The American League East is home to several interesting candidates at 1st basemen. Where does Blue Jays’ 1st baseman Travis Shaw rank?
The Blue Jays said good-bye to Justin Smoak this offseason. I liked Smoak. He came into his own in Toronto, hitting over 100 home runs and posting a .796OPS in 5 seasons. With all due respect to Smoak, he’s no Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, Willie Upshaw, or John Olerud. In 2020, the Blue Jays will be turning to Travis Shaw and Rowdy Tellez to fill Smoak’s shoes. Using Roster Resource, we run through the other American League East 2nd baseman. Although there are multitudes of interpretive rankings for this position, this is the order I saw them in:
- Rays- Ji-Man Choi
- Blue Jays- Travis Shaw and Rowdy Tellez
- Red Sox- Mitch Moreland
- Yankees- Luke Voit
- Orioles- Chris Davis
To rank and differentiate this pool of strong candidates, I based my decisions on the combination of various factors:
- Career WAR
- Age (whether they’re approaching their peak or closure to regression)
- Contractual situation – the length and cost of players control influences their value
- Steamer WAR Projections for 2020 – what is their anticipated production
- Offense – what is their track record
- Defense – what is their track record
#1 Tampa Bay Rays – Ji-Man Choi
|Career WAR||2.7 (BR) and 2.8 (Fangraphs)|
|Contractual Situation||Arbitration eligible in 2021 through 2023. UFA in 2024 @33|
|2020 Steamer WAR Projection||1.3|
The Tampa Bay Rays have a couple of options at 1st base. For me, Ji-Man Choi is the most logical option over Nate Lowe, Jose Martinez, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Nate Lowe has minor league options, making him an easy choice to start the year in the minors. Jose Martinez should split his reps between DH and 1st base with a couple starts in the outfield. Tsutsugo is a bit of an unknown when it comes to playing in the MLB. Tsutsugo could see time at 1st base, 3rd base, LF, and DH. Choi appeared in 103 games at 1st base with 16 games as the club’s DH.
Choi produced a .348wOBA and 121wRC+ while posting a .198ISO. Although Choi is your typical home run hitting 1st base, Ji-Man did a good job of getting on base with a 13.1BB% (Top 9% of the league) and .363OBP. He finished with a .261BA and .822OPS. Choi finished with very good percentile rankings in exit velocity (85th, 91.1), hard hit% (72nd, 52.4), xwOBA (86th, .366), and xSLG (77th, .498). Baseball-Reference gave Choi a 2.0 oWAR.
In 2019, Ji-Man Choi showed he’s capable of providing league-average defense at 1st base with a -1DRS and -2.2UZR. Baseball-Reference gave him a -0.7dWAR for his play in the field.
Ji-Man Choi is entering his prime production years but the cash strapped Rays may decide to move Choi if Nate Lowe shows he is ready to take over 1st base. Choi will hit arbitration next offseason and should see a healthy pay increase if he repeats his 2019 production. Beyond 2020, Lowe provides the Rays with more years of control and won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2022.
Potential Backups- Nate Lowe, Jose Martinez, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
#2 Toronto Blue Jays – Travis Shaw
|Career WAR||10.6 (BR) and 9.1 (Fangraphs)|
|Contractual Situation||1-year deal worth 4M. Abr in 2021. FA in 2022|
|2020 Steamer WAR Projection||1.3|
Travis Shaw did not have a very good 2019. He spent time in Triple-A and posted his first negative WAR in 4 seasons. The Blue Jays are taking a flier on the 1st/3rd baseman in the hopes he can regain his 3.5 and 3.6 WAR form he showed with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017 and 2018.
Shaw finished with a disappointing .157 batting average and 7 home runs across 86 games with the Brew Crew. After posting .240 and .239 ISO two years prior, Shaw managed just a .113ISO. He looked much better in Triple-A with a video game-esque 20.7BB%, 21.3K%, and .301ISO while smashing 12HR in 42 games. Which means nothing if he can’t replicate that success in the Majors. Shaw finished slightly above league average with an 88.7mph exit velocity but his .334 xSLG was a far cry from the .412 xSLG league average. His 13.3BB% is an encouraging sign that Shaw hasn’t lost his eye at the plate. Hopefully tweaking his swing will fix the 33.0K% he posted.
Defensively, Shaw started 56 games at 3rd base and just 2 at 1st base in 2019. We can expect to see Shaw play more 1st base with the Blue Jays with a certain Vladimir Guerrero Jr. laying claim to the hot corner. In his limited time at 1st base, Travis Shaw has posted a career 4DRS and 7.5UZR. In 2019, he posted a 0.6URZ and 1DRS showing he could be a decent defensive 1st base for the Blue Jays.
