American League First Basemen And Radiation Poisoning

ARLINGTON, TX - Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim breaks a bat against the Texas Rangers. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

Adrian Gonzalez is in a funk. The Boston media are swirling. The fans are getting impatient. Gonzalez did that Babe Ruth thing where he told a sick kid that he'd hit a home run for him, except the kid was a metaphor for the swirling media and impatient fans, and he just wanted the kid to die already. He didn't hit a home run.

Through Wednesday, Gonzalez was hitting .269/.333/.406. That's Freddy Sanchez's career line with a lower batting average and slugging percentage. This isn't another article about Gonzalez, though. Nope, because it turns out that he's been perfectly fine. Among starting first basemen in the AL, he's been close to average. A tick above, even. This says a couple of things:

  1. Good grief, first basemen have been a miserable lot in the American League this year
  2. … no, that pretty much covers it.

First base is where you stick the power. It always has been. I remember coming of age on an Internet that was trained to laugh at hitters like J.T. Snow and his measly gift of a decent-to-good on-base percentage without power. Every team was supposed to have a first baseman that could mash, and they probably had one on the bench that they weren't using.

The dry stats of position-by-position hitting, first for the AL:

Split OPS
as C .699
as 1B .724
as 2B .683
as 3B .716
as SS .682
as LF .735
as CF .765
as RF .745
as DH .781
Provided by View Original Table Generated 5/24/2012.

Just a slight separation between first basemen and catchers. Pick any other year off the top of your head. The first three I thought of: 1988, 1965, and 2003. Pick any year you want. Just about every time, there's a clear separation between the first basemen of the AL and every other infield position -- usually about 100 points between 1B and the skill positions like C and SS.

But that's just the aggregate of the position, which is including the moonlighters doing well, like Adam Dunn, Edwin Encarnacion, and Joe Mauer. If we just go with the players who appear on the All-Star Ballot and have been healthy enough to qualify for the batting title, you start the see the problem:

Rk Player OPS+
1 Paul Konerko 197
2 Prince Fielder 121
3 Chris Davis 118
4 Carlos Pena 115
5 Adrian Gonzalez 101
6 Casey Kotchman 80
7 Mark Teixeira 79
8 Albert Pujols 68
9 Eric Hosmer 63
10 Justin Smoak 63
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used Generated 5/24/2012.

It's Konerko going nuts, a couple of guys having good-not-great years, and then an avalanche of disappointment. Those names at the bottom. My word. Look at the bottom-half of that list. Well, not Justin Smoak. You figured he'd be hanging out there, trying not to look guilty and sheepish. But the rest of them. It's not like this was a slow devolution that we saw coming a few years ago. The best of the best are now the worst of the worst. There was every reason to think Teixeria, Pujols, and Hosmer would combine for 120 home runs this year. Back in January, I wrote this:

There will probably be three first basemen on the American League All-Star roster this year. They had four in 2010, but one of those was Ty Wigginton, who made it for the Orioles under the "This Time Everyone Gets a Ribbon!" clause that requires every team to have at least one player on the All-Star roster. That means that one of Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Mark Teixeira probably doesn't make the team.

Three of those players are having down years. Two of them are having miserable years. Ty Wigginton and his .239/.321/.319 line would be right at home. Unless there's a groundswell of hometown voting support for Gonzalez, Pujols, or Teixeira, they aren't getting within 50 miles of the All-Star Game.

This isn't an article with a solution. If you know something I don't, let me know, and we can march in protest together. Hey, manufacturers! Stop stuffing first base bags with lead and radium! Until then, we can just marvel at the concentrated disappointment coming from first basemen in the AL. Gonzalez is in a funk? Hosmer, Teixeira, and Pujols wish they were in that funk. That's what the position has become in 2012.

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