Thursday, February 14, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: First Base

Today catchers and pitchers report for spring training. For the previous few weeks we had been doing a player preview where we reviewed a total of 27 Yankee players. We did one per day, and it helped count down the days left to spring training. What I forgot, and what I seem to forget every year, is that once catchers and pitchers report, there's still another month and a half of time that we need to kill before baseball actually starts. We can always follow the spring training games, but they're just not as exciting.

In the past I used to debate with Red Sox fans as to who had the better player at each position. Today, to help pass the time, we will begin our own debate on that matter. We will review one position each day. Starters will be reviewed as a whole as will the releivers, but the closers will be done seperate. We will also review the DH position since we are in the American League.

This is sure to anger fans on both sides, but we at the blog ask that you really think about what you disagree with before you disagree with it. For example, if you're really upset that we're saying Derek Jeter is better than Julio Lugo, you may want to wonder why. Since it is a debate, if you disagree with our position, we want to hear why. State your case in the comments section.

So to begin, lets talk about First Base...

Yankees First Base

The Yankees first base could be held by any number of players. By my count, there were six first baseman coming to spring training: Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane, Jason Giambi, Shelley Duncan, Wilson Betemit, and Juan Miranda. I still beleive Jason Giambi can be a productive batter, but I have no faith in his defense. In the past he had quick hands. He looked kind of like a hockey goaley playing first base since he had pretty good reflexes and could knock down balls with his glove. However, he also had the range of a hockey goaley. He just didn't have the mobility. He also could never quite figure out how to throw to second.

Morgan Ensberg would need to prove he can play first base since he is a third baseman by trade. He would also need to show that he can return to his 2005 form with the Astros and would need to shave that hideous beard. Jason Lane is an outfielder by trade, but the Yankees brought him into the first base mix. Much like Ensberg, Lane needs to show that he can return to his 2005 form, and needs to show that he can play first base. He also needs to prove that he can stay healthy. Betemit does not seem suited as the best defensive option at first, and he strikes out way too much to be an every day player. Juan Miranda is a long shot to make the team, seeing as he hasn't played above double A. Doesn't mean he can't turn some heads in Spring training, just means he isn't the highest on the depth chart. That leaves the ever popular Shelley Duncan. A player with good power but a lot of strikeouts. He seemed adequate as a defender, but he played more games in the outfield than he did at first last season for the Yankees. No one will mistake Duncan for Mientkiwicz at firstbase, but he also won't be mistaken for Mientkiwicz at the plate.

Red Sox First Base

Where the Yankees have a slew of players looking to claim first base, the Red Sox have that position pretty much locked down. Kevin Youkilis, also known as the Greek god of walks, lives up to his name in that sense but he is not the power threat the Sox would hope to have at first base (he hit 16 homeruns last season). Yankee fans may remember Youkilis as the guy Chamberlain threw two fastballs at. What Yankee fans tend to forget is that Chamberlain was just taking over for Proctor who had plunked Youkilis a few times before. Of course, these were in retaliation for all the times Matsuzaka beamed A-Rod. All in all, Youkilis is a great defender with a solid bat. He gets on base and knocks in a few runs. He had a perfect fielding percentage at first base last season. He seemed to tire out as the season went on however as he batted .402 in May, then dropped to .264, .219, .241 and .274 to finish the season.

First Base Winner: Red Sox. Too much uncertainty at this position for the Yankees, and Youkilis is too solid a player.


Anonymous said...

I agree that 1st base goes to the red sox, with Youkilus. However, if Ensberg can replicate his 2005, 2006 that he had with the astros, I think that would give the edge to the yankees. I think he will make a good transition from 3rd to 1st, remember, youkilus came up as a 3rd baseman, but at the time was blocked from 3rd by mueller, and at 1st by Millar. Point is, a descent 3rd baseman can make a relatively smooth transition to 1st base, because 3rd base is a much more demanding position than first, with all the hot shots that they have to handle, picking a couple out of the dirt is a breeze.

Bucky7588 said...

I don't understand why people think Giambi is such an awful fielder. I'm not saying he's great, but I've seen him make some really great plays in the past, and I don't think having him play first would hurt the team that drastically. He is far more productive at the plate when he plays first. And lets say that Giambi plays first, lets a ball go by that scores a run. Bummer. But now we have a more productive Giambi at the plate, AND Matsui as DH. I think its best to have him at first.

Fernando Alejandro said...

Giambi is a better hitter when he plays first, that's true. In the past I always felt that Giambi had good hands for first, but no range and could not for the life of him start a double play. He simply can't throw to second. I've seen Pettitte throw the ball to Giambi on a pick off, the runner went to second, and Giambi threw the ball away. The other thing is that the Yankees beleive he is more injury prone if he plays first.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that the reason Giambi is a better hitter when he is at 1B is because those are the days he is feeling his best, on sore and sick days he would be assigned DH. Sort of a chicken or egg argument.

Fernando Alejandro said...

Anonymous 2, I've heard that before, but its just hard to quantify it. Not all his DH at bats have come when he's injured, and I'm sure some of his first base at bats did come when he was injured. Giambi himself has admitted to being a worse batter as a DH. He said something to the effect that it was hard to keep his mind in the game. I think this year will tell us one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

Youkilis should be banned for glueing that bathtub brush to his chin to distract pitchers.