Black Hole at First

I almost vomited today. I don’t claim to have a long streak without having thrown up. Certainly not as long as Seinfeld claimed in an episode. I’m not sick. I didn’t eat anything disagreeable. I looked at the recent performance of Bucco first baseman and I felt ill.

I was reading Buster Olney’s blog at ESPN.com. He commented on the Adam LaRoche/Mike Gonzalez swap and specifically said (I’m paraphrasing) that getting a power bat at first base is among a GM’s easiest jobs. So, he figured the Braves would be just fine. I’ve commented on this site before about the Reds long drought at first after dealing Tony Perez to Montreal after the 1976 season. They had some good players man first, but nobody with a big stick. So, I went back to 1991 with the Pirates and found out that they too have lacked.

The following table has the league average OPS for NL first baseman for each year followed by what Pirate first baseman as a group did (thank you Retrosheet). The third column lists which Pirate was the primary first sacker that season, based on ABs while playing first, and then lists his OPS+ (for all ABs, not just the ones for when he was playing first). The first two sets of numbers are not adjusted. So park effects (Coors) aren’t adjusted out. OPS+ numbers came from Baseball-Reference.com.

Year Average NL 1B Pirates 1B Primary 1B OPS+
1991 .752 .765 Orlando Merced 120
1992 .765 .661 Orlando Merced 104
1993 .801 .666 Kevin Young 72
1994 .840 .730 Brian Hunter 81
1995 .803 .757 Mark Johnson 94
1996 .814 .822 Mark Johnson 112
1997 .837 .782 Kevin Young 121
1998 .844 .798 Kevin Young 108
1999 .862 .917 Kevin Young 128
2000 .877 .781 Kevin Young 87
2001 .817 .677 Kevin Young 82
2002 .813 .741 Kevin Young 87
2003 .838 .797 Randall Simon 87
2004 .850 .719 Daryle Ward 101
2006 .843 .737 Daryle Ward 88
2006 .879 .782 Sean Casey 102

That, officially, is sad. One season with an OPS+ of 125 or better and just two seasons in the past six where the OPS+ of the primary first baseman was even over 100. So, I decided to go back and see what a typical Willie Stargell year was like. I was stopped in my tracks by Stargell’s 1980 season. He was 40. He had bad legs. And his OPS+ was 130, granted in only 202 ABs. But that was a bad year for him, OPS+-wise. I certainly don’t expect any team to put a top flight, multiple year All-Star at first every year. But, I should expect that at least sometime in the past 16 years that one year the Pirates first basemen (collectively) out perform a gimpy 40 year whose skills were eroding quickly. Didn’t happen. Here’s hoping that in 2007 LaRoche can best a 40 year old Pops.

Author: Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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