First in a series on the Astros 2014. Brian Todd explores first base.
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What if I told you last season the Astros put up a batting line of .224/.316/.423 at first base? That’s an OPS of .739, which ranked 20th in the Major Leagues at the position. Bad? Yes. Horrible? Not horrible. Oh, sure, that .224 batting average is nothing to write home about, ranking near the bottom of the majors. But the OPS was almost tolerable, especially on this team.
Brett Wallace actually took the largest portion of at bats at first base, 206, with a batting line of .218/.278/.413 at first and .221/.284/.431 overall in Houston. Perhaps that poor average and OBP has something to do with 106 Ks in 262 total at-bats. Not that Chris Carter’s at-bats at first did much to help the cause. In 191 ABs at first base, his .225/.332/.429 came with 77 Ks and a match to Wallace’s 10 HRs. Carter’s overall numbers were mostly worse. He whiffed quite a bit more when DHing and playing left field. Third on the list was Carlos Peña. He’s gone, so I won’t rehash his horrible stats other than to say while he may have known how to draw a walk, his overall (almost exclusively done at first base) .674 OPS did nothing to help the Astros’ cause.
Jeff Bagwell, how we miss thee.
Look on the Astros’ website, and the top of the first base depth chart is a name that makes Astros fans cry: Brett Wallace. Yep, we’re probably looking at another year of flawed hitters and AAAA guys at first base.
That said, things shouldn’t be all bad, even with Wallace manning the bag at first base. Hidden in Wallace’s anemic overall .716 OPS was what he did against right-handed pitchers. He put up a line of .243/.307/.481 in 206 ABs with 75 Ks and 12 of his 13 home runs.
There’s been a lot of talk of having a platoon at first. If so, from the opposite side of the plate will be recently acquired Jesus Guzman. Guzman put up an even worse overall OPS of .675 with just 9 HRs in 288 ABs. The fact he did it in one of the worst places to hit, San Diego, is reflected in his home/road splits. With the at-bats fairly evenly split, in San Diego he put up an OPS of .457. You read that right. That was his OPS! On the road his batting line was .279/.339/.526. That .865 OPS was nearly double what he did at home. And all his home runs came on the road.
It’s likely we’ll also see some of Chris Carter at first base, though he should spend more time at DH. Carter also benefitted from travel, so perhaps when the Astros play in San Diego, Guzman can get the day off and Carter, who posted an impressive .925 road OPS can take his place. Hitting against lefties or righties doesn’t really matter to Carter, who posted OPSs over .750 in both instances. His overall line of .223/.320/.451 shows his strengths and weaknesses. For example, he led Houston with 29 HRs (hence the nice SLG) but he whiffed a whopping 212 times. Surprisingly, his best offensive output came at his worst defensive position, left field. Ah, well, with luck he’ll improve in his second full season when all he needs to worry about is his hitting.
Finally, we have the dark horse candidates for this year. Jonathan Singleton may be the future of the franchise at first base, but he had a horrid year in 2013. His 50-game suspension for partaking in the “Colorado Experience” was followed by an unimpressive .687 OPS in OKC. But he’ll only be 22 when the season starts, so there is hope he can build off his otherwise stellar minor league numbers to make an impact late in the season. The reality is, Singleton is probably the future more than the present. Furthermore, he’s the only future for the club. In Houston’s top 20 prospects, there is no other first baseman. Maybe you could convert Preston Tucker, who is a poor outfielder but good hitter.
The other dark horse is Mexican League signee Japhet Amador. I don’t really know what to say about Jephet the Hut other than he didn’t fare well in limited action at OKC, posting a .605 OPS in 45 ABs. No extra-base hits, 8 Ks, no walks and a .302/.302/.302 batting line. His Mexican League numbers suggest there’s more there, but rating the Mexican Leagues as AAA level seems a bit ambitious to me. At 24 years of age when the season starts, I don’t think we’re going to get a meaner, leaner Japhet. Ah, well.
So, what do we all think about first base? Well, here are some questions to ponder:
- Crane’s big move at first base this off-season seemed to be signing Guzman as a platoon mate for Wallace. Is that sufficient for now, or was there another move (be specific and realistic) you’d have preferred?
- What sounds like a more realistic level of production from that platoon: .215/.290/.390 (bad), .245/.315/.460 with 18 HRs (not bad), or .260/.330/.485 with 25 HRs (better than we could hope for)?
- If he hits reasonably well in spring training, how long should the Astros wait to bring up Singleton? Should he start the season in Houston and let us bid adieu to Wallace (and/or, perhaps Guzman)? Or does he need a little time to simmer regardless of what he does in Florida?
- Do the Astros have an organizational hole at first base? Who in the minors, beyond Singleton, gets you excited at first base?
Brian Todd is hoping to feel some warmth when pitchers and catchers report. Right now, it’s cold in Rochester, Minn.