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The Importance of First Base Defense



By Mike Silva ~ April 21st, 2010. Filed under: Mike Silva.

One of the debates that have raged over here is the value of defense at first base. When using advanced statistics, such as Wins Above Replacement, first base is not given very much value as it’s only slightly higher than the designated hitter. I have always disagreed with that assessment and I found this quote by a scout in the NY Post today very interesting:

“If you don’t have a good first baseman, the inning can be extended. It takes one play to change a ballgame.” The scout was referencing this in a piece about Ike Davis, going on to say he will take “pressure off the infield.”

Obviously I am not advocating an all field/no hit first baseman (see Doug Mientkiewicz), but when you have the other extreme in good hit/no field (see Jason Giambi) it can be a problem as well.

Do I have a lengthy statistical analysis to share with you? No. Just use common sense about the situation. I think the above quote about extending innings and pressure on the infield tells you everything you need to know. If I were running a team I would find it very hard to justify lousy first basemen, even if he was a top offensive player. This doesn’t mean they have to be a gold glove, but above average competency would be a must. For all the criticism, Carlos Delgado, in my opinion, was solid around the bag and didn’t hurt the Mets.

Not every player is going to have the range of a Mark Teixeira. Personally, I would trade some range for good hands and footwork around the bag. The majority of the value will come in scoops and throws. Look at how important Keith Hernandez was to a very average infield. I would go as far to say that a good first baseman is more important than defense in either corner outfield spot. At the very least left field.

Maybe it’s my bias coming out (Mex was one of my favorite players growing up), but a good defensive first baseman is must for any contending team.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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6 Responses to The Importance of First Base Defense

  1. R U Kidding

    Delgado was a terrible first baseman. He had to hit 30 hrs. and drive in 100.Many fans considered Murphy and adequate 1B after watching Delgado play first.

  2. GravediggerHebner

    Little did you know that mere minutes after you published this piece Ike Davis would make a highlight reel defensive play, falling into the dugout while successfully catching a foul pop.

    I think that’s called positive reinforcement.

  3. Mike Silva

    If you look at his UZR numbers RUK he was pretty decent with the Mets, far better than any other point of his career. This is over the course of his 3 plus years in New York. He is about average, which for the offense he produced, good enough IMO

  4. birtelcom

    Mike, I think you are misunderstanding how Sean Smith’s WAR rating treats first base defense. A great fielding first baseman can get enormous additional credit in his WAR rating for his defense as opposed to a merely average or mediocre defensive first baseman. Carlos Delgado and Keith Hernandez had similar career lengths (based on Carlos’s career through now). WAR shows Carlos as the more valuable hitter but Keith as the much, much better fielder, giving Keith credit for over 150 more runs prevented on defense over his career compared to Carlos over his career. It is Keith’s defensive value in WAR that has him with the #102nd highest overall WAR rating of all-time, compared to Delgado’s rating of #232nd all-time. And that’s despite the fact that WAR ranks Delgado as a somewhat more valuable player on offense. It is true that WAR doesn’t rank a great fielding first baseman as contributing as much as a great-fielding shortstop or even a great fielding right fielder, but a great fielding first baseman does indeed get tremendous credit in the WAR rating compared to a mediocre defensive first baseman.

  5. Sky

    The reason first basemen don’t get much credit for the position they play in WAR is that when they go play other positions, they don’t tend to be good at it, and when players at other positions come play first base, they rate very well.

    No, you don’t want a bad-fielding first baseman, but it’s not that hard to find a decent or good one, especially when you consider all the other players at other positions who would be fine first basemen.

  6. Mike Silva

    Sky

    I would love to see the difference in the impact of Ike Davis vs. Jacobs in the field. Forget the crazy plays by Ike on pop ups, he has an ability to grab scoops and stretch for balls that I suspect Jacobs would have flubbed.

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