When people think of the Angels at first base they think of an anchor of a contract. They are overpaying for first base, but fans shouldn’t be so quick to get negative. The production they get from the position is still above average. The game isn’t played with money it’s played with a bat and a ball and they determine the outcome.
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There will come a day when Albert Pujols is remembered for the massive numbers he put up and the World Championships he won. Will any of those be with the Angels? If he can put together a year like last year he will certainly be helping in that cause.
In looking at the Angels production from first base this season we’ll forget about money and look at what to expect. First off, is that Pujols is getting older and less capable of playing in the field as often. He did appear in 158 games last year, but 43 of those games were at DH (one was even at 3rd). His platoon partners at first will be C.J. Cron, Matt Joyce and as depth Efren Navarro. Defensively Pujols is still regarded to be good. Sabermetric stats don’t regard him as great (about 5 runs saved last year) but he makes all the plays and as fans who watch can see he is very good at digging out short throws.
July 5, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter C.J. Cron (20) hits a three run home run in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
C.J. Cron on the other hand is quite possibly abysmal at first. He only played 251 innings at first last year and accumulated a negative dWAR of 1.1, ouch! Newly acquired Matt Joyce is an unknown at first. He has never played a game at first in the majors! But, can he possibly be any worse than Cron? Joyce will be used most often as DH but due to roster limitations and depth concerns, Dipoto has told him to bring a new first baseman’s glove to Arizona. We’ll reserve judgment until that time. Don’t expect Joyce to get more than a couple dozen games at first however.
Efren Navarro is definitely the backup with the best glove. He grades out as average defensively but without any other special skills don’t expect him to see a whole lot of time in the big leagues this season.
At the dish, first base is definitely looking good. We can lump this portion in with the DH role since Pujols, Cron and Joyce will be in a rotation at DH. When a left-handed pitcher is on the mound Pujols should mostly play first and Cron will DH while only occasionally spelling Abert. When a righty is up, I expect Pujols and Joyce to split time at first and DH. Joyce will also see playing time in the corner outfield allowing Josh Hamilton to DH on occasion.
These are their lines from last year and steamer projections for this coming season.
Pujols: 158 games – .272/.324/.466 28 HR wRC+124 (meaning he was 24% above average adjusted to park and league)
Steamer 138 games – .269/.330/.466 26 HR wRC+127
Cron: 79 games – .256/.289/.450 11 HR wRC+113
Steamer 73 games – 247/.287/.404 9 HR wRC+98
Joyce: 140 games – .254/.349/.383 9 HR wRC+113
Steamer 113 games – .241/.333/.395 13 HR wRC+112
Navarro: 64 games – .245/.302/.340 1 HR wRC+85
Steamer 16 games – .244/.305/.335 1 HR wRC+87
I’m not a big fan of Steamer projection but by all logical reason the Angels look to have above average offensive production from first base. We all know Pujols has power (even if it is in decline) and last year Cron showed he has it too. Joyce possesses some pop but isn’t the threat the other two are. Albert and Joyce are known for taking walks but Cron is as aggressive a free swinger you can find, but he does have a touch of Vladdy in his ability to put good wood on balls outside the zone. Navarro will simply be depth should an injury bug hit. And, For those who like WAR it should be noted that Pujols was worth 3.3 WAR last year according to fangraphs.
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Defensively, we know we are good when Pujols is out there and that Cron should be limited to DH duties as often as possible. Joyce is an unknown and prevents us from getting a good view of what to expect from the position as a whole.
Not quantifiable with current stats is leadership. Pujols brings a wealth of knowledge and presence to a team with many young players. Forgetting money, collectively the Angels should be expected to have a good year from their first baseman.