A quick look at first base

Michael Hickey

Last year the Brewers had the worst production from first base in the majors. It was historically bad and so it couldn't be worse this year. Let's see how it stacks up to the rest of baseball in the early going.

During the winter I'm sure most of us viewed first base as the Brewers biggest weakness. I know I did. I was squarely in the "re-sign Corey Hart" camp and was pretty disappointed when they didn't secure his services. After that I was convinced the next best move would be to sign James Loney. Again, I was disappointed. Shortly after he signed with the Rays, the Brewers signed a deal with Mark Reynolds. I thought for sure that meant they'd platoon him with Juan Francisco. Yet again I was disappointed when, instead, they chose Lyle Overbay. We're a little over a month into the season and while "short sample size" still applies, I have to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised with the production the Brewers are getting out of their platoon.

Mark Reynolds' offense has been about what I expected. As I'm writing this he's hit 233/309/512 which is good for a 123 wRC+. His career slash line is 233/328/465 so I think we should probably expect that slugging to drop a bit, but that OBP could also be higher. The 123 wRC+ could drop too, but it's actually exactly what ZiPS predicts for him, so there's some hope it'll remain.

The truly surprising aspect of Reynolds' season thus far has been his defense. He has a 0 DRS but his 1.8 UZR and 13.8 UZR/150 (at first base) is a career high for him. The crazy thing is, I think it's for real. Watching him field has been a treat. On several occasions I've seen him do the splits stretching for a low throw and I've seen him make outstanding picks compensating for poor/short throws. He might not have the range of an elite first baseman, but I think everything else is there.

Lyle Overbay has more or less been what I expected. His 84 wRC+ leaves much to be desired although he's much better solely vs RHP where he has a 116 wRC+ and he's had the occasional hot streak. He has a .333 OBP so at least he's getting on base at a reasonable clip. His fielding so far has been average which is mildly surprising considering he's been a better than average fielder his whole career. He is seeing the least amount of playing time at the position, so we should be careful about reading too much into any of this.

Together their production has hovered around the top 10 in baseball. Their combined 108 wRC+ ranks 20th but their 2nd place defense makes up for it. Right now their 0.8 fWAR (all of which comes from Reynolds) is tied with 3 other teams (Cardinals, White Sox, Yankees) for 10th best. As I mentioned above, small sample size applies this early in the season. It applies doubly so when evaluating each individual, as platoon players by their very nature see less playing time than a regular starter. I'm not trying to convince you that the Brewers first production will continue to be among the best in baseball, but I don't see any reason to believe their production will noticeably drop off either.

If the two continue producing at roughly the same percentages, the Brewers could be helped by replacing the Overbay part of the platoon. I see three alternatives. They could cut Overbay and give Reynolds the job full time. His 110 wRC+ vs RHP is about as productive as Overbay's. They could cut Overbay and promote Hunter Morris. I'm not enamored with him, but maybe he can hold his own against RHP and be the power lefty off the bench the Brewers are missing. Or finally, they could make a trade. The options will likely present themselves with time. All of this is thinking a month or two down the road of course and while Overbay may have a 0.0 fWAR right now, he is certainly contributing more than Rickie Weeks and Wei-Chung Wang. I think one of those guys will go before Overbay does.

I'm curious what you guys think. Are you satisfied with the current platoon? Do you think they will need to, or should make a change at some point? If so, what option do you endorse? Let me know in the comments.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

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