Thursday, January 27, 2005

Who are these guys? - First Base

More than just a peck on the cheek, achieving first base status means that your relationship has advanced beyond adolescent hand-holding, flushed cheeks and fervent glances. You’re in the big leagues now, and you’d better have your hands ready.

Below are the men who hope Tony Pena sees fit to flash them a little tongue this season, because they certainly won’t be flashing much leather.

All stat lines are for 2004. Designated hitters are considered first basemen in this study, as are fourth outfielders, fifth outfielders and Calvin Pickering.

Mike Sweeney
OPS+ 123

For all the disparaging talk about Mike Sweeney’s attitude, he finished fifth among all first basemen in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), and led the team in OPS (not counting the dear departed Carlos) and Runs Created. Of course, he did most of this on EA Sports MVP Baseball 2004 while nursing a sore back.

When healthy, there is no doubt that Mike Sweeney is the class of the franchise and one of the best hitters in baseball. When not healthy, Mike Sweeney becomes the most-expensive cheerleader in Royals history.

To that end, he has been working with a new trainer out of Los Angeles in the off-season on a variety of trunk strengthening programs. I’m hoping he can manage to stay healthy enough to play 130 games this year. It’s a pipe dream for sure, but that’s pretty much what the off-season is for.

Also worth noting, there is a parallel universe where Sweeney has done quite well for himself.

Ken Harvey
OPS+ 101

Harvey took the Memorial Mike Sweeney All-Star Slot last year for the Royals, based largely on his batting average hovering above .350 for the first few months of the season. He finished the year on the disabled list and with two terrible months of batting that drug his season numbers down to league average.

Ken is entering what should be his statistical peak season as a 27 year old. Throughout college and the minors, he has shown the ability to hit for good average and little power. That’s a great combination for a second baseman, or a shortstop in the eighties, but Ken really needs to take some of Jon Daly’s advice this season, or else he’ll be stuck making millions of dollars a year from some sucker team that sees him as a ‘contact guy with clutch ability.’

Sadly, those suckers will probably be us.

Matt Stairs
OPS+ 110

Have bat. Will travel.

Stairs has been a consistent 265/360/490 guy for most of his career. While his defense as a first basemen/outfielder has been most-kindly described as “atrocious,” he does rake against right-handed pitchers (278/369/512 over the last three years). He even managed to go one for one on stolen bases last season, but to be honest, the stolen base came against Tampa Bay and they suck at everything.

As spare parts go, Stairs is a useful player to have around. Last year, injuries forced the Royals to use him much more often than intended. Ideally, he will be platooned this year with Ken Harvey and/or Calvin Pickering, providing the Royals with more than adequate production from the DH/1B slot.

More likely, a Spring Training mishap involving David DeJesus, Aaron Guile, Eli Marrero and Terrence Long will force Stairs to be the opening day center fielder. Should be fun.

Calvin Pickering
OPS+ 120

“What’d you do last year?”

“I hit 35 home runs for the Royals.”

“That’s fantastic. Why don’t I know who you are?”

“‘Cause it was the Omaha Royals.”

Big Cal became an underground sensation after he started the year at AAA by hitting 12 home runs in 12 games. He continued to terrorize pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, and was finally given a chance to join the big league club when Ken Harvey, Mike Sweeney and Wally Joyner all went on the disabled list at the end of the year. All he did for the big club was draw walks and hit home runs. Unfortunately, that is all he does, period.

A born designated hitter/“first baseman” in the same mold as David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Pickering’s biggest obstacle in his career has been a penchant for getting hurt. Injuries to his shoulder and leg kept him off the field for significant time in 2002-03. The other obstacle is, of course, being listed fourth on a depth chart that contains a slap-hitting big man, and an aging veteran outfielder.

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