In a race for a playoff spot, each edge issues. But all too typically, for causes that reach past a participant’s statistics, managers and basic managers fail to make the strikes that might enhance their groups, permitting subpar manufacturing to fester on the threat of smothering a membership’s postseason hopes. In Baseball Prospectus’ 2007 e-book It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over, I compiled a historic All-Star squad of ignominy, figuring out gamers at every place whose performances had dragged their groups down in tight races: the Alternative-Stage Killers. I’ve revisited the idea quite a few instances at a number of shops and have introduced it at FanGraphs in an expanded format since 2018.
Relating to defining alternative degree play, we needn’t be slaves to exactitude. Any workforce that’s gotten lower than 0.6 WAR from a place thus far — prorating to 1.0 over a full season — is taken into account truthful recreation. Generally, acceptable and even above-average protection (which can rely on which metric one makes use of) coupled with complete ineptitude on offense is sufficient to flag a workforce. Generally a workforce could also be properly forward of alternative degree however has misplaced a key contributor to harm; typically the reverse is true, however the workforce hasn’t but climbed above that first-cut threshold. As with Supreme Court docket Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of hardcore pornography, I do know alternative degree after I see it.
For this sequence, I’ll go across the diamond, mentioning essentially the most egregious examples of potential Killers at every place amongst contenders, which I’ll outline as groups who’re above .500 or have playoff odds of at the very least 10.0%. That definition covers 17 groups, all of which have odds above 25% due to the brand new playoff construction (thanks for not saving me any work, Rob Manfred). And whereas I could point out potential commerce targets, I’m much less centered on these groups’ options than I’m the issues, as a result of hey, human nature.
This primary installment will cowl first basemen. All statistics inside this piece are by way of July 20.
2022 Alternative-Stage Killers: First Base
|Staff||AVG||OBP||SLG||wRC+||Bat||BsR||Fld||WAR||ROS WAR||Tot WAR|
Statistics by way of July 20. ROS = Relaxation-of-season WAR, through our Depth Charts.
After a tantalizing 23-game debut in 2020, Bobby Dalbec was subpar final yr, hitting the ball very laborious however putting out 34.4% of the time (second amongst all gamers with at the very least 400 PA) and ending with a 107 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR. Even that model of Dalbec could be an enchancment upon the present one, nonetheless. The 27-year-old is hitting .205/.286/.344 (76 wRC+) with a 31.3% strikeout price and a barrel price that’s dropped by greater than half relative to final yr (from 20.2% to 9.5%). Currently, he’s been serving because the brief half of a platoon with Franchy Cordero, who himself has been fairly unhealthy (.225/.299/.372, 87 wRC+) whereas putting out 32.4% of the time.
The Pink Sox do have a primary baseman of the longer term in 6-foot-5 lefty Tristan Casas, who topped the team’s prospect list and was 16th on our Top 100 heading into the season (he’s at present ranked 15th overall). Armed with a extra mature strategy on the plate and higher contact abilities than Dalbec, he wasn’t precisely lighting up the Worldwide League (.248/.359/.457) earlier than struggling a proper ankle sprain on Could 17. After making a four-game rehab stint within the Florida Complicated League final week, he’s prone to rejoin Triple-A Worcester this weekend. It’s asking an excessive amount of for him to step into the large membership’s job so quickly, and so the workforce, which has gone simply 5-12 in July after a 20-6 June, will want extra assist. The Nationals’ Josh Bell and the Marlins’ Jesús Aguilar are each pending free brokers who may match, as may the Marlins’ Garrett Cooper, who has a further yr of membership management and will additionally assist in proper area, the place the workforce is beneath alternative degree as properly.
Yuli Gurriel had his finest stateside season final yr at age 37, hitting .319/.383/.462 (134 wRC+) with 3.4 WAR whereas taking house the American League batting title and a Gold Glove. On the offensive facet, one key was a extra disciplined strategy; he chased a career-low 29.8% of pitches outdoors the zone, swung and missed at a career-low 5.1% of pitches, and walked a career-high 9.8% of the time. He appears to have deserted that strategy this yr, as his chase price is as much as 37.4%, his swinging strike price as much as 7.4%, and his stroll price down to five.8%. Worse, he’s not hitting the ball laborious in any respect, with a feeble 2.3% barrel price and .273 xwOBA en path to a meager .238/.289/.391 (95 wRC+) line.
