Position Roundtables: Starting First Baseman
Starting First Baseman: Richie Sexson
Richie Sexson in a nutshell:
He’s a local boy.
He strikes out a lot.
He’s going to hit .270/.370/.530 unless his shoulder falls apart.
Seriously, there’s almost no variance in his year to year numbers. Even PECOTA picks up on this, basically pegging him for an exact repeat of his 2005 season despite being 31 years old, an age when projection systems start throwing red flags everywhere and forecasting doom and despair. After a full year of taking hacks, we can hope that his shoulder is again at full strength, and barring a relapse, there’s basically no reason to expect Sexson to decline dramatically. When healthy, he’s put up the same line over and over. And, considering that he’s good enough to overcome the Safeco Curse on Righties, that makes him a darn good player.
My concern, though, is that there’s literally no contingency plan. If Sexson gets hurt, the starting first baseman is… Raul Ibanez or Carl Everett, probably. And then you’re shifting things around defensively at two positions while replacing Sexson’s bat in the line-up with Matt Lawton’s. As much as we think Lawton was a nice value pickup, that’s a massive downgrade.
Sexson has to stay healthy and play 150 games. The M’s can’t contend without him. They don’t have any real options if he goes down. His health isn’t an option.
The most chilling three-word English phrases, in order:
1. “Let’s be friends.”
2. “That’s not mayonnaise.”
3. “If he’s healthy …”
The battery of tests and blue-ribbon panel of doctors gave Sexson’s shoulder a clean bill of health, and it didn’t fly out of it’s socket at all last year. This is a salve for some of my concerns.
For more salve, here’s a positive thought: Sexson had a fantastic year last year. But here’s a sobering counterpoint: he’s not likely to improve upon it — and if he’s injured or falls off, that’s a significant power gap in the team’s offense. As Dave says, the available alternatives are enough to make a man with mononucleosis go on a Nyquil bender.
Okay, Dave didn’t say that, but still. When the next-best solution is a brutal downgrade both at bat and in the field, signs point to trouble.
For the M’s, the best-case scenario is essentially Sexson repeating last year. For the worst-case scenario, well … let’s just say it ends with a Nyquil bender.
Sexson to Ibanez: a little more contact, less OBP, a ton less power
Sexson to Everett: even worse
I don’t actually think Lawton in the lineup more often is so bad. Lawton
likely to be just as good as Everett, though with his injury and last
year’s drug saga… but we’ll get to that. It’s Lawton in the lineup and
one of those dudes at first. That’s just ugliness. And both those guys
would be huge defensive downgrades. Sexson is the foundation of this
There is no other power threat in the lineup. After Sexson, we’re back
to a 2004 singles-only offense.You’re hoping for a rebound from Beltre,
or a development leap from Jose Lopez. Or, if you’ll pardon this plug,
the Return of the Return of Doyle.
This isn’t just about the team being able to score runs. If you’re a fan
of team balance, a team without power should rankle you. If you’re a fan
of exciting baseball, that Sexson is the only power hitter should scare
you. The singles-and-outs offense is amazingly boring. That’s great if
you want to fall asleep at the ballpark or watching the game at home,
but if you want to see this team winning, well… keep Sexson in your
thoughts and prayers.
I’m not sure I’d say Sexson repeating his ’05 is the best case scenario. His weighted mean PECOTA projection is basically a repeat of last year, so it sees that as a middle ground with potential for a better season. I think its unlikely that Sexson hits .300/.400/.600, but I would have said the same thing about Derrek Lee last year.
Just putting wild guesses into percentages, I’d say that Sexson has about a 50 percent chance to approximate last years performance, a 30 percent chance of declining with injury making up a big chunk of that, and a 20 percent chance of actually having a better year in ’06 than he did last year. The career year is the least likely of the three scenarios, but the possibility isn’t zero, I don’t think.
PECOTA thinks there’s a 15% chance his performance spikes up, a whopping
43% chance next year’s an improvement on this year. 43%. Wow.
Last year, in discussing the tallest Mariner, we seemed to focus on two possibilities: Sexson gets hurt early and only plays in a handful of games, or Sexson stays healthy all year. Fotunately for everyone, the latter was reality. Richie Sexson is the only hitter from last year’s team about whom I’d say “He had a good year” — he led the club in OPS by a ridiculous margin, and no, I don’t think Ichiro had a good year given what he’s done in the past.
Looking at his games played over the past six years, 2004’s “23” is clearly the abberation — throw that out, and he’s averaged 156 games played over five seasons. I’m not nearly as worried about his shoulder as I was this time a year ago, and given the power he displayed last season it seems unlikely we’re looking at another Shawn Green situation.
That said, the M’s certainly can’t afford to lose him for any significant stretch of time if they’re going to be respectable next season… unless you think spring training invitee Todd Sears can duplicate in the majors the .321/.394/.499 line he posted in the minors last year.