Friday, October 29, 2010

First Base

The Starter

As of right now, Daric Barton will (and should) get the majority of playing time at 1st base in 2011. The actual amount of time could diminish somewhat, at least if I get my way (meaning Chris Carter makes the team out of spring training and the A's sign Adam Dunn). But even if the A's appease my own desires, fans will most assuredly see Daric Barton manning first more often than not. Even hypothetically, the addition of two sluggers that hit from both sides of the plate, who are not quite as sure-footed on the defensive end of the game as Barton, would essentially be forced to yield the position to him. Why? Because in 2010, Daric Barton proved he was beyond adequate with the glove. Last season he finished the campaign as the leader in UZR among Major League 1B's, while finishing second to Albert Pujols in range factor/9IP among MLB 1B's. In many respects, Barton made a name for himself strictly on his defense - something very uncommon among 1st basemen.

Barton's offense may have left something to be desired, at least to the baseball traditionalists, and those evaluating his numbers based on the position he plays. No, he didn't hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs like all the aforementioned detractors probably demand of MLB 1st basemen. But the biggest contribution Daric Barton actually made in 2010 when he was holding a bat didn't even involve him swinging it. The 25 year old California native led all of baseball in walks last year with 110. His patience was no fluke either; Barton put his keen eye on "display" by also leading the Majors with the smallest percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%) at 15.5%. The exceptionally patient Brett Gardner ended at 17.9%, and was the only other player besides Barton to have an O-Swing% under 18%. His remarkable approach in 2010 is why his .393 OBP% was good enough for 5th in the American League, and 9th overall.

Barton with a camera is no surprise; his eye's his greatest asset
(Source: Halip, Leon. Getty Images)

Barton's .798 OPS in 2010 was well above the Major League average of .728, but there's no denying that his position tends to generate a lot more pop than just league average. Among the 24 MLB 1st basemen who qualified, Barton finished 12th in OPS. Barton was roughly average on the offensive side, perhaps slightly better, for his position - at least using OPS. With that said, as all-encompassing as the simpler stats like OPS get, it's important to acknowledge the two components that make it up - OBP% and SLG%. Barton's 2010 OBP% was one of the best in baseball, so his good OPS is padded quite a bit by his tremendous OBP%. (Although the calculation of OPS weighs both metrics equally, the average SLG% is approximately 1.2x the value of the average OBP%, which means that SLG% can inflate the OPS a bit, and that if you had to choose, it would be more beneficial to have an OPS padded by OBP% than SLG%.) Still, remembering that 1st base is traditionally a power-position, it's hard to overlook Barton's .405 SLG%. Sure, it was .002 points above the Major League average of .403, but it was the third-lowest SLG% among the previously mentioned 24 MLB 1st basemen (placing Barton 22nd of 24 in SLG%). Another statistic, whose emphasis is strictly power, and also goes by couple of different names, is Isolated Power, or "ISO." (Also known as Isolated Slugging, abbreviated "iSLG%.") It's incredibly useful as an individual measure of power because the traditional SLG% can be inflated by a high batting-average or deflated by a low batting-average. What ISO does, is effectively take the batter's frequency of hits out of the equation...literally...ISO = SLG% - AVG. How did Daric Barton fare among his MLB counterparts? AWFUL! Only James Loney ended with a worse ISO than DB, who finished 23rd out of 24 in the category.

Daric Barton is a good player. Based purely on his offensive statistics, his numbers are very good at first glance. When you see that he plays 1st base, they're not quite as impressive. In fact, "underwhelming" would be the polite way to describe his power numbers. However, Barton's overall value increases once again when his defense is taken into account. As little credit defensively adequate 1st basemen tend to receive, Daric Barton was undeniably exceptional. While standard measurements only tell one aspect of a players ability, WAR allows us to gauge the overall value of Daric Barton (or anyone else for that matter) by incorporating both offense and defense. Many regard Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as the end-all, be-all of baseball statistics, partially because it takes every facet of the game into account (offense, defense, replacement player value, value-adjustments based on position). We know Barton finished at or near the top in many defensive categories, his greatest strength on offense was his patience, and his greatest weakness was quite literally his weakness - power (or lack thereof). Barton's a unique study because he's seemingly on one extreme, either high or low, in a number of measurements. Interestingly enough, Fangraphs calculated Barton's 2010 WAR equal to 4.9. That actually placed him 6th among MLB 1st basemen (2nd in the AL), behind Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Aubrey Huff, and Adrian Gonzalez, and in front of guys like Paul Konerko, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, Derrek Lee, and Ryan Howard.

