinals should score plenty of runs again.

7. Royals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Eric Hosmer L 640 0.304 0.354 0.474 -1 3
Primary D Billy Butler R 40 0.295 0.362 0.462 0 0.2
Primary LH Alex Gordon L 10 0.278 0.358 0.464 0 0
Prospect Clint Robinson L 20 0.258 0.309 0.400 0 0

Despite the hype, Eric Hosmer’s actual numbers in 2011 were not mind-blowing in themselves. He had a tendency to bite on high fastballs, which kept his walk rate down to only six percent. He had a great defensive reputation in the minors, but seemed to have problems with the glove last season (some of that probably the result of small samples, some likely due to positioning).

Despite the imperfections, Hosmer’s 2011 was about the obvious potential displayed. Walk rates develop throughout most players’ careers, and contact was no problem for Hosmer. He showed good power. He’s athletic around the bag. And he was only 21. Last spring in Arizona, front office executives from other organizations were offering unsolicited raves about Hosmer. ZiPS does not see him as a superstar in 2012, and one should avoid the temptation to read the uncertainty in young players as only “upside” without “downside.” Still, this is very promising, to say the least.

Hosmer will probably need some games off, and Billy Butler`s glove is pretty bad, but for a few games it will not kill the team, and the guy can hit, even if the power has not developed like the Royals have hoped. If the Royals need another first basemen, Clint Robinson is sort of Kila Ka’aihue without the walks and with even a worse glove. Still, overall, things are looking up at first for the Royals.

6. White Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Paul Konerko R 650 0.278 0.359 0.493 -1 3.3
Primary DH Adam Dunn L 25 0.209 0.340 0.429 0 0
Utility Brent Lillibridge R 25 0.230 0.299 0.378 0 0
Depth Dan Johnson L 20 0.235 0.337 0.414 0 0

Konerko is bad around the bag and on the bases, but he is having a mid-30s re-birth with the bat. He should probably be a DH at this point, but that spot is taken by Big Lug Adam Dunn, who is one of a variety of characters who might get a little bit of time at first on the rare occasions when the Sox can spare their best hitter.

5. Tigers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Prince Fielder L 600 0.275 0.394 0.504 -5 3.5
3B Relief Miguel Cabrera R 80 0.310 0.406 0.548 -6 0.6
Utility Don Kelly L 20 0.256 0.302 0.378 0 0
Prospect Ryan Strieby R 20 0.223 0.296 0.362 0 0

The Tigers’ backup first baseman might be the best first baseman in the American League. Whatever they are saying now, I suspect the Tigers will spend plenty of games with Cabrera at first and Fielder at DH. I am probably undershooting it, but right now it sounds like Brandon Inge‘s bat scares the team more than Miguel Cabrera’s third base glove. For comedy’s sake, I hope the Tigers re-play what happened with Cabrera and Carlos Guillen when Cabrera first came to Motor City, and Cabrera move to first with Prince moving to third… yeah, no, but it’s fun to imagine.

4. Yankees

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Mark Teixeira B 600 0.263 0.359 0.495 6 3.9
RF/1B Nick Swisher B 60 0.253 0.358 0.456 0 0.3
Utility Eric Chavez L 30 0.238 0.288 0.336 0 -0.1
Depth Russell Branyan L 30 0.234 0.319 0.478 0 0.1

Mark Teixeira’s bat has declined much faster than most would have expected. It is pretty much all in the BABIP, and while BABIP is subject to random variation, one should not treat hitter BABIP just like pitcher BABIP — there is about twice the talent spread. Moreover, BABIP declines with age. Teixeira is still obviously a good player, but he is not a first-rank superstar at first any more, even if the power is still amazing. But the Yankees are in good hands for the moment. When Tex needs a break, Swisher is a good bat, and Russell the Muscle lurks in the minors if the Yankees figure out that he’s a better choice for a left-handed DH than Raul Ibanez. Eric Chavez is still around for some reason.

