In the race for a playoff spot, every edge matters. Yet all too often, for reasons that extend beyond player statistics, managers and general managers fail to make moves that could improve their squads, leading to subpar production at the risk of dashing the club’s postseason hopes. in Baseball Prospectus‘ 2007 book It’s not over until it’s over, I’ve compiled a historic All-Star squad, introducing the players at each position whose performances dragged their teams down in tight races: replacement-level killers. I have repeated this concept on several outlets since 2018, and presented it in an expanded form on Fangraphs since 2018.
When defining replacement level play, you don’t have to be a slave to precision. Any team that has earned less than 0.6 WAR to date – up to 1.0 over the course of a full season – is considered a fair game. Sometimes, acceptable or even above-average defense (which may depend on which metric one uses) and complete ineptitude on offense is enough to flag a team. Sometimes a team can be well ahead of replacement level but have lost a key contributor to injury; Sometimes the opposite is true, but the team hasn’t yet climbed above that first-cut threshold. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of hardcore pornography, I know a level of conversion when I see it.
For this series, I’ll walk around the diamond, showing the most egregious examples of potential killers at each position among contenders, which I’ll define as teams that are above .500 or have at least a 10.0% playoff chance. That definition includes 17 teams, all of which have more than a 25% chance thanks to the new playoff structure (thanks for saving me no work, Rob Manfred). And while I may mention potential trade targets, I focus less on the solutions for these teams than the problems, because hey, human nature.
This first installment will cover first basemen. All statistics in this piece are as of July 20.
2022 Replacement-Level Killer: First Base
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Statistics as of July 20. ROS = Rest of the season, via our depth chart.
After a 23-game debut in 2020, Bobby Dahlbeck was underwhelming last year, hitting the ball hard but striking out 34.4% of the time (second among all players with at least 400 PA) and finishing with a 107 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR. . However, that version of Dalbec will be an improvement over the current version. The 27-year-old is hitting .205/.286/.344 (76 wRC+) with a 31.3% strikeout rate and a barrel rate that has more than halved from last year (20.2% to 9.5%). Lately, he’s been working as the shorter half of the platoon alongside Franchi Cordero, who is hitting 32.4% of the time while being pretty bad himself (.225/.299/.372, 87 wRC+).
The Red Sox have a first baseman of the future in 6-foot-5 lefty Tristan Casas, who topped the team’s prospect list and was ranked No. 16 in our Top 100 heading into the season (he’s currently No. 15 overall). With a more mature approach at the plate and better contact skills than Dalbec, he wasn’t exactly hitting in the International League (.248/.359/.457) before suffering a right ankle injury on May 17. -A game rehab stint in the Florida Complex League last week, he is likely to rejoin Triple-A Worcester this weekend. It’s asking a lot to step into the big club job so quickly, and so a team that went just 5-12 in July after a 20-6 June will need extra help. The Nationals’ Josh Bell and the Marlins’ Jesus Aguilar are both pending free agents who could fit in, as could the Marlins’ Garrett Cooper, who has an extra year of club control and could help in right field, where the team is short of replacements. level as well.
Yuli Gurriel had his best stateside season at age 37 last year, hitting .319/.383/.462 (134 wrc+) with 3.4 WAR while winning the American League batting title and Gold Glove. On the offensive side, one key was a more disciplined approach; He chased a career-low 29.8% of pitches out of the zone, swung and missed on a career-low 5.1% of pitches, and walked a career-high 9.8% of pitches. He seems to have abandoned that approach this year as his strikeout rate dropped to 37.4%, his swinging strike rate to 7.4% and his walk rate to 5.8%. Worse, he’s not hitting the ball hard, en route to a 2.3% barrel rate and a .273 xwOBA down a .238/.289/.391 (95 wRC+) line.
Gurriel has started 78 of the team’s first 91 games at the position, Aledmys Diaz has made five starts, and Niko Goodrum and JJ Matijevic have each made four innings. Neither of them profile as everyday replacements, though if the lefty-swinging Matijevic can consistently hit big league righties, he could fill a platoon role with Gurriel’s split (99 wRC+ vs. righties, 139 vs. lefties, 85 points since 2020). and 117 respectively this year). Granted, Gurriel’s .284/.333/.474 line since June 15, as well as the team’s 10-game AL West lead, lessens the urgency of a move, but the Pirates’ Daniel Vogelbach (123 wRC+ career vs. righties, 149 this year) is one player who has Who would fit the bill as a part-timer.
Last year, Brandon Belt was limited to 97 games through three different stints on the injured list, but Darrin Ruf, Lamonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores picked up the slack; The team finished with a major league-best 158 wRC+ at the position. The Giants haven’t been so lucky this year. The 34-year-old Belt’s availability has been limited to 52 games due to a bout of Covid-19 and chronic inflammation in his right knee; He’s hit just .216/.325/.306 (88 wRC+) in 36 starts and 39 total appearances at first, though he’s added five of his eight homers in just 36 PA as a DH to raise his overall line to .243. /.355/.426 (125 wRC+).
Belt played Thursday night for the first time since July 9 against the Dodgers, and the Giants hope he can do more going forward. Lately it’s been Ruf (98 wRC+ in 107 PA while playing first) and Wade (116 wRC+ in 20 PA) getting reps when Belt is out of the lineup or DHing, with the more dominant Flores (141 wRC+ in 93 PA) in the role. Plus playing second base. As long as Belt is available, the Giants are likely to continue mixing and matching with this group rather than looking for solutions from the outside.
Rowdy Tellez got off to a strong start in the first month of the season and after homering on July 1st, still had a .247/.319/.498 (124 wRC+) line. From July 2 to the All-Star break, however, he hit just .122/.232/.245, dropping his wRC+ to 109 and dragging the Brewers to the fringes of Killers territory.
To be fair, Tellez has hit the ball as hard as ever during the skid (91.9 mph average exit velocity, 10.3% barrel rate, 46.25% hard hit rate), save a few barrel rate points, so this might be the one. A momentary slump. If not, the Brewers have a ready option in Keston Hiura, who has played 15 games at first and hit .238/.354/.451 (129 wRC+) in 144 total PA and added 12 games each at second and DH, and in left field. Four. Hiura was recently optioned to Triple-A Nashville on July 13, just a plane ride away. That said, the Brewers have been particularly aggressive about upgrades at first base in recent years, trading Jesus Aguilar at the July 31 deadline in 2019 and acquiring Tellez last July 6. A similar move here would not be surprising.
I said I’d use 0.6 WAR as a general cutoff for killer lists, but the Padres are just an eyelash above that and their situation has gotten somewhat dire. Eric Hosmer hit .382/.447/.579 since May 1st, when I wrote about him, but since then he’s hit just .235/.295/.309 (72 wRC+) with -0.7 WAR, easily the worst. The performance of a first baseman on a contending team over the span, and doesn’t rank well with Hosmer’s work in San Diego, where he posted a -0.1 WAR over the first four seasons of his eight-year, $144 million contract.
With the Padres going 14 of their last 21 games in the first half to outscore the Dodgers by 10 games, it’s worth plugging such a big leak before the team moves on. With Hosmer still owed $39 million beyond this year, it may be time to accept the sunk cost and move on. General manager AJ Preller will likely be busy as August 2 approaches, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he brought in an option.