The Backup

The second 1st baseman isn't nearly as important as the 2nd catcher. It's not even a guarantee someone besides the starter will even play in the first few weeks (or months) of the year. As of right now, Daric Barton is the only true 1st basemen that's basically guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster. The only backup candidates that are currently Oakland property are all naturally positioned elsewhere on the diamond. This includes Chris Carter, Adam Rosales, Jeff Larish, Landon Powell, and Josh Donaldson. Not having another true 1st baseman isn't really a problem; most teams enter spring training without a clear second option at first. In my opinion, it's more of an opportunity than anything else. If Chris Carter makes the team then it gives the A's another glove at 1st (and protection from Carter in LF when someone else DH's). If my wish is granted and Adam Dunn is in Green & Gold next season then he'll provide another 1st base option for the A's. The closest thing to a dark horse candidate would have to be Tommy Everidge, which would basically mean something went wrong over the course of the offseason (like no moves whatsoever and/or Barton is hurt to start the year).

In 673 minor league games, Carter put up an impressive .284/.380/.540 line

The 1st Base Market

If the A's sign a 1st baseman, it's because they want a DH. Chris Carter should get a number of opportunities in that capacity, but the A's may want to add a left-handed stick with power if Jack Cust isn't back in 2011 (and all signs indicate that he won't be). The A's could give consideration to Type A free agents Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, and Paul Konerko, or Type B guys like Carlos Pena and Aubrey Huff. That's not to say a Mark Kotsay reunion is out of the question, or the possible addition of Lyle Overbay or Troy Glaus shouldn't be considered so the A's have some power off the bench. The payouts owed to each candidate is sure to be a factor in the A's potential negotiations of the future. Aubrey Huff is one player certainly deserving of a huge raise, regardless if he returns to the Giants or decides to test the waters of free agency. Huff's inconsistency in his career is his biggest detractor, but if my guess is correct, it won't matter because he'll be back in Orange & Black next season. One guy who won't be wearing the uniform he ended 2010 in is Lance Berkman, whose option was recently declined by the Yankees. Berkman failed in the American League, and his contribution to the Yanks was minimal. His .255/.358/.349 should result in a fair salary drop, despite being one of the more consistent power hitters of the past decade.

Only Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols have hit more HR's than Dunn since 2001

All of this is obviously nothing more than speculation based on itself (that being absolutely nothing). I don't know anyone who knows anyone anywhere in an MLB front office, and I could easily continue reciting name after name, knowing the more I list, the odds I mention someone the A's will acquire increase. Still, I'd still like to reiterate my one wish for the A's regarding free agents this offseason: ADAM DUNN. The Type A status is probably his biggest detractor from the standpoint of an organization such as the A's, who have lived an died on their early draft picks. But the amount of money the A's have coming off the books should allow them some leverage if they get into a bidding war with some teams. Anyone thinking he'll be another Jack Cust won't lose that argument from me, but that's because Cust was never as bad as most people felt he was. Sure, both of them strikeout a lot, but an out is an out. Both Adam Dunn's and Jack Cust's high OBP%'s mean they get on base more frequently than the average hitter - which, in turn, means that they make outs less frequently than the average hitter. So who cares how they're making those outs? Even if they're striking out every time, the end result is the same as an unproductive ground-out or fly-out, and their plate appearances result in an out far less often than most players. Cust's strengths were his patience and his power, and Adam Dunn excels in both those categories arguably more than anyone. Most people would say that those are in fact Dunn's greatest assets, but from a fan of a hopefully prospective suitor, it's his consistency I admire most.

Somehow it took me that long to say that Daric Barton's a good 1st baseman who will start for the A's in 2011 and that I wish/hope the A's sign Adam Dunn...that's about everything in a nutshell.

Go A's

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