3. Red Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Adrian Gonzalez L 670 0.297 0.384 0.526 5 5.1
3B Relief Kevin Youkilis R 30 0.268 0.374 0.477 0 0.2
Primary DH David Ortiz L 10 0.266 0.357 0.498 0 0.1
Prospect Lars Anderson L 10 0.240 0.316 0.377 0 0

The secret to having the best “depth” at first base is… surprise… having the one of the best first baseman. Adrian Gonzalez still seems underrated to me. He probably won’t BABIP .380 again in 2012, but he and Fenway enjoy each other, and he plays good defense, and, most importantly, plays just about every game. That is what makes it tough to say who is likely to fill in the few times when Gonzalez does take a rest. As mentioned earlier, I tend to be a bit conservative when projecting playing time.

2. Angels

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Albert Pujols R 650 0.302 0.388 0.564 3 5.5
1B/3B/DH Mark Trumbo R 30 0.253 0.295 0.437 0
1B/DH Kendry Morales B 30 0.274 0.321 0.455 0 0.1
Utility Jorge Cantu R 10 0.252 0.296 0.385 0 0

What is there to say about Pujols but a bunch of superlatives you have read about him before? Honestly, for 2012 I would still probably rate him as the best first baseman. However, given the Angels’ investment in him, the availability of the DH slot, and the presence of competent backups, I imagine the will let him DH some to keep him a bit more rested. Trumbo and Morales are part of the Angels’ DH mess along with Bobby Abreu.

1. Reds

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPs OBP ZiPs SLG Field WAR
Starter Joey Votto L 660 0.294 0.402 0.529 5 5.9
Utility Todd Frazier R 30 0.242 0.307 0.423 0 0
Utility Miguel Cairo R 30 0.265 0.328 0.403 0 0

If anyone ranks with Pujols for 2012, it is Joey Votto, and the Reds get the edge here because Votto has no DH spot to rest in, basically. Votto was 2010′s NL MVP, but was pretty much just as good in 2011. Obviously, he is the key player in the Reds “all-in” approach to 2012 and 2013, which is obviously geared around getting the most out of Votto before he hits a monster free agent payday.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

80 Responses to “Positional Power Rankings: First Base”

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  1. 44 says:

    Chris Carter (A’s) is right-handed

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  2. Macek says:

    In the Orioles’ defense, Wieters only played 1game (8 innings) at first base last year and I haven’t heard anything from the local writers in Baltimore to suggest that they are planning on asking him to play first for a significant number of innings this year. I don’t think it sounds like they are acting particularly insane.

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    • Bonzi says:

      Yeah, there was a slew of injuries there at one point last year and they wanted to get his bat in the lineup day game after night game; it was during the stretch where his bat really came alive. Markakis also played a game or two at first in similar circumstances. Wieters is probably not actually in the top 5 options they’d use at first this season (Davis, Reynolds, Johnson, Betemit, Mahoney).

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  3. joetarring says:

    Is Thome’s SLG a misprint?

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Because he has only hit lower than 0.500 two years of the last 10? or because those two years were 2009 and 2011 (0.480 ish in both years).

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Thome is a first ballot Hall of famer to me and I never rooted for any of his teams. A very rare hitter in the history of the game.

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  4. schmenkman says:

    Just a typo, I believe ZiPs has Thome with .494 SLG (not .393).

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  5. Erix says:

    Will there be a DH ranking?

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  6. Mike says:

    Brewers and Cubs seem way too high.

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    • Bob says:

      I was shocked to see how highly the Brewers were rated. It gives me more hope for the season. I was most afraid of the black hole on offense simpling moving from the left side to the right.

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  7. Malcolm says:

    I think this would have been an appropriate comment for tangotiger’s post as well, but isn’t there just a huge gap in forecasting young players with little or no MLB experience? Justin Smoak is dead last? With Carp, Montero, Guillen behind him on the depth chart? Even if Smoak is a bust, with which most prospect analysts disagree, one of the other three will hit. I dont think first base defense has really been given the proper weight, but given that it hasn’t, these four bats, healthy, are top 15.

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  8. Eric says:

    #20 isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than I expected from the Lind/EE combo. Seeing them place right in front of Philly’s $25 million per year train wreck also provided a nice giggle.

