First Basemen, a brief (and recent) history
Hopefully spreadsheets are worth a thousand words (DJ, cont.)
The conversations with lr (and others) about DJ Peterson have been both intriguing and enlightening. I thought it time to talk about corner power and expectations a little more in depth, however - how do we know whether we should be enthusiastic or wary of DJ if we don't know whether his slash line/ wOBA is actually what we want to see from a corner slugger?
For a wider angle on this, here's the last thirty years worth of 1B performances at the plate in a handy spreadsheet:
And for a team-centric snapshot, here's the performance of first basemen for the Mariners through the years:
Not sure how readable those are. What do those two pics look like to me at a glance?  Well, a few things stand out:
1) I would have expected Iso among first basemen to go down after the Roid Era.  It has not, at least not significantly.  
Approximate Iso by era:
Pre-roid 84-92: .155
Roid era: .190
Post-roid: .183 
And look at the home runs. You can't just do plain HR totals as the league expanded in this timeframe (Rockies and Marlins in '93, Rays and D-Backs in '98). But HR/team goes 24-ish per for the pre-roid timeframe selected, up about 32-and-a-half for the roid era (there's a baseball strike to account for), and just about 31 for the years after.  Power may be down, but for first basemen the HR power ain't down THAT much. 
Now, I personally feel that "Post-roid" should fall around 2009, but we started some form of drug testing in 2006, so I cut it there. So maybe the last dregs of the Steroid Kerfluffle (why can't we call it that instead) are boosting the Iso totals... or maybe the new era of first basemen are sacrificing something else to keep their power up.
2) K's are through the roof.  Slugging is a bit down, (it goes .423 to .467 to .447 through the eras) but the Modern Age still hasn't fallen quite back to 1980s levels.  Why?  Because hitters are definitely still swinging for the fences.
Strikeout percentage: 
Pre: 13.8%
Roid: 16.6%
Post: 19.1% 
And note that 22+% last year. Guys are definitely not getting cheated up there. When we talk about how we'd like DJ to strike out less, we kinda have to remember that only 5 guys were around or under that 15% mark last year, another 4 under 18%.  He can still have a plus K-rate at 18%. (Which would be an improvement for him, but not a crazy one).
3) The Mariners have not had a lot of shiny pretty first basemen in their history.  I remember Tino being great, but really Tino was slightly less-decent than David Segui (who has something like DJ's expected slash line if Deej's power doesn't come in).
You can see why Alvin Davis was Mr. Mariner (before my time) and why Ole was beloved. But when we say "DJ has to be a 130-140 wRC+ player to REALLY be worth it at first base" what we're really saying is "DJ needs to be the best first baseman in Mariners history over his club-controlled years for us to feel truly satisfied with his performance."  Not sure that's gonna happen, and this park is tough on everyone. 
OTOH - Smoak's 110 wRC+ last year came on a .238/ .334/ .412 line. So we're also saying DJ needs to be a .750 OPS hitter to get to the Tino / Segui level of first baseman.  That's not what we want from him, but the bar isn't high around here.  League-wise, he needs about a .290/.340/.460 in our park to get to a satisfactory 125-ish wRC+ (around #10 in league-wide performance at the position the last 3 years).  DJ should also be a plus-fielding first baseman – he has good actions around the bag and as a borderline 3B he should be plus on the other side, even as a shorter fielder.  That will help his WAR if nothing else - and on a team with groundballers it's a good thing. Gun to my head, I would take lr's projected line for DJ's first full season ( .260/.310/.450) which should get him a nice 110-115 wRC+ in his break-in year, or about the best that Smoak has managed in his career (and well above his worst).
BTW, speaking of Smoak: apparently he's the second-worst first baseman in the history of the Mariners to get more than a seasons-worth of PAs with as bad a career line (and wRC+) as he has. Pete O'Brien holds the title right now and I don't think Smoak is gonna get a chance to be bad enough to take it back.
And as a last breakdown, here are the top-5 minor league 1B (per MLB) and their age and 2014 performances:
Dom Smith, 20: .290/.350/.350
Vogelbach, 21: 270/.360/.420
Matt Olson, 20: .240/.390/.525
Kyle Parker, 24: .290/.345/.475
Greg Bird, 21: .270/.355/.415
Peterson, 22: .325/.375/.600
I like Olson, and Vogelbach is working on getting his stocky tubbiness to work for him.  Dom Smith is young and hitting in a pitcher's park, but a .060 ISO is REALLY low even considering that.  Who do you like significantly MORE than Peterson? And do you see the first-base numbers going back up toward Roid Era production five years from now with those guys climbing the ladder, or is it more likely that it stays where it is or falls off more?
And what else stands out to you guys on those sheets? 



