There are a few new faces in new places among first basemen this season. The two most prominent are Adrian Gonzalez in Boston and Adam Dunn in Chicago, and they’ll probably do just fine in their new digs. But what about Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche and Lance Berkman? Let’s take a look.
Did you know that Pena will be 33 this season? The seemingly perpetually deemed young Pena is actually hovering close to old man territory these days, which should help him fit right in with the veteran-laden north siders. At this point, Pena would be easy to write off, as his 5×5 stats have been mostly in decline for three straight seasons (except, oddly enough, for his stolen base totals). Still, not everything about Pena was a disaster last season.
His .211 ISO was better than Prince Fielder’s, and ranked 11th among qualified first basemen overall. Likewise, he was 10th among first basemen in home runs. Projections have him in that 28-31 range once again, but with a bounce back in ISO, wOBA and SLG that would bring him closer to his 2008 levels. Part of that is likely due to the bump he should see in switching from Tropicana Field to Wrigley. Stat Corner has Wrigley’s park factor for LHB HR at 119, a full 30 percent higher than Tropicana’s 89. The question with Pena is by how much will his BABIP rebound, and David G did a great job of examining this back in December. Assuming his BABIP does rebound to the .250’s, Pena could be a mid-round steal.
Right now, his ADP on Mock Draft Central is 217, and his aggregate RotoGraphs rank is 19th. Compare that to someone like Paul Konerko, who is likely due for a regression this season. If so, would you rather invest early in Konerko – his MDC ADP right now is a much pricier 71 – or wait a half-dozen more rounds and pick up Pena on the cheap?
LaRoche has alligator blood. The Nationals will be his fifth team, and it’s safe to say that his lot with the Nationals will not be greatly improved from his lot with the Diamondbacks. LaRoche is what he is at this point, a guy who is going to give you 20-25 homers and a .260ish average. His aggregate RotoGraphs preseason rank is 22, with no one placing him higher than 16th. But while there is little upside in LaRoche, there is a certain level of comfort as well. Akin to a TastyKake, LaRoche is never going to be a snack you go out of your way to get, but they’re both satisfying.
When you get down to the lower rungs of first base options, many of them are of the youngish variety. In fact, the two players surrounding LaRoche in the RG preseason ranks are Mitch Moreland and Freddie Freeman – two inexperienced players whose performances, while they hold more upside, are also likely prone to greater fluctuation. If you wait out first base, you may want to grab LaRoche as well as your phenom dujour, so that when said phenom puts up an 0-fer on his first four-city road trip, you don’t have to wallow in misery with him.
Say this about Berkman – he’s entertaining. Whether he’s taking unprovoked shots at the Rangers, or trying to Benjamin Button himself back to the outfield – and claiming that it will actually be easier in the process – Berkman is definitely going to keep beat reporters on their toes.
Whether or not he can keep opposing pitchers on their toes is another story. It would be folly to discount him altogether – after all, he is 37th all-time in OBP. Taking a look at his comparable players by age over on B-Ref, we see that four of them are Jim Edmonds, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz and Larry Walker. While Edmonds’ drop came a bit later than the other three, all of four had large single-season drops in wOBA in their thirties, only to rebound the following season.
It wouldn’t be wise to bet on Berkman turning the trick as well, but it could be smart to grab him late and stash him on your bench. His aggregate RotoGraphs ranking of 25 and his current MDC ADP of 391 show that he’ll be available late. And since the “Big Puma” has always been better in the first half (.980 career first-half OPS versus .923 in the second half), you may not have to wait long to find out if he will rebound. If he does, and with all of the RBI opportunities he’ll have behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, he could very well be this year’s Vladimir Guerrero that you flip in late June and snicker to yourself as he wilts in the summer heat. Buy low, sell high and all of that.