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Nov 09

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the First Basemen

AdamLaRocheThis is part 2 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Read part 1 here.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the first basemen.

FIRST BASEMEN

The good news is that between the 10 men listed below, there are six All Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, and a few Top 10 MVP finishes between them. The bad news is that the most recent All Star appearance, Michael Cuddyer’s, happened in 2013 and he’s going to be 36 next year. The group totaled 2.7 bWAR (2.2 of that was due to Adam LaRoche) and since four of them will be playing 2015 in their age 35 or older years, the prospect of that number increasing is unlikely.

But, Billy Butler belongs to this group, and he pulled my favorite comps so far, so I’m giddy to write about this group.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Carlos Pena 37 Andre Thornton Jeromy Burnitz Thornton
Lyle Overbay 38 David Segui J.T. Snow Segui
Michael Cuddyer 36 Rondell White Mike Sweeney Cuddyer
Corey Hart 33 Reggie Sanders Trot Nixon Sanders
Adam LaRoche 35 Eric Karros Paul O’Neill LaRoche
Billy Butler 29 John Olerud Keith Hernandez Olerud
Daric Barton 29 Babe Dahlgren Sid Bream Dahlgren
Mark Reynolds 32 Jose Cruz Jose Cruz Reynolds
Mike Morse 33 Geronimo Berroa Raul Ibanez Morse
Mike Carp 29 Scott Stahoviak Steve Bilko Stahoviak

First Basemen by Comps

CarlosPena1.  Carlos Pena – Pena played just 18 games in 2014 after being signed by the Angels to a minor league contract, released in March, then signed by the Rangers in late June. The 18 games he played weren’t particularly inspiring and honestly, Pena hasn’t been valuable as a legitimate Major League player since 2012. The days of Top 10 MVP finishes (yes, two of them!) and All Star games are long gone.

When Andre Thornton was 37 he hit .118/.206/.141 and struck out in 25 of his 85 official at-bats, good for 25.8% of his at-bats or slightly better than Pena’s career 26.8%. Thornton was worth -1.1 bWAR. I still take that certainty over Pena’s unknown.

However, Pena’s comps were the second best I’ve seen so far from a pure enjoyment level: Burnitz, Jay Buhner, Eric Davis, Kirk Gibson, and J.T. Snow just to name four. It reminded me of high school.

2.  Lyle Overbay – Overbay has been playing on a series of 1-year contracts since 2011 and this offseason won’t change that. He flirts with being marginally productive each year, but he hasn’t been consistently good since 2010. I was always a David Segui fan, but he retired at the age of 37 after playing just 18 games for Baltimore.

Overbay can still draw a walk, doesn’t strike out much, and fields his position reasonably well. If you’re depending on him for 121 games and 300 at-bats like the Brewers did last year, you’re in trouble. There was a reason that the Brewers were 12th in the NL in accumulated WAR at first base using the combination of Overbay and Mark Reynolds. There’s also a reason both are free agents heading into 2015.

This is probably over speculation at this point as Overbay has said he’s 99.9% certain he’s to retire. I guess Segui wins this by the graceful exit from a 14-year vet.

3.  Michael Cuddyer – The Rockies extended the qualifying offer of 15.3 million to Cuddyer, and he should jump all over that. He could look for more years, but he won’t get that much money elsewhere, especially if there’s a draft pick compensation tied to it. Cuddyer has missed quite a few games over the past three seasons due to various ailments, and he only appeared in 49 games last season due to elbow, shoulder, and thigh (both of them) issues. Take the 15.3 million.

Rondell White played 38 games in his age 35 season, hitting .174 with four home runs. Cuddyer will produce more than that just stumbling into the Coors batter’s box, so this pick is a gimme. I don’t know if Cuddyer is the .330 hitter he’s been this last two seasons, but he’s just a year removed from the All Star game.

Update: The Mets signed Cuddyer to a 2-year 21 million dollar deal 11/10/2014. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up. I was so convinced that Cuddyer was going to take the one-year qualifying deal from the Rockies that I debated even adding him to this list of first basemen (also because, you know, he plays predominantly in right field, but whatever). I kind of want to close my eyes and pretend that the Mets made the news solely due to Jacob deGrom winning NL Rookie of the Year.

In their 53 years of existence, the Mets have had five seasons where an outfielder of 35 or older has recorded 2+ wins (as per Fangraphs) with the latest being Marlon Byrd (why not just resign him last offseason?!) before being traded in ’13.  The median wins is 0.4 with the middle 50 sitting between 0.1 to 0.775.

Let’s just say I’m not optimistic.

