The New York Yankees have had a hard time finding a steady, everyday first baseman since Mark Teixeira. Allow me to rephrase that. The Yankees have had a hard time finding a steady, everyday first baseman since year 4 of Tex’s Yankees contract.
We’ve had some flash in the pan first basemen come and go since the 2012 season. But now we need to buckle down. First is one of those power positions where you’re meant to have an offensive force. And that’s why the Yankees front office is scrambling right now. But we also shouldn’t settle for a power-hitting first baseman who can’t field his position. It’s the third most thrown to a position in the infield behind pitcher and catcher.
Just How Bad Have the Yankees First Basemen Been?
Here’s a list of some previous Yankees we’ve depended on at first since the 2012 season:
Mark Teixeira, Chris Carter, Ji-man Choi, Larry Walker, Kelly Johnson, Chase Headly, Tyler Austin, Mark Reynolds, Neil Walker, Greg Bird, Mike Ford, DJ LeMahieu, and Luke Voit. That’s 13 men at one position in the span of 7 years. And at this rate, DJ, Luke Voit, and Mike Ford are going to be the only 3 on the active roster for 2020.
So How Bad Is It for 2020?
Officially, not as bad as I’m painting the picture as.
We got Voit, Ford, and DJ as our official first basemen for 2020. This is a good core of potential first basemen.
Let’s Talk About Defense
You need a rock-solid defensive first baseman. Period. That’s the busiest position in baseball short of the pitchers’ mound and catcher. The obvious nod right now, for many, is probably going to DJ LeMahieu. He was our starting first baseman for the playoffs, after all.
But did you see that error he committed in the ALDS against the Twins?
Look, he’s won a Gold Glove at 2nd. He’s won multiple Gold Gloves at 2nd. But he’s decidedly a second baseman by trade, with the next most reps he has is at third (watch out Miggy and Gio). He simply doesn’t have that impressive of a body of work at first base. The most games he played at 1st prior to last year was 4. You read that right. 4 career games at 1st base prior to the 2019 campaign.
To put it into perspective, Luke Voit has the EXACT SAME fielding percentage DJ LeMahiue has for his career at second base. There is something to be said about having someone play a position regularly. By this logic, Voit and Mike Ford are the CLEAR and present front runners for 1st base in 2020. And the edge needs to go to Voit, as Voit has better career defensive statistics than Mike Ford (at no fault to Ford. One can expect that of a career minor leaguer).
But What About Offense?
It depends entirely upon what you’re looking for at the position. DJ is a pure contact hitter. He has a career .302 batting average, averaging 150 hits per season since 2014. Last year was the best offensive statistical year he had (hitting over 20 home runs and driving in over 100 runs for the first time in his career). Meanwhile, in an injury-shortened season, Luke Voit hit .263, with 21 home runs, 62 rbi’s, 21 doubles, scored 72 times on 113 hits. Not bad for someone who hasn’t played a full season in the bigs yet.
Mike Ford, in 143 at-bats, hit 12 home runs, with a .259/.350/.559 slash line. He’s in a position to be the optimum prototypical first baseman offensively for 2020, a .260-.280 batting average, with 20+ home runs, and closer to 100 RBI’s. But… the same can be said for Luke Voit.
So who should get the nod?
Luke Voit has to be our starting first baseman for the 2020 campaign. He’s got more experience at the position and is built like a brick wall. In my brief time playing first in little league baseball, that’s your job as a first baseman, keep everything in front of you. And having a brick wall/NFL linebacker at first base makes it easier for you to keep all the throws in the infield. Mike Ford needs to be the backup first baseman. By the end of 2020 or 2021, Ford will be in a better position to take over more regularly at first base should the Yankees part ways with Voit. And that’s a good thing. The DJ LeMahieu experiment at first base was worthwhile but ultimately futile. His services are better suited to other positions on the team. And it’s clear that the Yankees want to move DJ over to second on a more permanent basis. Which is a mistake?
But more on that next time.