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AL East Positional Analysis and Ranking: First Base

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst INovember 12, 2016

AL East Positional Analysis and Ranking: First Base

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    Over the next two weeks, I’ll examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in the AL East, on a position-by-position basis.

    The players at each position will be ranked in relation to their peers within the division, with each team being assigned points based on where their player ranks in comparison to the other players.

    Today, the series continues with a look at the first basemen.

Statistical Comparison

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    The best player will earn 10 points for his team, with the remaining players being assigned points as follows: 7-5-3-1.

    At the end of the process, I will accumulate all of the points for each team and create a divisional power ranking.

1. Adrian Gonzalez, BOS

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Gonzalez has moved from San Diego to Boston and immediately become the class of the position within the eastern division.

    In spite of playing half of his games in San Diego’s Petco Park, and batting in the middle of a weak offensive lineup, he has hit 30+ HR and driven in 99+ runs in four consecutive years. Entering last season, his notable weakness (beyond his one career stolen base) was his struggles against left-handed pitching. But last year he was a far more effective hitter against southpaws (.337) than against righties (.278), although he continued to exhibit far more power against right-handers (23 HR in 392 AB, vs 8 HR in 199 AB against lefties).

    His batting average was enhanced by a 38% hit percentage against southpaws. It is highly unlikely he will maintain such success with the Red Sox, especially when considering the quality of southpaws he will face in the eastern division.

    Still, Fenway Park should play to his strengths and enhance his statistics (see the analysis I conducted on his balls-in-play from last season here). He has had an excellent walk rate (13-14%) and contact rate (80%+) over the last couple of years, and there is no reason to believe those numbers will regress playing in Boston in his new lineup.

    For fantasy owners: Gonzalez is currently going eighth in the mock drafts.

    I expect he will benefit from playing at Fenway Park, but that some of those gains will be masked by a regression against lefties. He’ll certainly benefit from hitting in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, which will provide increased RBI-opportunities and runs scored. I think you can expect a .300+ BA, 38+ HR, 130+ RBI and 110+ R.

2. Mark Teixeira, NYY

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Teixeira got off to a brutal start last year (.136, 2 HR in April) yet still rebounded to have a darned good season. His batting average lagged throughout the year, and it was not just because of his struggles in April (he hit just .271 during the second half of the year).

    After posting a relatively pedestrian power metric in the first half (his PX was just 125), he rebounded to compile a spectacular 176 metric during the second half. If you are one of those people who believe the second half of the prior year means something, then you probably believe “Tex” is going to have a m-o-n-s-t-e-r season in 2011.

    For fantasy owners: Teixeira has been able to get the ball in the air with much greater consistency over the last two years (raising his FB-rate to 45% last year, 49% during the second half). He is playing in a ballpark that is built for left-handed power hitters. He hit 33 HR last year in spite of having a low (by his standards) HR/FB rate (it was just 15% last year).

    I look for him to rebound toward his regular HR/FB rate of 18%. It says here he’ll hit .290+, with upwards of 40 HR this season.

3. Derrek Lee, BAL

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Lee was an elite 1B option in the first half of the last decade, but appeared to plateau at a less-than-elite level from 2006-2008. Then, just as pundits started to question his desire, he rebounded with a monster campaign in 2009.

    Health issues (thumb, back) plagued him last year and his power numbers plummeted, so many pundits have declared he is “toast”. Yet he still managed to accumulate 80 RBI and 80 runs scored (combined) for the Cubs and Braves, and posted an .849 OPS after going to Atlanta. Now he will play one-half of his games at Camden Yards in Baltimore, where the park factor is considerably better than either Wrigley Field or Turner Field.

    Lee is 35 years old, so health concerns in these post-PED days will mount.

    For fantasy owners: Lee will enjoy hitting in Camden Yards. I expect the Orioles will let him DH with some regularity to insulate him from getting worn down (physically). He was pretty good once his thumb healed last year, and I expect he will thump the ball in Charm City. He’ll go in the later rounds in drafts and be a bargain in auctions. Assuming decent health, expect 25-30 HR and upwards of 100 RBI in 2011.

4. Adam Lind, TOR

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The more I look at Lind, the more I became convinced I should have put him on my list of the Top Ten Sleepers for 2011.

    He was brutal last year. A year after setting full-season career highs in BA, HR, RBI and runs scored, he responded with a career-low in BA (.237) and an abysmal OPS (.712). He probably won’t approach his ’09 stats in the year ahead, but I believe he’ll be much better than he was in 2010.

    Last season, Lind hit .214 during a stunningly-bad first half, but he rebounded to hit .267 in the second half of the year (with a .299 xBA). Most of his other metrics improved in the second half as well, progressing towards his career norms – or better (his second half PX was a robust 164).

    For fantasy owners: His HR/FB-rate of 20% in 2009 was obviously an outlier, but so was his 11% rate during the first half of last year. It says here you can expect his rate to settle in at 14%-15%, allowing him to approach 30 HR once again with an improved BA (.270 +/-).

    This is a guy to target during your auction / draft as there is potential value here.

5. Dan Johnson, TB

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Johnson is another one of those guys who appears to be a Four-A player – too good for the minor leagues but not quite good enough for prime time. It is hard to tell whether Johnson will see much in the way of at-bats, or whether he will be relegated to the bench (or even the minor leagues).

    He had a brutal season in Yokohama (NPB) in 2009 and returned to the US last year, where he had a typically strong campaign at Durham (Triple-A) - he hit .303, with 30 HR and 95 RBI in 426 AB. After his promotion to Tampa, he once again struggled against big league pitching (.198, with 2 HR and 4 RBI in 111 AB).

    Ron Shandler and the guys at Baseball Forecaster assign him a power metric of 139 for the year, which suggests the team needs to give him a shot… at least during spring training.

    For fantasy owners: It wouldn’t surprise me to see Matt Joyce take over full-time in right field -- with Ben Zobrist moving into the infield and Johnson riding the pine (or returning to the minor leagues once again). The other option the team could pursue would be to sign free agent Russell Branyan, who is still looking for a job.

    If the Rays decide to go with Zobrist at first base I would rank him 4th on this list, but as of now the Rays website shows Johnson at first, Zobrist in right and Joyce as a man without a position… and since I have no decision-making prerogative on the west coast of Florida, Johnson gets the nod.

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