    It’s the little things in life that give the most pleasure.

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  9. Malcolm says:

    Just to follow up *cough*…Brian Lahair, Casey Kotchman, Adam Kennedy…. I think the Mariners front office knows something you don’t.

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  10. themiddle54 says:

    “What is there to say about Pujols but a bunch of superlatives you have read about him before?”

    He’s 32.

    His WAR has dipped by 16% and 32% the last two years.

    He’s in the tougher league.

    He plays in a division full of pitchers parks, save Texas.

    He plays in a division full of good-pitching teams, with nary a Houston or Pittsburgh in site.

    A third of his HR last year, according to Hit Tracker, were “Just Enoughs.”

    He hasn’t been a significant defensive contributor the last two years.

    He’s on a two-year trend of swinging at more pitches, with all of that increase coming from swinging at pitches outside the zone.

    He has shown steadily declining value against the fastball for two years–in his prime he feasted on FB.

    The question really is “Why would we use all the same superlatives about Pujols now that we’ve used in the past?”

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    • Daniel says:

      Hell of a narrative you’re building for yourself there.

      He was pretty Pujolian post May last year. And that Houston / Pirates remark is pretty insulting, both to the teams themselves (I mean we’re talking about the As and the Mariners over here) and, more importantly, to The Machine himself.

      I get that he’s declining but let’s not try to outrun through curve on the guy.

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      • themiddle54 says:

        That’s not a narrative. A narrative is when you say stuff like clutch and change of environment and being protected by Matt Holliday and referring to him by a made-for-TV nickname and drawing arbitrary start-and-end points and stuff like that to rationalize your argument.

        When you take a player who’s factually on the wrong end of the aging curve, who has dropped in every single metric over a two-year sample, what you have is, objectively, a player on the back end of his career who is no longer worth the hyperbole of his youth.

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      • Daniel says:

        It is a narrative. You’re telling a story about the decline of Albert Pujols and using advanced stats rather than nonsense doesn’t change that.

        Look, I’m not here in opposition to the idea that Pujols is most likely past the high point of his career. My question is why it has to receive so much emphasis. We have one of the best hitters in baseball history here, he’s still one of the very best hitters in the league, he’s producing WAR totals like he was 4 years ago but he’s still projected for a roughly 390 wOBA, just to give one example.

        This is not about his contract, this is not about the Angels’ decision to sign him, this is about how good Albert Pujols projects to be in 2012. And it’s really, really good. So why get hung up about the decline? Why demand something so good to just be over already?

        Also, you say “hyperbole” there – you need to spend more time looking at that man’s player page; pretty difficult to get hyperbolic about what he did over the last decade.

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      • gonfalon says:

        as a Pirates fan, I am glad Pujols is out of the NL… in 171 career games (633 AB) vs. the Pirates, he has 48 HR and 145 RBI and is hitting .365/.451/.681.

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      • themiddle54 says:

        You’re absolutely right, Daniel. It’s not about contract, or the Angels decision to sign him. Those are things that would fall into ‘narrative.’ Like playing the “poor Pittsburgh and Houston” card, as if the emotions of the fans are more relevant than the fact that 4 of the 9 worst team FIPs last year resided in the NL Central, while the SEA and OAK teams you mention were 2nd and 3rd in the tougher league in team FIP. In cases where we make objective performance analysis take a backseat to fan emotion we are typically crafting narrative and reaching false conclusions.

        What it’s about is the notion that Pujols is still the guy that we shrug and say “well, what else can you say about him?” He’s not that guy anymore.

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      • NS says:

        “He was pretty Pujolian post May last year”

        A .400 wOBA is great, but isn’t Pujolsian.

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      • Daniel says:

        But are the limits of that point not really boring? So he’s not Albert Pujols at his peak, but he’s still excellent. Pointing out that he’s in decline is fine, but let’s not act like he’s done, like he’s no longer deserving of conversation, like everything that’s was said about him before is suddenly passe because he’s not the absolute monster he once was.

        And I take your point about the Mariners and oakland, that’s fair enough. I was just taking exception to the idea that he is what he is because of the NL Central, though I’m sure you weren’t trying to say that.

