Today, we continue our Marlin Maniac Season Preview with a look at first base, a position of significant question marks heading into the 2010 season that were more than adequately filled in 2011. What is the outlook for the 2011 season, and how will the position hold up?
Last year, the season started with a question mark in Sanchez at the first base position. The season ended with a pretty decent player, as Sanchez held his own and was above average for the season. Helms figures to back up both corner infield spots, gathering playing time when the team sees fit. The Marlins have no lefty on the bench, and this would typically be the position at which a lefty pinch-hitter would play, if one were to sign on with the team.
Sanchez answered the critics last year, sticking it out through a solid rookie year on his way to a fourth-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Sanchez’s traditional statistics were just fine, I suppose; people were supposedly impressed by his 19 home runs and 85 RBI. But here at Marlin Maniac, we look at other statistics, especially for offense, and make our judgments accordingly. Those 19 home runs certainly came as a surprise, as Sanchez was not projected to bring the power he displayed in his final minor league stints in Double- and Triple-A to the majors. In fact, one of the biggest questions heading into the season was whether Sanchez would hit enough to produce at the first base position. The projections initially stated a line similar to .270/.350/.420, which would have fallen short of average for a first baseman but sounded mostly reasonable.
It turns out that Sanchez basically hit that projection dead on, posting a .273/.341/.448 slash line that translated into a .346 wOBA. It turned out that the projected line has similar value to the one Sanchez put up; in his real 2010 line, he sacrificed a little bit of OBP in favor of power, but the contributions remain similar. This normally would not have been enough to make him an average first baseman, as I mentioned that an average first baseman would have to hit a .351 wOBA to overcome his positional adjustment. However, because of the decreased offensive environment, Sanchez made the mark and put up an above average season.
How about next season? Part of Sanchez’s success will rely on his power numbers stabilizing. It is doubtful that Sanchez will get stronger; he is 27 years old this season, and thus reaching his peak. I do think there is potential for 20-plus home runs and a .190 to .200 ISO, but I would say that that sort of projection is more along the lines of his 60th or 70th percentile expectation. Most of the projection systems have Sanchez hitting an eerily similar line to last season. Check it out:
It should come as no surprise that the Fans are the most optimistic, but trying to determine which of these projections right is mostly meaningless given their tiny differences. Each of these systems more or less has Sanchez hitting the same as he did last season. His WAR projection will then be dependent on what the baseline average value for hitters is this season. After more than a few seasons with the league average wOBA at around .330, the league’s depressed 2010 run environment caused the average batting line to drop from .262/.333/.418 in 2009 to .257/.325/.403, causing the league average wOBA to fall to .321. You might not think this is a significant difference, but it did add about six runs to the value of Sanchez’s performance.
Projection: 625 PA, 2.0 WAR
Sanchez played injury-free last season, and if he does so again, he should rack up between 625 and 650 PA. I based my calculations off of the old .330 wOBA run environment, but who knows what we’ll see in 2011. If the run environment continues to remain depressed and below 4.5 runs per game for both teams, we should get a little more value from Sanchez and a season equivalent to the one we saw in 2010. Either way, the basic premise here is to expect more of the same from Sanchez moving forward; I have a feeling like this is just about where he will be talent-level wise for the next three or four seasons.
Bonus: Trade talk
The Marlins should consider trading Sanchez for valuable parts at some point either this season or next year. This will be his second pre-arbitration season, and with one more pre-arb year remaining before he hits his obligatory three years of arbitration, his value will be highest now. There is enough confidence in his talent level to be able to project him for the next few seasons, and the Marlins have a need to trade him. Logan Morrison should be playing first base to minimize his defensive effect and avoid forcing him to play the less familiar left field. Sanchez is exactly the type of player that the Marlins utilize during their cheap years and let go once free agency arrives, so he is much more likely to be a part of the “present” of the team rather than the future.
Having said that, I would only make a move if it fits into a hole we have. Any trade is likely to just open up another starting spot in left field, but a trade could be useful in redistributing our talent pool appropriately. Right now, the Marlins may be stretched thin trying to play guys like Chris Coghlan in center field and Morrison in left field. Moving Sanchez for a center fielder under arbitration control, for example, could not only improve the team in the short term but also redistribute its talent pool more efficiently.
A trade involving Michael Bourn has been discussed here before, and it mentions some merit. If the Houston Astros were looking for a team-controlled first baseman, trading Bourn, who is in his second season of arbitration, would net them five years of control of an league average first baseman. In return, the Marlins would be able to shift Coghlan back into the infield and move Morrison to first base, putting both in a better position to succeed defensively. In addition, the team would improve its defense (which has been a supposed focal point all season) and likely improve overall, as Bourn is at least a 2.5 win player if you conservatively estimate his defense. If you think he is a superb, Gold Glove-style defender, he could easily be a 3.o to 3.5 win player.
Again, it is simply something to consider, and not something the Marlins must do this season. However, if they want to maximize Sanchez’s value and still potentially improve the team, such a move would be very appealing.