Gurriel has began 78 of the workforce’s first 91 video games on the place, with Aledmys Díaz making 5 begins, and Niko Goodrum and J.J. Matijevic getting 4 apiece. None of them profiles as an on a regular basis alternative, although if the lefty-swinging Matijevic may hit large league righties constantly, he may fill a platoon position given Gurriel’s splits (99 wRC+ vs. righties, 139 vs. lefties since 2020, with marks of 85 and 117 respectively this yr). In reality, Gurriel’s .284/.333/.474 line since June 15, in addition to the workforce’s 10-game AL West lead, lessens the urgency for a transfer, however the Pirates’ Daniel Vogelbach (123 wRC+ profession vs. righties, 149 this yr) is one participant who would match the invoice as a part-timer.
Final yr, Brandon Belt was restricted to 97 video games by three separate stints on the injured checklist, however Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Wilmer Flores picked up the slack; the workforce completed with a serious league-best 158 wRC+ on the place. The Giants haven’t been so lucky this yr. The 34-year-old Belt’s availability has been restricted to 52 video games by a bout of COVID-19 and continual irritation in his proper knee; he has hit simply .216/.325/.306 (88 wRC+) in 36 begins and 39 complete appearances whereas enjoying first, although he’s added 5 of his eight homers in simply 36 PA as a DH to spice up his total line to .243/.355/.426 (125 wRC+).
Belt performed first on Thursday evening towards the Dodgers for the primary time since July 9, and the Giants hope he’ll give you the chance do extra of that going ahead. Currently it’s been Ruf (98 wRC+ in 107 PA whereas enjoying first) and Wade (116 wRC+ in 20 PA) getting the reps when Belt is out of the lineup or DHing, with the stronger Flores (141 wRC+ in 93 PA within the position) enjoying extra second base. As long as Belt stays out there, the Giants will doubtless proceed to combine and match amongst this group quite than search an out of doors answer.
Rowdy Tellez acquired off to a very strong start within the season’s first month, and after homering on July 1, was nonetheless carrying a .247/.319/.498 (124 wRC+) line. From July 2 to the All-Star break, nonetheless, he hit simply .122/.232/.245, dropping his wRC+ all the way down to 109, and dragging the Brewers to the fringes of Killers territory.
To be truthful, Tellez has hit the ball about as laborious in the course of the skid (91.9 mph common exit velocity, 10.3% barrel price, 46.25% laborious hit price) as earlier than, save for a pair factors of barrel price, so this can be a fleeting droop. If not, the Brewers do have a prepared different in Keston Hiura, who has performed 15 video games at first and has hit .238/.354/.451 (129 wRC+) in 144 PA total whereas including 12 video games apiece at second and DH, and 4 in left area. Whereas Hiura was simply optioned to Triple-A Nashville on July 13, he stays only a airplane experience away. That stated, the Brewers have been significantly aggressive about upgrades at first base lately, buying and selling away Jesús Aguilar on the July 31 deadline in 2019 and buying Tellez final July 6. An analogous transfer wouldn’t be a shock right here.
I stated I’d use 0.6 WAR as a basic cutoff for the Killers lists, however the Padres are simply an eyelash above that, and their scenario has gotten considerably dire. Eric Hosmer hit a scorching .382/.447/.579 begin by way of Could 1, when I wrote about him, however since then he’s hit simply .235/.295/.309 (72 wRC+) with -0.7 WAR, simply the worst efficiency by a primary baseman on a contending workforce throughout that span, and one which’s hardly misplaced with Hosmer’s physique of labor in San Diego, the place he netted -0.1 WAR within the first 4 seasons of his eight-year, $144 million deal.
With the Padres dropping 14 of their final 21 video games of the primary half to fall 10 video games behind the Dodgers, it’s price plugging such a serious leak earlier than the workforce slides additional. Whereas Hosmer remains to be owed $39 million past this yr, it could be time to concede the sunk value and transfer on. Common supervisor A.J. Preller will doubtless be a busy man as August 2 approaches, and it wouldn’t be stunning if he brings in an alternate.