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Carlos Santana and Co. Make First Base Look Good

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After making the move to 1B last year, Carlos Santana is set to hold down the position full-time in 2015. The results should be good - but could be great.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Previous entries in my position-by-position comparison of the 2014 and 2015 Indians:

Catcher

Today I look at first base.

In 2014, the expectation was that we would see Nick Swisher playing a lot of 1B. Instead, I was surprised to see he played about 1/3rd of the season there - it seemed like he was never available. But Carlos Santana took over the everyday job on June 6 and, and there is no reason to think he won't hold it this year.

I pulled a list of every player who took the field in that role for the Indians in 2014, listed their wOBA and UZR/150, and the percentage of the team's PA they took in that position.

For the 2015 stats, you are seeing ZiPS projections for wOBA and my projection for UZR/150 based on what the player has done in the past. The 2015 playing time projections are also mine.

For wOBA, the 2014 numbers are position specific (meaning, for example, that in this post you're seeing what Santana did only when he was playing first base), while the 2015 numbers assume the player has the same wOBA regardless of where they play on the diamond. UZR/150 is always position-specific.

The Indians Total line is the pro-rated average of the guys who played (or will play) the position based on playing time; the AL average line is exactly what it sounds like - the average production for the league at the position.

First Base

Player 14 wOBA 14 UZR 14 playing time 15 wOBA 15 UZR 15 playing time
Carlos Santana 0.399 -0.9 59.1% 0.355 -3 75%
Nick Swisher 0.284 -18.4 33.1% 0.310 -10 10%
Jesus Aguilar 0.183 11.4 3.9% 0.295 0 5%
Lonnie Chisenhall 0.355 3.2 3.5% 0 0 0
Chris Gimenez 0.162 4 0.4% 0 0 0
Brandon Moss NA NA NA 0.345 -12 10%
Indians Total 0.350 -6.1 0 0.347 -4.5 0
AL Average 0.323 -0.5 0 0 0 0

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Carlos Santana is a monster. And he absolutely raked during his time as a 1B last year. He raked so much, in fact, that this chart makes ZiPS's .355 projection look weak, when really it is a slight tick UP from his 2014, overall. Santana, as you will see as we continue this series, posted this .399 wOBA as a 1B, while sitting at .247 as a C, .245 as a 3B, and .340 as a DH.

And it opens up an interesting question - did he just happen to put up his best plate appearances as a 1B or is there actual causation between his move to 1B and his improved performance?

Catcher is a physically tough position and Santana would not be the first to see his offense suffer thanks to 9 innings of crouching, blocking pitches, and diving in the dirt. Third base was a new position and he suggested last year that learning the spot shifted his focus away from his bat. Some guys just don't like being a DH - they feel disconnected from the game. So while ZiPS is projecting .355, you could certainly argue that it is mistaking his overall line for his true talent, while the .399 he posted as a full-time 1B is actually a better representation of what he is going to do this year.

And that is what will drive this position. In 2014, Indians 1B were mostly not good offensively, but Santana played the bulk of the time and was good enough to make the unit as a whole well above average. They were also very bad defensively.

I'd expect to see the offense stay about the same in 2015. Santana probably won't post a .399 wOBA, but he'll play more 1B, and the options behind him will be better. Swisher won't sniff 33% of the 1B PA unless he bounces back in a big way. Brandon Moss should get some time at 1B, if only to keep his surgically repaired him healthy, and he'll be an improvement. And if we see more of Jesus Aguilar...well he can't get worse.

Defensively, the picture is not as pretty. Santana could be average-ish, but Moss and Swisher are not close and I am hesitant to assume Aguilar will repeat his excellent defense from a very small sample size.

Based on that, the Indians should again be well above average overall at 1B and the chart above could understate their potential. Even if Santana doesn't outperform is ZiPS projection, he could get 80, 85 or even 90% of the 1B playing time, which would have a positive impact on both defense and offense at the position (though at the expense of DH, which we will cover later).

Your turn! Did I miss anyone who will get some time at 1B? Am I overly optimistic about Santana? Or not fully appreciative of what a healthy Nick Swisher can do?