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2005 Brewers Preview Part 7: First Base

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Okay, now I'm going to be really controversial. But I'm going to make you wait. First we'll talk about what's going to happen at first base this year...next I'll say what really should've happened.

Lyle Overbay was one of the few bright spots of the 2004 Brewers, and it reflects positively on Milwaukee's offseason changes that he will no longer be the most productive hitter in the lineup. Last year he was, by a wide margin: his OPS+ was 127; among starters (or nearly starters), Keith Ginter was second with 112, followed by Jenkins and Brady Clark at 108. Some of Lyle's long-touted doubles power matured into home run power--he went yard 16 times in addition to his league-leading 53 doubles.

It was the breakout season many people had been waiting to see for years, and it justified his place as the centerpiece of the Richie Sexson trade. Can we expect a repeat?

If one is lazy, one might look to a projection system, such as ZiPS. So...that's what I did. ZiPS gives Lyle a line of .299/.369/.465, with 13 HR and 76 RBIs. A slight decline from last year, possibly because of his somewhat alarming strikeout total for a high-average hitter. If one is up for more of a challenge, it's worth turning to Lyle's similarity scores at baseball-reference.com. Similarity scores are fairly laborious to calculate if you're a human, but if you're some Perl code, it's fast and better than a night out with an ex-girlfriend.

Lyle's "sims" are fascinating. Most similar is Nick Etten, who had his age 27 season in Philadelphia in 1941 and put up numbers nearly identical to Lyle's, minus 20 doubles. He was never quite the same again; he suffered a down year in '42 and bounced back to somewhere in between, settling for a .277/.371/.423 line over parts of nine seasons.

Striking in the sim list is #2: Hall of Famer Bill Terry. Terry's age 26 and 27 seasons were a bit injury-marred, but it was just a prelude to bigger and better things. In 1927, Terry broke out, with 20 HR, 121 RBI, and a line of .326/.377/.529. As Hall of Fame voters later recognized, Terry had a heck of a career. He may not have been Eddie Murray, but Lyle would do well to replicate that career.

Unfortunately, Terry's a bit of an anomaly among Lyle's top ten age-27 sims. Some of the rest declined a bit, some quite a bit after a career year at age 27. It's a mix, which may account for Lyle's ZiPS projection being right in the middle. Great baseball names on the list, though: Vic Power, Dee Fondy, Donn Clendenon, and future Gold-Glove award winner Doug Mientkiewicz. Don't miss the sausage-basher sighting, or the unexpected appearance of this Baraboo native whose career abruptly ended when his in-flight altercation turned deadly.

Oddest on the list: Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing. Ruffing was a great-hitting pitcher, and by age 27 had amassed enough at-bats (nearly 800) right around .300.

Speaking of good hitting pitchers (thanks Red!) ... let's get on with it and focus on Brooks Kieschnick, who we all, frankly, care way more about than Lyle Overbay. At this point, with Carlos Lee under contract for one year and a reasonable option, Jenkins's deal through '07, and the most famous guy named Prince who realizes that rain isn't purple right behind him in AAA, Lyle is expendable. The eventual trade of Overbay for (it better be) young pitching isn't really a question of whether anymore--it's when.

Lyle finds himself in the same position as Junior Spivey, only better, paler, and less injury-prone. He's a stopgap. Valuable, but not in the Crew's long-term plans.

So, Doug Melvin, take a cue from your colleague in Oakland and get while the gettin's good: trade him now. Next time a first baseman gets seriously hurt (can you say "Tino Martinez is old" ten times fast? Neither can he), step in, make the deal, and ...

and...

...make Brooks Kieschnick your starting first baseman.

Yep. I may have had too much caffeine today, but I'm pretty sure I still have my senses: Brooks Kieschnick should play first base until Prince is ready. (Yes, yes, I know Brooks was released today, but the door is still open.)

Kieschnick's ZiPS projections aren't of great use, as Brooks is projected for only a pinch-hitter's share of at-bats, but the system thinks he can look forward to .273/.349/.439, with about a home run per 22 ab's--that's 25-30 dingers for a starter. He figures to strike out a bit less than a quarter of the time, which might be distressing hitting back-to-back with Russell Branyan, but isn't a noticeable step down from what Lyle could do this year.

As we've seen, whether you go with ZiPS or some average of Lyle's sims, Overbay figures to dip a bit in 2005. Kieschnick figures to be cheap and respectable. Overbay figures to be worth a couple solid pitching prospects. Kieschnick figures to be totally awesome.

Q.E.D., huh?

You tell me: Overbay or Kieschnick? If you gained control of the Brewers personnel moves, who keeps the seat warm for the big guy?