In a race for a playoff spot, each edge issues. But all too typically, for causes that reach past a participant’s statistics, managers and common managers fail to make the strikes that would enhance their groups, permitting subpar manufacturing to fester on the danger of smothering a membership’s postseason hopes. In Baseball Prospectus’ 2007 guide It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over, I compiled a historic All-Star squad of ignominy, figuring out gamers at every place whose performances had dragged their groups down in tight races: the Alternative-Degree Killers. I’ve revisited the idea quite a few instances at a number of retailers and have tailored it at FanGraphs in an expanded format since 2018.
Relating to defining alternative degree play, we needn’t hew too intently to exactitude. Any staff that’s gotten lower than 0.6 WAR from a place up to now — prorating to 1.0 over a full season — is taken into account honest sport. Generally, acceptable and even above-average protection (which can rely on which metric one makes use of) coupled with complete ineptitude on offense is sufficient to flag a staff. Generally a membership could also be properly forward of alternative degree however has misplaced a key contributor to harm; generally the reverse is true, however the staff hasn’t but climbed above that first-cut threshold. As with Supreme Court docket Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of hardcore pornography, I do know alternative degree once I see it.
For this sequence, I’ll go across the diamond, mentioning essentially the most egregious examples of potential Killers at every place amongst contenders, which I’ll outline as groups which can be above .500 or have Playoff Odds of no less than 10.0%. That definition covers 22 groups, up from 17 final yr (thanks for nothing, Rob Manfred). I’ll embody the rest-of-season projections from our Depth Charts, and whereas I’ll point out potential commerce targets, I’m much less centered on these groups’ options than I’m the issues, as a result of hey, human nature.
This primary installment will cowl first basemen. All statistics inside this piece are by way of July 19.
2023 Alternative-Degree Killers: First Base
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All statistics by way of July 19.
At his finest, Rowdy Tellez is a variety of enjoyable, however he struggled mightily (.213/.285/.388, 79 wRC+) earlier than being sidelined by forearm irritation earlier this month, after which mangled his left ring finger earlier this week shagging fly balls (for conditioning functions, not in an try to maneuver him to the outfield). He tore the fingernail off (ouch!), wanted 17 stitches and surgical procedure to restore a fracture on the tip, and will likely be sidelined an extra 4 weeks. With alternate options reminiscent of Jon Singleton, Luke Voit, and Mike Brosseau having come and gone, and Darin Ruf out resulting from a fractured proper patella and a deep knee laceration, Owen Miller has been enjoying first, however his bat is mild (.271/.314/.387, 89 wRC+). Given the scenario, it’s in all probability value taking one other take a look at Keston Hiura, who’s been raking at Nashville (.314/.400/.572, 139 wRC+), notably because the staff goes to wish a number of bats to improve an offense that entered Thursday with a collective 88 wRC+, fifth-worst within the majors and the worst of any staff that’s made the reduce for this sequence.
The Eric Hosmer period ended on the deadline final yr, however by some means the Padres’ first base scenario has gotten worse. The infield shuffle attributable to the Xander Bogaerts signing — sending Ha-Seong Kim to second base and Jake Cronenworth to first — regarded like a waste of the latter’s defensive versatility, however his offense has vanished into the Crone Zone (.210/.308/.350, 85 wRC+ general, and worse whereas enjoying first). Matt Carpenter’s magic from final yr has worn off, and Quad-A guys Brandon Dixon and Alfonso Rivas aren’t the reply. A commerce for the Cubs’ Cody Bellinger might be a stretch, but when the Padres don’t blow up their roster, they might attempt to swing an intradivision deal for the Rockies’ C.J. Cron, or go after a participant with membership management by dealing Cronenworth, whose versatility and price certainty (he’s obtained a seven-year, $80 million deal that kicks in subsequent yr) offers him some enchantment regardless of his present struggles.
After his sub-replacement degree season, the Astros let Yuli Gurriel stroll in free company and changed him by signing one other getting old Cuban defector, José Abreu, to a three-year, $58.5 million deal, the biggest since Jim Crane bought the staff in 2011. Although the 36-year-old slugger was coming off his finest full season since 2017 (.304/.378/.446, 137 wRC+, 3.9 WAR), it seems age has all of the sudden caught up with him. He didn’t hit his first homer till Could 28 and batted an abysmal .211/.276/.260 (50 wRC+) by way of the tip of Could. Abreu has since stopped the bleeding, managing a 116 wRC+ in June and July, however his general .244/.291/.356 line (78 wRC+) and -0.8 WAR symbolize across-the-board profession worsts, and his Statcast line is stuffed with profession worsts as properly (89.4 mph common exit velo, 7% barrel fee, .366 xSLG, .291 xwOBA). A glance beneath the hood exhibits that he’s chasing 39.1% of pitches outdoors the zone, and that fee is barely larger even amid his enchancment.
The Astros have been recognizing Yainer Diaz, Mauricio Dubón, and David Hensley at first when Abreu wants a breather, however accidents to Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve have pressed the primary two of these gamers into common obligation. Singleton, who’s again within the group after a five-year absence and a quick run with the Brewers, represents another; he’s hit .265/.392/.509 between his Triple-A stints at Nashville and Sugar Land, however looks like a protracted shot to get a glance. With Michael Brantley additionally out resulting from irritation in his surgically repaired proper shoulder, it appears extra doubtless the staff will add an outfielder who might spot at first base; they’ve proven curiosity in Bellinger, who notably suits GM Dana Brown’s desire for a lefty bat. He gained’t come low cost given his rebound and the variety of groups that would use his bat and glove, however the potential for a blockbuster that additionally contains Marcus Stroman is there.
