2009 Replacement Level: First Base

As most of you know, the Win Values we present here on FanGraphs are wins above a replacement level player. Replacement level, essentially, is the expected performance you could get from a player who costs nothing to acquire and makes the league minimum. That’s the baseline that players add value over – performance over their no-cost substitute.

However, I know examples can be extremely helpful, so today, we’re going to start looking at some players who currently personify replacement level, and what their respective organizations should expect from them in 2009. We’ll go through all the positions in order to look at what a replacement level player currently looks like at each spot.

First Base

First baseman who settle for minor league contracts are the quintessential Quad-A players. They’re usually the best hitter on their Triple-A club, but have some flaw that keeps them from getting an everyday job in the majors. For some, it’s a lack of power for at a position that demands it. For others, it’s that power is their only real skill and the sole reason they have a professional career at all. Often, they can be useful platoon players or bench bats, and in best case scenarios (Carlos Pena, for instance), they can turn into legitimate stars. Here’s this year’s crop.

Brad Eldred, Chicago (AL), .321 wOBA,
Mike Sweeney, Seattle, .319 wOBA
Chris Shelton, Seattle, .335 wOBA
Josh Phelps, San Francisco, .355 wOBA
Wes Bankston, Cincinnati, .305 wOBA
Larry Broadway, unsigned, .327 wOBA

It’s an interesting mix of players, ranging from soon-to-be-retired Sweeney to the never-played-in-the-majors Broadway. As expected, the average wOBA for this group is quite a bit higher than the catchers, since first base is where bad defenders try to hide, so the pool of potential players is a lot larger. The average wOBA for this group is .327, which is almost league average offense. Running the run conversion formula again, we see:

((.327 – .330)) / 1.20) * 600 = -1.5 runs

Yes, you can get a league average hitter (essentially) for free. The baseline for offense from a first baseman is essentially league average offense. If you’re not getting that, the guy better be a tremendous fielder, or he’s just not very good.

-1.5 runs on offense, -5 runs on defense (these guys aren’t exactly Mark Grace), and a -12.5 position adjustment gives us the result of these guys being about 19 runs below average per 600 PA. Let’s just call it -20 for round numbers sake. That gives us -2 wins for these minor league free agent first baseman over a full season.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Jacob Jackson
15 years ago

This is an extremely valuable series of articles Dave, thank you. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to do them for each position.