Most of the guys who play in the AL East are pretty good. I doubt you needed my first post or this one to tell you that, but in case you missed the explanation from that post; this is all an attempt to break down the competition at each position within the division using their 2011 numbers to see how each team, specifically the Yankees, stands.
On Wednesday, we looked at the competition within the division at catcher, where Matt Wieters led the bunch in 2011. The second stop in this series brings us to the first basemen of the AL East. Wieters was a pretty easy decision, and this one is not much different based on last year alone. First base is a position where a lot of teams will sacrifice defense for the sake of powerful offense, which leads to less well-rounded players in general, and that is definitely at work for some teams within our division.
There is not a lot of change at the position within the AL East from last season to this season. Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, and Adam Lind all stay put, while Carlos Pena returns to Tampa Bay from the Cubs and Chris Davis takes over the first base job for the Orioles.
Let's compare what they all did in 2011.
So...yeah. This is kind of a runaway for Adrian Gonzalez. There is nothing in his triple slash line that you wouldn't be thrilled to add to your team, and that's disheartening considering he plays for the Yankees' most hated rival. A-Gonz is a terrific defender, who brings good power to the middle of the Red Sox lineup. He hit 27 home runs in 2011 to go along with his terrific ability to get on base. Going off last year alone, he really has no competition in this comparison.
That is not to say that Mark Teixeira doesn't bring plenty of positive aspects of his own. He had 39 home runs in a season where his rate stats were pretty down across the board. A lot was made of his lack of fastball hitting and popups to 3rd base, which Tex admitted came in part from trying to pull the ball toward the short porch in Yankee Stadium. He was pretty victimized by the shift as well, which lead to an effort on his part to revamp his swing and use all parts of the field. If he can improve upon that part of his game without sacrificing his power numbers, he could possibly close the gap a bit between he and Gonzalez for 2012. I think it's pretty much a given that they are the real premier players at this position within the division.
Carlos Pena had a very Carlos Pena 2011, in that he will generally hit for a relatively low average, but is great at taking walks and hit plenty of home runs. His strikeouts will always be his biggest problem, and 2011 was certainly no exception to the rule. His strikeout percentage was an alarming 26.6%, leading all of the other AL East first basemen except for Davis by a pretty wide margin. Moving back to the AL East from the NL Central probably won't have a huge impact on his numbers, as he's been here before, but I wouldn't be completely shocked to see them drop a tick or two all around.
Adam Lind is a similar story. With 26 home runs in 2011, his dinger power was on par with Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Pena, but Lind was much less adept at getting on base than Pena. Lind took walks at a horribly low clip of 5.9% last season while trailing only Pena among the other AL East first basemen in strikeout percentage at 19.7%.
The Orioles acquired Chris Davis in the Koji Uehara trade last summer, and he is expected to man first base for them this season. He only played 59 major league games last season, and his numbers were not anything exciting. He isn't very good defensively to make up for the lack of excitement offensively, and has only been worth positive WAR once in his limited major league service time. He will more than likely run into roughly 15 home runs, so there is always that.
Like I predicted in my prior post, there is both good and bad here. There's a ton of power and a ton of strikeouts among these five players. I wouldn't be at all shocked to see each of them finish the season with at least 20 home runs a piece, but with that will come plenty of ugly looking strikeouts. I don't know if the Red Sox can expect more from Adrian Gonzalez in 2012, and if they can, he'd just be more unfair than he already is.
Mark Teixeira has discussed bunting and all kinds of crazy things in hopes of finding a way to beat the shift and use more of the field. My personal belief is that he'd have to bunt successfully quite a bit before a team would actually take the shift off of him, and I'm not sure that that's worth it. From a home run perspective, his 2011 was great, but that's one of those statistics that just doesn't really tell you how bad Tex looked at the plate too many times last year. Since we are in it for the long haul with him, the best we can do is hope that his work to pull the ball less will pay off.