The First Base Conundrum

You have to hand it to Alex Anthopoulos for a terrific offseason so far.  He has completely revamped the team and made it much better….and it’s not even December yet.

At the end of 2012 it was clear that the Jays had a hole at second base….so AA signed Maicer Izturis.

There was a major gap in left field….so he signed Melky Cabrera.

We had a shortstop who was a major question mark, enormous problems in the rotation, and bench depth issues….so he acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Emilio Bonifacio.

Finally, we had gaping holes in the coaching staff…so Anthopoulos brought in John Gibbons as the bench boss, and Demarlo Hale to help round out the staff.

All in all, a top notch start to the winter.

Except….

There is still a nasty hole at first base.

The incumbent 1B is Adam Lind, a guy who after an unbelievable 2009 season (35 HR, .932 OPS) has fallen on hard times.  Very, very hard times.

To see just how bad things have been with Lind as our 1B, I decided to look at the starting first baseman for each year in the history of the franchise.  Baseball-Reference makes this easy by listing the yearly starters (i.e. the player who started the most games at first base each year), all the way back to 1977.

The first thing that struck me was the small number of players – the Toronto Blue Jays have only had 9 different first baseman in franchise history*.

*Note: This means 9 different main starters – obviously a lot of players played the position in the past 36 years.

The nine players are:

– Doug Ault

– John Mayberry

– Willie Upshaw

– Fred McGriff

– John Olerud

– Carlos Delgado

– Eric Hinske

– Lyle Overbay

– Adam Lind

The Blue Jays have played 36 seasons in franchise history, meaning it’s possible to rank the players from 1 to 36 in a variety of categories.  To account for injuries and demotions I avoided looking strictly at counting stats like home runs, doubles, and RBI’s, and instead rank ordered the players by rate stats. 

Adam Lind does not rank very well.

 

 

So basically, Adam Lind put up the 8th and 10th worst single season batting averages by a Blue Jays starting 1B in 2011 and 2012.  He was even worse in terms of OBP, charting the franchise record low of .295 in 2011, and his OPS hasn’t been much better.  However, things look even worse if we move to a more advanced statistic like baseball-reference’s WAR calculation:

Adam Lind is responsible for two of the worst three seasons by a 1B in Toronto Blue Jays history.

But – and this is a fair statement – many people criticize the WAR stat due to its inclusion of advanced fielding metrics.  Some critics say that fielding is too subjective to accurately measure.  So, let’s take that out and look solely at offense, using baseball-reference’s Offensive WAR number, or oWAR:

Not much better is it?

So what am I saying here?  What am I getting at?  Well – aside from remembering just how good Carlos Delgado was (sigh…) – we are currently in a nadir in terms of production at the first base position.  At no point in the history of this great franchise have things been so bad at such a once proud position.

Let’s split Toronto’s history into era’s by 1B, and look at the average OPS of each era to get an idea of what I mean:

The Doug Ault era (1977): Average OPS = .692

The John Mayberry era (1978 – 1981): Average OPS = .803

The Willie Upshaw era (1982 – 1987): Average OPS = .780

The Fred McGriff era (1988 – 1990): Average OPS = .927

The John Olerud era (1991 – 1996): Average OPS = .869

The Carlos Delgado era (1997 – 2004): Average OPS = .971

The Eric Hinske era (2005 – thank God it was only one year): Average OPS = .763

The Lyle Overbay era (2006 – 2010): Average OPS = .793

The Adam Lind era (2011 – present): Average OPS = .732

You are reading that right – the Adam Lind era is responsible for the WORST OPS since Doug Ault, who was the starting 1B in the first year of Toronto’s existence.  Putrid.

Obviously, this is not good at the best of times, but it is definitely a major problem going into 2013 when you look at the first base position across the American League: Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Carlos Pena, Paul Konerko, and maybe Justin Morneau and Eric Hosmer (if they rebound).  Despite the quality of the rest of the roster, the Blue Jays have a big disadvantage compared to the rest of the league at 1B.

So what is to be done?  With the salary that he commands, Lind is likely not going anywhere, so trading him isn’t an option.  Edwin Encarnacion showed last year that he has the ability to play the position, as he started 66 games at first base – but DH is clearly his most preferred position. 

Lind, for all of his struggles, is not a lost cause as he has shown the ability in his career to hit RHP (.282 AVG / .836 OPS in his career vs. righties as opposed to .220 AVG / .607 OPS vs. lefties).  Obviously, that cries out for a platoon with Lind starting at 1B vs. RHP and Encarnacion vs. LHP.  But slotting EE at 1B leaves a hole at DH against lefties, a hole that Lind needs to stay miles away from.

Filling that hole could be the difference between the playoffs and another year on the sidelines.

Once again, we look to you Mr. Anthopoulos.

4 thoughts on “The First Base Conundrum”

  1. Play EE at 1st and DH lind in the mean time until trade deadline when we need to trade a catcher and a bit more for a LH thumper.

  2. To me it looks like it appears that the Jays will bat either JPA or Buck as DH against lefties. With both Rajai and Bonaficio’s speed on the bench and a third catcher in Wilson it gives them many options. I would assume JPA would catch Morrow, Romero and Happ and Buck would catch Johnson and Beurhle.

  3. If Lind is in a strict platoon, he’ll get plenty of time off and might stay healthy. I’d just make EE the everyday 1B, he seems like a better fielder anyway. Lind can DH against RHP, he should be okay.

    For a platoon partner, I like Jesus Guzman from San Diego. His career split against LHP is: .311/.387/.509. He can play LF as well as 1B. Shouldn’t cost much in a trade since he’s basically a bench player in San Diego and National League teams need more skilled players on their bench. Rajai for Guzman?

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