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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Breaking Down the NL East: First Baseman

With the start of Spring Training, the gears that will become the 2009 baseball season begin to grind away. Before to long, Opening Day will be upon us and our dreams as fans will either start to take shape or become a nightmare, eroding our faith in our team and all that is good in our lives. So as a public service, I will address each position in the National League Eastern Division, one at a time in order to provide a relatively informative, if slightly biased opinion, on who has the best opportunity to succeed. To accomplish this, I have graded each starting player on each team based on several key stats and have deduced 2009 projections for BA/HR/RBI that should be spot on, if not way off. The players are listed in order of rank. The statistics used to determine rank are batting average, home runs, RBI, and OBP, compared to the Clutch hitting data of the Average and Slugging with RISP and RISP/2outs. This data was then placed into an equation that I made up off the top of my head. These are the NL East First Basemen

First (1.5 score): Ryan Howard of the Phillies last year saw a good drop in his batting average and that was due for the most part, to a dismal first half despite hitting 28 home runs and knocking in 84 RBIs. Everyone like to focus on his strikeouts, however, strikeouts do not represent the lack of offensive production. Even though he only batted .251 and struck out 199 times, I would gladly take the 48/146 that he provided any day of the week. More importantly he hit .352/11/32 (BA/HR/RBI) in September/October, when you really need your star to step up. He led the 2008 Phillies team into the playoffs, as he should. Howard is projected to hit around what he did last year and his home run and RBI totals are not too far off from the average of his last 3 years. I expect him to see .252/48/144 in 2010, unfortunately for opposing pitchers, his clutch hitting is only going to get better.

Second (2.5): Carlos Delgado in New York had a better 2008 than 2007. That being said, as Carlos goes so does the Mets. He has not been with runners in scoring position until there are two outs. The difference being more than 100 points (.530 vs. .639). He is still a legitimate threat in that Mets lineup, and as long as he remains healthy and they guys in front of him can get on base, then he should be as productive as he was last year as the Mets will/should be happy to stay in second place behind Philadelphia. Look for Carlos’s to hit .269/36/110 this year, not bad numbers for a guy on the downside of his career. We’ll have to wait and see if his teammate will do their jobs, and perhaps, just perhaps, the Mets will force the Phils to look over their shoulder.

Third (3.0): Jorge Cantu has had a roller coaster career changing teams, changing positions. This year he looks to settle in as the Marlin’s first baseman with the trading of Mike Jacobs to Kansas City. Now with a place, both city and position, to call home, Cantu can focus on his game. Last year he hit .277/29/95 for a young team where at 27, Jorge will be one of the elder statesmen. This year should only be better. He has shown that with an adequate numbers of at bats and with his health in good shape, his numbers will start to solidify to show an above average player. .273/27/85 is where he’ll be at season’s end. That RBI total should be higher but with Hanley Ramirez being the only real established hitter ahead of him, he’ll have to take advantage of every RBI chance he can.

Fourth (3.0): Casey Kotchman loses the tie break with Cantu by way of power and slugging. He is a good young player to came to the Braves via the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim and has established himself as a good hitting first baseman. He’s not the kind of power hitter Howard and Delgado are, but he has hit 11 and 14 in the last two years respectively, so some pop is there. I see him more in the Mark Grace mold though where he has a decent batting average and he doesn’t hurt an overall lineup that includes Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Whether any of these guys will drive in 100 runs in 2010 is a big question mark, while Kotchman should be good for around 80 RBI. His projection figures out to be .282/15/79 as the Braves will have troubles keeping pace with Philadelphia and New York, especially when it comes to producing runs.

Fifth (5.0): Nick Johnson is a tough guy to rate, mainly because he hasn’t played the last couple of years. Now, with the National’s addition of Adam Dunn, it’s unclear whether Johnson will have any significant time this year either. Assuming he does play first base, and the Nationals play Dunn in left field, Nick Johnson has a long way to go to get back to the .290/23/77 he hit way back in 2006. Dunn would probably be rated 3rd in the division, essentially due to his power, while his batting average would be what is holding him back from getting any higher than three. But enough on Adam Dunn, I have listed Nick Johnson because he is a first baseman first (and because I did the math before the Dunn signing) and his projections are horrible .121/3/11 but may be more accurate since he may not see the field once again.

The analysis: I would happily post the excel spreadsheet I used to come up with my rankings/projections but it just wouldn’t come out right so I will try my best to explain it in such a way that is coherent and understandable by the general public. First, I weighted the last three years and used multiplying factors of .6 (for 2008), .25, and .15 for a total of 1.00. I then added up the sums of each stat (BA, HR, RBI, Avg-RISP, Slg-RISP, Avg-RISP 2 outs, and Slg-RISP 2 outs) and then divided by each players three year average in that statistic. I then took that number and multiplied it again against the sum and whammo, I got the projections for this year based on the last three. In most cases, it’s not to far off of the 3 year average but it does reflect an increase in some areas for some players. Okay, from there I ranked them one thru five and took the average of the regular stats (BA, HR, and RBI) versus the clutch stats and got the overall score. I wish there was a way to post it but that is the way it goes. We’ll see how it works out at the other positions and particularly with the pitchers, and hopefully, I’ll get it all done by Opening Day.

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