1.  That Smoak has less WAR than Gary Gray.  And I don't have any clue who Gary Gray is.  Really.


As I mentioned in the shouts, to me the actual performance difference between DJ and Kivlehan has shrunk to almost nothing. If folks feel DJ has significantly more upside than Patrick, well, folks thought Ackley had more upside than Seager. I'd be very interested in your take on the matter, Gordon, as I see any loss of DJ is covered by the serendipitous emergence of Kivlehan as a bona fide dirt-dog prospect with possibly better athleticism. DJ may be an adequate 1B, but might Kivlehan be more versatile, potentially opening a place to play Choi or Lara?

GLS's picture

Talent just seems so unpredictable. Sitting in front of our laptop screens, we can read stuff about players and look at the numbers, and based on that information, come to some basic conclusions. But when a player like Ackley can dominate Triple-A and then not quite succeed in ML, where does that leave us?
Some things that I think we know are that power and the ability to make contact are strong predictors of ML hitting ability, sort of. Ackley makes better contact than almost anyone, but his contact-first approach to hitting hasn't worked yet at the ML level, at least not since pitchers adjusted to him. And that's the other thing, the ability to adjust. How do you predict that? Because that's what Kyle Seager has that Ackley seems to lack. As for Peterson, or Kivlehan (or Gabriel Guerrero or Tyler Marlette or Alex Jackson or Gareth Morgan, etc.), we just don't know yet if they'll be able to make that adjustment. So it's a judgement call. How well do you know your own player and what's going on in his head as he moves up through the minor leagues?
With regard to trading DJ Peterson, we know that the Mariners had a book on him long before draft day. So I guess they knew him pretty well then and they know him even better now. They know the power is there and they know that 1 year out of college ball he's able to hit for a high average at AA, which is pretty impressive, even in a limited number of games. And I would assume they know better than we do about the particulars of his ability to to make contact, how he approaches the task of hitting, how he adjusts during an at-bat - that sort of thing. So if they decide to trade him, they probably have the best information to make that call. They're informed.
But then what do they really know? Are they thinking DJ is an above average ML hitter that has a nice career, sort of like Kendrys Morales? Or do they think he has a chance to be a truly special hitter like Edgar or Paul Konerko? And what are the chances of that?
I think the "is he a special hitter?" question is the big one for me. If I think there's a good chance this is a player that can maximize his potential and hit .300 or better with 25-30 home runs for most years of his career AND play a position on the field, then I probably wouldn't trade him, at least not for Zobrist. I would look around for another deal. Special hitters are hard to find. We thought we would have one in Ackley, but it didn't turn out that way.


You bet, Bat.  No difference, at this point, between the two.
Which is why I'm keeping them both.  One of those two guys is going to be a major league bat.  One that helps a lot.  One that gets to .800+ a time or two.  
Spec is the guy to lay these odds down, but let's say that each has now a 50% shot at being Smoak+.  
That means we have a 75% chance that we have 120 OPS bat (good year) in AA and a 25% chance that we have two of them.  I want to see both of them Tacoma next April.  But I think one may hit himself out of Tacoma pretty quickly.  
And let's not forget our lefty bat in Jackson, Pizzano.  His BABIP has begun to nomalize.  He's .286-.405-.619 over the last month.  Add Choi and we get 4 draws at the deck to find a MLB bat that helps sometime next year.  

lr's picture

I was looking through some of the A's minor leaguers the other day and came across his line. Thaaaat's the kind of 1B prospect I'd get excited about. They got him out of high school with the 47th pick. Big 6'4" kid, hit's lefty. Strikes out a decent amount, not obscenely so, but also is walking 20% this year in high A. He's the kind of dude that if he improves his contact rate a little bit, watch out. He's only 20 too. That's why I think taking a 1B 12 overall is a bad pick, unless he's an absolute special hitter, which we all seem to agree that DJ might or might not be. Maybe the Mariners thought with some pro coaching he might stick at 3rd, in which case you could justify the pick a little easier. Either way, if I could choose which kid to have in my system, I'd be hard pressed to pick against Olson.
Regarding that 15% K number I was throwing around, I was saying because he has posted below average walk rates, and because he doesn't have HUGE power, that he has to get that K number into the upper echelon to be a guy you want hitting 4th or 5th. If you see him a a 6-8% BB guy and a 160-200 ISO in Safeco, then that puts pressure on him to get that K rate down under 20 for sure, and probably lower still.
I'd love to see DJ get that BB rate up around 10%, and maybe once he settles into pro baseball he has some of that in his game. I hope they don't rush him up next year because they're incapable of finding some ML 1B kicking around that could put up a league average line. I'd like to see him finish out the year in AA, and start him in AAA next year and leave him there. Maybe he does have that special contact ability and can keep the K's under 18%. If he does, that'd certainly raise his status a little. I think in Safeco if you can get 800 out of your 1B, you're doing pretty well. Here's to hoping.

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