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      • pjs24 says:

        Re: themiddle54 citing Sea/Oak 2011 FIP – that was with Cahill, Gio, Pineda and most of Fister making it irrelevant for conversation about the present-day. Seattle is garbage behind Felix while Oakland has potential with Parker, Peacock and Milone, but hardly proven commodities.

        So he’s in a division with one good pitching team… the Rangers. The best pitching team in that division is his own.

        Also, you are building a narrative just as Daniel suggested.

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      • themiddle54 says:

        “Crafting a narrative” in the traditional “I don’t agree and would like to dismiss what is being said” way, is a means of explaining the world the way you want it to be, or an opinion, using whatever evidence you can find to tell the story you want to tell. It usually means you’re working backwards from a conclusion (Albert is still Albert) instead of asking a question and being honest about the answer once you find it.

        If I work forward and ask “who projects to be the best 1B in baseball next year?” and look objectively at Pujols (and everyone else) I find a guy who’s 32 with two consecutive steep decline years. And I rank him behind Votto and A-Gonz for sure, Miggy without a doubt if I consider Miggy a 1B (I do), and Fielder if I think Fielder remains at his peak this year (he should) and Pujols declines more since he’s 33 (he should.) Or, Pujols is something like the 3rd-5th best 1B in baseball. . Pretty good. But a far far cry from what he was a few years ago. That’s not narrative. That’s an objective measure of the 1B in the game. For Pujols to be the 1st or 2nd best 1B in the game this year he will need to have what at this point we should consider an outlier year for him, probably coupled with an outlier from A-Gonz or Votto or Miggy or Fielder.

        FWIW, I’ll take OAK 2012′s rotation over OAK 2011′s every day. And with Hultzen, Paxton, Walker coming soon enough to support Felix, in the last 18 years of the Pujols contract a trip to Seattle won’t be a walk in the park.

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  11. Will says:

    There seems to be an error in the Rockies projections, particularly Giambi’s WAR total.

    His numbers compare favorably to Thome’s (with the corrected SLG), but the WAR totals are quite divergent.

    I’m assuming there is a mistake on his fielding? Should it be lower than -1? Otherwise, it looks like Giambi’s WAR should be at least +0.2….

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  12. Baltar says:

    I didn’t realize there were so many teams whose best 1B is worse than Loney.

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  13. Krog says:

    Nothing curious about Mark Kotsay sticking around when he brings Jamie Kotsay with him. (The woman on the left) tinyurl.com/6swf4ev

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  14. John says:

    “but when Chris Davis likely bombs (again, and not the good way),”

    We’ll see.

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  15. Andrew says:

    Lucas Duda should probably be listed as a RF/1B or RF Relief instead of prospect as he is the Mets starting right fielder.

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    • reillocity says:

      If that is in fact the Mets’ plan, Duda as an every-day RF is the worst idea I’ve heard this spring outside of Miguel Cabrera playing 3B. Ideally, you’d want your RF to be able to run and/or throw better than an average MLB outfielder. In Duda’s case, you’d have a RF who is below average at both skills.

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  16. Eminor3rd says:

    Not trying to ride you — I know this is free content — but just as general feedback, there are literally 10+ typographical errors in this piece (not including the projections), and a couple times it makes the sentence at hand legitimately confusing.

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    • steex says:

      I agree. I really enjoy Matt’s work, but there seem to be more typos than usual here.

      Separately, there also seem to be a few cases where the narrative doesn’t really match up with the projections. For example, you note that the Reds edge out the Angels because Votto won’t spend time in the DH slot like Pujols, but you then project Votto for only 10 more PA at 1B than Pujols.

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    • Jay29 says:

      Same here. I have no idea what the end of this sentence means:

      “Mark Kotsay continues his mysterious late-career run in the majors taking at-bats away frmo more worthy players (99 of the league).”

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  17. John says:

    “Mitch Moreland. Some are thinking that he was playing hurt last season, but I am always skeptical of that sort of analysis.”

    The guy had surgery to repair his wrist. What more proof do you need?

    Don’t lean so far in one direction to the point you become stupid.