The Angels have already used 10 gamers at first base, with Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, Jared Walsh, Jake Lamb, and Mike Moustakas all making no less than 10 begins, and the wonderfully-named rookie Trey Cabbage getting his first look this week. Drury and Urshela — each of whom have performed extra at different infield spots — are each on the injured record; the previous has a shoulder contusion, the latter a pelvic fracture that would finish his season. Walsh has struggled mightily resulting from insomnia and migraines and is at the moment at Triple-A Salt Lake Metropolis, Lamb is now within the Yankees group, and Moustakas has been splitting time between each corners with Anthony Rendon sidelined by a shin contusion. It’s an unholy mess.
Moustakas hasn’t hit for a 100 wRC+ since 2020 (he’s at 99 now, by way of a .254/.337/.434 line together with his time with the Rockies), and Cabbage is a 26-year-old with excellent uncooked energy — Baseball America recommended in 2021 that it’d grade out as an 80 — but in addition strikeout charges properly above 30% at nearly each minor league cease, which is why he hasn’t been thought-about a prospect. If the Angels are critical sufficient to carry onto Shohei Ohtani, they want a greater plan than their present patchwork.
The defending NL champions suffered a blow throughout spring coaching after they misplaced Rhys Hoskins for the season resulting from a torn left ACL. For some time, Kody Clemens and Alec Bohm shared the spot, however the former hit for only a 77 wRC+ in 148 PA earlier than switching locations with Darick Corridor, who hit .250/.282/.522 with 9 homers in 142 PA final yr and had been getting his stroke again at Triple-A after lacking over two months resulting from a torn ligament in his proper thumb. Bohm has hit .282/.334/.421 (104 wRC+) general, and his protection at first base has at finest been much less harmful than his work at third. In the meantime, Corridor hasn’t been in a position to replicate final yr’s pop.
The Phillies are planning to offer Bryce Harper a take a look at first base, a place he’s by no means performed professionally. The 30-year-old famous person has hit a relatively skinny however productive .300/.394/.422 since getting back from Tommy John surgical procedure, however has been restricted to DH obligation to this point. Getting a learn on whether or not he can deal with the brand new place earlier than the deadline — one thing that’s been delayed by latest climate and scheduling points — is a precedence. If he takes to it, the Phillies might confiscate Kyle Schwarber’s glove, a necessity given his -15 DRS in left area, and open their improve pool to incorporate outfielders in addition to first basemen, or actually nearly anyone with some pop of their bat.
Final yr, the Orioles moved their left area wall again 26.5 ft and raised the fence peak practically six ft, and maybe no hitter bore the brunt greater than righty-swinging Ryan Mountcastle, whose 86-point hole between his slugging proportion and .509 xSLG was the majors’ largest, limiting him to a 106 wRC+. Historical past has repeated itself this yr, as Mountcastle has hit .234/.269/.426 (86 wRC+) and is 95 factors in need of his .521 xSLG, the majors’ third-highest mark. Compounding Mountcastle’s issues, the 26-year-old first baseman missed a month resulting from vertigo; he’s began at first base in simply one of many staff’s first seven video games since returning.
In Mountcastle’s absence, lefty-swinging Ryan O’Hearn obtained the majority of the primary base work, and to this point, he’s been punishing the ball, with a 93.5 mph common exit velo, a 58.3% hard-hit fee, and a .305/.355/.510 (137 wRC+) line. Although his small-sample defensive metrics are shaky, his bat could have solved the issue to the staff’s satisfaction. On the very least, he’ll doubtless function the lengthy half of a platoon, leaving GM Mike Elias to deal with fortifying different areas for the first-place (!) Orioles.
The Marlins signed Gurriel to a minor league deal in March. Whereas his 95 wRC+ (.264/.326/.387) represents a 10-point enhance on final yr, it’s nonetheless fairly awful for the place, and that’s with him outdoing his .328 xSLG by practically 60 factors; issues might get even uglier if he regresses. Garrett Cooper, who made the NL All-Star staff final yr, has hit for simply an 88 wRC+ in part-time obligation at first and a 101 wRC+ (.262/.303/.436) general. Such manufacturing hardly befits a Marlins staff that has the franchise’s finest file at this juncture since 2016 and that entered Friday in a digital tie for the third NL Wild Card spot. Bellinger would definitely match right here — to be honest, he’d match nearly any contender if he retains hitting — and the staff additionally has the choice of shifting Luis Arraez from second base to first, because the Twins did final yr, although provided that they’ll discover a productive second baseman. Proprietor Bruce Sherman has publicly stated he’s “ready to offer [general manager Kim Ng] and her employees the sources she wants over the following month to assist the membership,” which might translate right into a willingness to tackle important wage or dig into the farm system — although it’s not at its strongest proper now — to make a giant deal.
Additionally: Within the two days main as much as penning this, the Mariners (104 wRC+, 0.6 WAR, 1.0 projected rest-of-season WAR) and Pink Sox (110 wRC+, 0.7 WAR, 0.7 ROS WAR) each flirted with touchdown on this record, however they’re a reduce above the remaining. The Mariners’ Ty France was an All-Star in 2022, however he’s scuffled up to now this yr, hitting .249/.319/.373 (99 wRC+) whereas beginning all however six of the staff’s first 95 video games at first base. Lefty-hitting Mike Ford, who has swung a scorching bat (.260/.318/.580, 147 wRC+) whereas DHing in opposition to righties, is another, and given all the opposite areas the place the Mariners need assistance — second base, proper area and DH are all in Killer territory at the moment — this can be a spot the place they grin and bear it. As for the Pink Sox, they haven’t but given up on Triston Casas, whose offense has been trending upward; since posting a 60 wRC+ in March and April, he’s hit .274/.362/.484 (129 WRC+) since. Transfer alongside.