Saturday, October 31, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer --

First Base

Author’s Note - Player data displayed was pulled on September 25th, 2015.

Not much has, did, or will change in regards to 1B, as Albert Pujols still has a lock on the position for 2016.

Looking forward, into next year, Cron will likely back him up from time to time but C.J. is probably slated to spend a majority of his time at DH. Of course we should still have Navarro as a primary reserve in case Albert is injured.

Although Efren doesn’t have the power that Pujols has, he does have good contact skills from the left side of the plate and his defense is outstanding, as he is the recipient of three Minor League Gold Gloves at 1B.

To get a better idea of how they compare let’s apply the standard set of offensive metrics we used to evaluate the catchers, starting with ISO:

Here, of course, Albert still shines as expected. His consistent ability to hit for power is the reason why he’ll continue to be in the middle of the order for the next couple of years despite dips in performance.

Cron, too, has the ability to hit for big power and at 25 years old he’s entering the maturity range where a lot of players finish filling out physically. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him have a solid year in 2016.

Efren, as was stated above, is, at best, a 10 HR guy in a full year. However, if he did play full-time, he’d likely rake 20-30 doubles across a complete MLB season.

Here is their walk to strikeout ratios over the same time period:

The striking thing from this visual is Pujols decline in walk rate in recent years.

Albert used to consistently top double digits in walk percentage but during his last year with the Cardinals he stumbled a bit and has maintained a significant decline since 2012.

C.J. has a pretty strong history of college and Minor League on-base skills, primarily due to his contact ability, and you’d have to think that there is potential to improve in the near future. Of course this may very well be his ceiling too.

Navarro actually has a decent walk rate and strike out rate. Between the walks and strikeouts, in combination with his contact ability, he gets on-base at a surprisingly good rate.

The bottom line is that Efren is a reliable contact bat off the bench.

Finally let’s take a look at the last five years of the trio’s wRC+:

The first take away from that graph is that Albert Pujols has clearly declined since 2013. Whether that was related, in whole or in part, to his plantar fasciitis is unclear but it is troubling nevertheless. Age is probably the primary culprit.

Fortunately Mr. Pujols did smack 40 home runs and drive in 95 RBI’s this year so all is certainly not lost especially in the near-term future.

The “Machine” certainly has shown stretches where he demolishes the ball so we can only hope that he is able to stay healthy and maintain his production out of the position in 2016.

One other big takeaway from the graph is how close all three have been over the last two years.

Now to be fair Navarro and Cron have played a majority of their games in the offensively charged Pacific Coast League so the comparison is certainly not oranges to oranges. Still the tightly packed lines are a bit surprising to see.

These days Pujols and Cron’s games are looking pretty similar: lower on-base skills combined with significant power. Navarro is the opposite especially against RHP.

Unsurprisingly to the author, but probably not as well recognized by the Angels fan base, Efren Navarro, when playing regularly, has a pretty consistent OPS line in the Minors which hasn’t translated as well to his infrequent, periodic visits to the Majors.

Navarro isn’t a power hitter but he uses his strong contact skills to spray singles and doubles to all fields, particularly against RHP. As a defense-first backup player on a big market team he has value.

Still it’s partially comforting knowing that if Pujols were to get injured that there won’t be quite as dramatic a drop off in production as you might expect there to be.

Now certainly Pujols, when healthy, has the greatest potential, currently, to impact the Angels offense.

Cron may turn that corner eventually where he, too, provides Pujols-like numbers but that remains to be proven and seen.

Efren will continue to provide that under-the-radar production, especially defensively, that simply doesn’t garner the attention it deserves.

Educated Guess – Albert Pujols isn’t going anywhere for the time being. It is possible he will have some type of surgery or intense therapy on his feet this offseason as he was playing injured for the last month of the season but details on this subject are few and far between.

With Cron and Navarro as backup/reserve players at first base there isn’t a critical need to sign a free agent first baseman or even trade for one.

That being said depth is always a good thing so if the opportunity to acquire a Minor League prospect or even MLB player presented itself surely the Angels, if they have the roster space, would jump at the opportunity.

There is an offseason scenario where Cron could be moved in trade for a frontline starting pitcher. If that were to happen the Angels would likely trade for a DH type such as Khris Davis, Carlos Santana, or Adam Lind.

The reason that Cron might be involved in a trade is because at least two teams that have young, starting pitching also happen to need a power bat so this is something to keep an eye on through the remainder of the Hot Stove season.

Author’s Choice – Albert Pujols (100+ games) and C.J. Cron (40+ games)

If Cron is involved in an offseason trade the author would like to see the Angels acquire Khris Davis from the Brewers to DH/1B.

In the next section we’ll discuss Second Base.
Love to hear what you think!

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