    First 67 games, 290/353/482. Last 67 games, 229/287/350.

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  18. Natty G says:

    If you don’t believe Cabrera will stick at 3B, then the Tigers have to be #1. They have 2 of the 5 best 1B, including arguably the best hitter at the position in Cabrera.

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  19. Andrew says:

    Freeman is underrated. He’ll out perform guys like Ike and Goldschmidt

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    • dont be cautious says:

      not too fast.

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    • JT Grace says:

      I agree. Eric Hosmer was given a pass for his bad UZR defensive ranking last year but Freddie wasn’t. Just from watching Freddie last year he doesn’t have great range but he has a tremendous glove and great arm. There is no way that the Braves should be ranked below teams like the Giants, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Mets, etc. I would rank them 8th, directly behind the Royals. Expect Freddie to surprise some people this year….just as he did last season.

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  20. Jason461 says:

    It’s interesting to compare these projections to the catcher projections from yesterday. For instance, 11 teams are projected to get at least 4 WAR from catcher, but only 5 are projected to reach that level at first. Not at all what I would have guessed. Interesting stuff.

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  21. Kyle says:

    Carlos Guillen retired today so the mariners should probably get dropped to #31

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  22. craig says:

    The brewers have a ton of OF depth with Gomez and aoiki (someone they picked up). The offense would lack with Corey at 1B but the OF defense would be incredible.

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  23. Barkey Walker says:

    Did not realize how bad Morse is in the field. It looks to me like his glove only plays decently at 1B or DH (obviously, not an option for the Nationals).

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    • jorgath says:

      He’s not THAT bad in the OF – a little of that is that Nats CFs tend to cover extra range, so he doesn’t show as much range – but his natural position is definitely 1B. Funny, since he was drafted as a SS.

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  24. Brendan says:

    “…talent trumps all, and if Huff start out of the gate slow, Belt could get time sooner rather than later”
    Clearly you haven’t seen Bruce Bochy manage before. Given the chance to play a hack veteran who can’t produce anymore over a promising prospect, Boch will run the vet out there every time. Huff is going to flounder for a good 2 months, minimum, before Belt gets the everyday playing time (then Huff will be back in the lineup at Belt’s first three-game-long slump).

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  25. Ivdown says:

    “Given the continued hilarity of James Loney, it is amazing that Dodgers are even this high on the list. The brilliant plan to back him up apparently involves two outfielders and Adam Kennedy, a classic aging utility man without utility. Loney still will get most of the at-bats, I think, as Rivera can only platoon for one guy at once. No word on what Ned Colletti offered Juan Pierre.”

    James Loney hit better than perhaps any other 1B in baseball last year from August 7th on (go back to August 1st if you’d like and he’s still top 3, if not better still) with 7 or 8 hr and 18 doubles from that point on. While it’s likely we see a Loney not much different from the last few years, I don’t see why we couldn’t see the Loney from Pre Allstar Break 2010 Loney (.300+/.375+/.460+) this year.

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  26. Ryan King says:

    “After that, the Pirates have Casey McGehee, a player whose bat really only plays at tird.”

    Wow, harsh!

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  27. Cody K says:

    How is Miguel Cabrera going to be a -6 in the field with only 80 PA at 1B… maybe I don’t understand how you are doing the projections on defense but wouldn’t that put him on pace as a -45 fielder at 1B per 600 PA?

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    • colin says:

      Agree this makes no sense. Miguel has a -2.7 career UZR/150 mark at 1B, he’s no where close to -6. In addition, even if he were in the amount of time it takes him to get 80 PA he wouldn’t come close to that mark.

      Either 1. That -6 is not only a seasonal UZR/150 ranking at both 1b AND 3b or more likely 2. This is a stat contrived from the “Cabrera is bad at defense” narrative without actually checking the stats for oneself.

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      • Tim says:

        gotta find some way at FG to boof the Tigers in every piece, that’s how he is -6 in 80 PAs….laughable….Peralta is the #20 SS? AJax the #20 CF? Happens in every article, there is no logic rhyme or reason….Prince Fielder will have a full 1.2 WAR less than Youkilis in 40 MORE games based on 3 yr games played history?

        and the beat goes on….

