Abbott and Costello could not have been more prophetic when it comes to the Astros’ corner infield dilemma for 2016. With the departure of Chris Carter, the Astros have 111 games to fill at first, and there are plenty of options. Some are good, some bad. Some remain to be seen … or re-seen.
Depending on how you look at it, our biggest offender at first base in 2015 was …
Jon Singleton. Puff Daddy underperformed to the tune of .694 in the OPS department. His 40 plate appearances (small sample size) brought a .350 OBP and just a .344 SLG. Overall, Big Jon was brought up for another tryout and didn’t really workout. Of course, Jon would never have gotten a look if it wasn’t for …
Chris Carter. The big fella has, for all intents and purposes, been sent packing. And none too soon. His marginal (I’m being generous here) OPS of .713 was dragged down by a .196 BA. You could blame his low BAbip of .244, but I spent the season watching Carter hit. He wasn’t unlucky. He just stunk. It’s just too bad he spent so much tie at first base because …
Marwin Gonzalez. MarGo, in 29 games at first, earned an OPS of .799 in those games with the mitt. Apparently, first base agrees with MarGo. His OBP was better than Carter’s (.357) and his SLG was better than Carter’s (.442). Best of all, his .299 BA at first wasn’t terribly dissimilar from his overall BA of .279. Comparing them defensively with stats is like comparing an apple to an orchard; the numbers just are at a different scale. That said, I’m guessing someone could teach MarGo to be a better fielder anywhere than Carter. For those uninitiated, I am an unabashed MarGo fan. Still, the best first baseman Houston had was …
Luis Valbuena. For a guy who stunk at third base, Valbuena was a machine at first base offensively. (It’s the mitt, folks!) His OPS came in at .820. (.820!) Those are nearly All-Star numbers, or would be if he hadn’t played just 28 games at first. Ah, well. Overall, he slashed .263/.360/.461. I’d also guess he can field better than Carter. Of course, if Valbuena could hit that slash line while playing a full season at third, we’d all be pretty happy.
So, who’s on first? (I’ll probe the third base question in a later post.) Well, here are the options. I’m going to give some overall stats (and the levels where those stats were achieved), then we can discuss it.
Jon Singleton: The slash — .254/.359/.505 and an OPS of .865. Now that OPS looks nice, but two trips to Houston have left Single-Puff with a very sub-.700 OPS, and I think we can see why. Between his .254 BA in Fresno and AAA pitching struck him out 99 times in 378 ABs with just 64 BBs means mediocre pitching keeps him from making good contact. Well, other than his 22 HRs in Fresno.
Luis Valbuena: The slash — .224/.310/.438 with a total OPS of .748. So, not the worst OPS, and his unbelievably low BAbip of .236 says a lot about how much better Valbuena can be. Eventually, we’re talking about a guy who crushed 25 HRs, walked 50 times and struck out 106 times. If he can make a little better contact — and previous years’ stats suggest he can — then here’s a guy destined for a bit of a rebound.
Marwin Gonzalez: The slash — .279/.317/.442 for an OPS of .759. Did I mention I’m a MarGo fan? He added 12 HRs, 74 Ks and (my one knock on MarGo) walked only 16 times. Honestly, he’s so valuable in that Super Utility role that pining him down to first base has me torn. But considering Houston won’t need that SU as much as in past years, I wouldn’t mind seeing MarGo’s mitt get a little dirty.
Tyler White: The slash — .325/.442/.496 for a combined OPS across two levels (AA and AAA) of .939. And White really split his time, practically evenly, between Corpus and Fresno. But his best stats came at AAA. Oh, and he only had 73 Ks (403 ABs) and took a stroll with 84 BBs. His 14 total HRs are not huge, but he still drove in 99 runs, which means he’s raking.
Matt Duffy: The slash — .294/.366/.484 with an OPS of .850. For the record, in his cup of coffee in Houston, his OPS was .944. His 90 Ks were less than 20%, his 48 BBs were nice, and he hit 20 HRs. This is a guy who is ready for the major leagues.
A.J. Reed: The slash — .340/.432/.612 for a whopping OPS of 1.044 combined in Lancaster and Corpus. And lest you think this is all a result of playing at The Hanger, his AA OPS was .976 over 238 plate appearances. He led the minors with 34 HR, struck out 122 times (less than 20%) and walked 86 times. And unlike some guys on this list, he’s really a first baseman.
So, let the “Who’s on first?” jokes begin.