4.  Corey Hart – Hart was out of baseball in 2013 after microfracture surgery on his right knee, and hit.203/.271/.319 in Seattle. He hit six home runs last season, and he’ll be just 33 in ’15 so someone will take a chance and sign him. Reggie Sanders was a borderline All Star for three different teams from the ages of 33-35. He hit 20 or more home runs five times after 33, and was 20/20 (homers and stolen bases) at 36. Hart won’t reach numbers even remotely close to what Sanders produced.

5.  Adam LaRoche – I did a fairly sizable piece for District on LaRoche, so I won’t recount all of that here. The key points are that LaRoche will be 35, was productive last season, and will occasionally provide moments like this:

Karros could still hit at 35, was out of the game after 40 games at 36, and produced -1.4 bWAR in those two years. LaRoche will surpass that, but his range is starting to slip at first and he can’t hit lefties at all. LaRoche appeared in the MASN broadcast booth a few times this season with Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo and co-owns Buck Commander, an Outdoors Network show, so I think I can safely argue that Karros is the far superior television personality. LaRoche has the better facial hair though.

6.  Billy Butler – Despite his postseason heroics, Butler was sub replacement this season. I like the big guy though, so I’m willing to dismiss that fact and call Baseball-Reference a bunch of filthy liars.

For this comparison, however, there really is none. John Olerud was one of my favorite Mets and part of one of the best infields in baseball history. From the age of 29 on, he won three Gold Gloves and was an All Star. He averaged nearly 5 bWAR from 29-34. Butler is very nice, but his career bWAR is less than Olerud’s 1998-99 seasons.

On a positive note, Butler wins hands down for my favorite list of comps: Olerud, Keith Hernandez, Will Clark, Harold Baines, and Nick Markakis. Heck, even Rafael Palmeiro is in there, mustached, popping Viagra and mainlining B-12 like nobody’s business.

7.  Daric Barton – Barton is young enough that a team will sign him, hoping for his prime years. Maybe. He takes a walk, hits the occasional homer, and strikes out a lot less than others on this list. He’s okay with the glove, despite this clip, so it’s not like you’d suffer much if he played a utility role.

I didn’t know who Babe Dahlgren was before this exercise, but from 29 on he made the All Star team (in 1943 when many of the players were off fighting in World War II) and finished 12th for NL MVP in ’44. He had a few solid seasons of 2+ bWAR between the ages of 29 and 32, which makes me think the Babe is the winner.

8.  Mark Reynolds – In the early going, Milwaukee was swapping out first with Reynolds and Overbay while moving Reynolds around to right and third to keep his bat in the lineup. Reynolds rewarded the Brewers with six home runs in April. He also hit .224/.302/.500 while striking out 31 times in 76 at-bats.

He finished with 22 home runs, something he’s done seven straight years. Yes, he strikes out a ton. Yes, he doesn’t even hit his own weight. Watching him in the field is always something of an adventure.

He still beats out Jose Cruz, Jr. just by the simple fact that Cruz could barely hit at all (gone was the power from his youth) once he turned 32 because of reoccurring back issues. It’s almost a toss-up, since Cruz provided enough defensive value that he actually accumulated a total of 1.6 bWAR at 32-33.

Reynolds will sign somewhere. He’ll crush home runs. He’ll strike out 30-35% of the time. He’ll hit .210. I wonder if he’ll resign with the Orioles and Buck Showalter will convince him that he’s the second coming of Lee May. We’ll see those strikeouts decrease, the average increase, and the team make the World Series.

9.  Mike Morse – I’m fudging a bit here because Morse plays left field with the occasional start at first when Brandon Belt is hurt, but he’s listed as first basemen here because he made a few starts there. Go figure.

Mike Morse is a very strong man, and when he extends his arms very good things can happen (unless you root for the Cardinals). When he plays, he’s valuable. If he’s fighting off shoulder, hand, wrist, thigh, back, foot, and/or ab (this is just a quick glance at his injury history by the way) injuries, he’s sub replacement. He’ll be 33 next season, so caveat emptor.

Geronimo Berroa was a find player in his late 20s and early 30s but by the age of 33 he was done. Morse will surpass that easily as long as he doesn’t destroy his quadriceps by sprinting out to left or trip over the bullpen mounds or something.

10.  Mike Carp – Mike Carp did a little bit of everything last season, playing first, left, and subbing in at third for an inning or two. He was another player the Texas Rangers tried at first, found that wasn’t really all that good and was designated for assignment.

Scott Stahoviak never played a game after appearing in nine games for the Twins when he was 28. Someone will give Carp a chance next season, maybe, but they’ll get someone sub replacement for their troubles. The simple math tells me that not accruing anything is better than going into the red.

Running count of players appearing most in similarity lists:

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B

Similar Players by Count

Next, I discuss the second basemen.

Adam LaRoche photo credit: Photo Phiend via photopin cc

Carlos Pena photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

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