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  28. ZLS123 says:

    I’m generally not one to comment on typos, but this was ridiculous, there’s at least one in just about every blurb.

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  29. CircleChange11 says:

    Konerko is bad around the bag and on the bases,

    You listed Konerko’s fielding as -1.I take it that -1 is fielding runs and not fielding WAR.

    Otherwise, -1 is hardly “bad”, it’s average. Konerko is “average” around the bag.

    Not that it makes a difference, I just prefer words and metrics to match.

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  30. gonfalon says:

    Frankly, I’m surprised the Pirates were ranked as high as they were.

    Thanks for nothing, Derrek Lee :mad: :mad: :mad:

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  31. Brian says:

    I seriously doubt Mayberry Jr. will play 2B this year.

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  32. Ray says:

    This ranking system seems to suggest that Justin Smoak will play through a wrist injury again and that he is a big bust. This ranking seems to be ignoring reality, or at least imposing some kind of alternative reality in which only a small fraction of our collective Justin Smoak knowledge is applied.

    I know, I know, “some of these will look silly in retrospect, and perhaps even now.” But… that projected .702 OPS is borderline ignorant. Last year he was great at the start/end of the year and injured/playing through a debilitating injury for the 2-3 months in the middle. We know he is healthy now, not to mention a 25-year-old recent top prospect, so it’s only right to assume he’ll have a better 2012, right? Last year he OPSd .719. This projection seems to anticipate aging-slugger decline, which is just so, so ridiculous. Not to mention, Montero and Carp are more-than-capable backups and Carlos Guillen retired this morning. I’m a big fan of your writing/this series, but the M’s ranking here looks quite ill-considered.

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  33. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Zips is being unkind to Adam LaRoche. He was very hurt last year. I do not seeing him matching his numbers from 2010, but a slash line of .255/.332/.435 is more likely and slugging .450 would not shock me. Plus a +2 defense is very pessimistic. He is a +5 more likely. His last two UZR/150s have been 13.4 in 2011 and 4.8 in 2010. A WAR of 1.5 is about right. That makes the Nationals Rank #13 with nothing else changing.

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  34. Kyle K. says:

    Giambi and Helton were good for almost 4 WAR together last year in 640 PAs. I know they’re both old as dirt and declining quickly, but if they combine for 560 PAs in 2012 and only rack up 1.2 WAR, I’ll eat a hat.

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  35. epoc says:

    The big thing you’re missing about the Pirates is that they’ll be platooning Jones at 1B (either with McGehee or Nick Evans, probably), which should give them significantly better production than just running Jones out there for 570 PA. That probably doesn’t change the overall ranking much, though.

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  36. jsp2014 says:

    Reynolds’ SLG is off.

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  37. jsp2014 says:

    also, Carlos Guillen retired.

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  38. pjs24 says:

    Constructive criticism: this piece could’ve used a once-over proofread before posting. Several typos that made it a tough read. Not trying to hate, just trying to help.

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  39. jim says:

    you project giambi for -0.2 WAR in 60 PAs, which is less than half as many as he’s had in any season in his entire career. last year he was 1.3 WAR in 152 PAs. i think projecting such a dropoff is a little unrealistic.

    Also michael cuddyer is the 3rd string 1B, not pacheco

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  40. Randy says:

    I don’t understand how you can have the Tigers not ranked #1. No other team could have their starting 1B, who is an elite hitter, get injured and immediately replace him with a hitter who is as good, if not better, offensively. Where would they be ranked if they hadn’t signed Fielder?

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  41. Shaun Catron says:

    Justin Smoak blows, don’t kid yourself.

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    • ThirteenOfTwo says:

      Regardless of how good Smoak actually is, ZIPS is crazy for projecting him to produce less WAR this year than he did last year, given that he was badly injured for three months of 2011.

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  42. Big time timmy jim says:

    Everyone who comments on this site is smarter than everyone else who comments on this site, imo

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  43. Anthony says:

    Edwin Encarnacion= .361 BA

    Hooray for more typos!!!

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