While I have a feeling that Rowdy Tellez is on the outside looking in with regard to the Opening Day roster. I am not suggesting Tellez is done or the organization is moving away from the 24-yr-old. In 111 games, Tellez finished with a .222ISO and 21 HR. His exit velocity was in the 80th percentile while his hard hit% and xSLG were just shy of the 70th percentile. Rowdy also finished in the top 9% of the league with a 13.2 barrel%. We will see Tellez in Toronto in 2020.
Steamer projects Rowdy Tellez to appear in 58 games, hitting 11 home runs, and producing a 0.1WAR.
#3 Boston Red Sox – Mitch Moreland
|Career WAR||8.9 (BR) and 6.3 (Fangraphs)|
|Contractual Situation||One year at 3M with an option for 2021|
|2020 Steamer WAR Projection||0.7|
The former 2007 draft pick of the Texas Rangers is entering his 11th season in the Majors and 4th with the Boston Red Sox. With Boston, Moreland produced three seasons with a mid .200 batting while hitting around 20 home runs in each of those seasons. In 2019, Moreland appeared in 91 games and produced a .347wOBA and 112wRC+. He set a career-high ISO with .255 while posting a .500xSLG.
The veteran 1st baseman finished with an average exit velocity of 90.8mph, good for 47th in the MLB. His 26 barrels ranked 126th and resulted in an 11.5 barrel%. Baseball-Reference game Mitch Moreland a 1.2 oWAR.
Defensively, Moreland played 663.2 innings at 1st base with a 0DRS and -1.8URZ. It was the 2nd year with a 0 DRS and 1st season where Moreland finished with a negative URZ. With over 8000 innings at 1st base, Moreland owns a career 18DRS and 23.9URZ.
If healthy, Moreland should continue getting the majority of the reps at 1st base for Boston. That is of course until Bobby Dalbec shows up. At which time Moreland may begin to split reps with Dalbec at 1st base and DH.
#4 New York Yankees – Luke Voit
|Career WAR||3.7 (BR) and 4.0 (Fangraphs)|
|Contractual Situation||5-yrs of team control. FA in 2025|
|2020 Steamer WAR Projection||0.8|
The New York Yankees won the lottery when they grabbed Voit in 2018. Voit went on to hit over .330 with 14HR in 39 games. Luke wasn’t able to sustain that level of production batting .263 with 21HR over 118 games in 2019.
Offensively, Voit finished with a 2.4 oWAR (Offensive wins above replacement). In his first full season in pinstripes, he’s notched an impressive .842OPS while posting a .360wOBA and 126wRC+. Luke Voit hits the ball hard with a 40.4 hard hit%, .494xSLG, and a 13.2 Barrel% (Top 9% in the league). He also does a great job of getting on-base with a 13.9BB% (Top 6% in the league) and an impressive .378OBP.
Luke Voit finished with a -1.2 dWAR in 2019 while playing 83 games at 1st base. He posted a -3.9UZR and -11.9UZR/150. His DRS was -6, pushing career DRS to -11. Obviously, not a Gold Glove candidate.
#5 Baltimore Orioles- Chris Davis
|Career WAR||14.5 (BR) and 12.7 (Fangraphs)|
|Contractual Situation||Signed through 2022. AAV 23M (ouch)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||-0.5|
Once one of the game’s most feared hitters, Chris Davis is almost an automatic out these days. Davis played over a 105 games, finishing with a .179BA, an improvement over the .168 batting average he posted in 2018. Chris Davis finished with an ugly .263wOBA (Bottom 1% of the league) and 58wRC+.
The Orioles 1st baseman finished in the 50th percentile in hard hit% and exit velocity. Davis barreled 10.5% for an exit velocity of 89.1mph. He hit 8 of his 12 home runs off fastballs and batted .243 off them. Baseball-Reference gave Chris Davis a -1.0 oWAR.
In the field, Chris Davis appeared in 97 games at 1st base (86 starts). He 0DRS and 0.4URZ, providing the O’s with a decent glove at 1st. He owns a career 2.5URZ and -3DRS in close to 10, 000 innings at 1st.
The last time Chris Davis didn’t post a negative WAR was in 2017 when he posted a 0 WAR. It would be great for the O’s if he came close to those lofty numbers.
The AL East, home to a number of the games most exciting young players; unfortunately, the division doesn’t have many big-name 1st basemen. I was surprised to see Tampa’s Choi head the list. An argument could be made for Shaw but his 1.3WAR projections in 2020 are much more uncertain than Choi’s 1.3WAR projections.
Boston should get steady production from Moreland. I had Moreland’s 0.7WAR finish ahead of Luke Voit’s 0.8WAR on defensive ability. Although, an argument could be made for Voit to finish 3rd on this list strictly on his years of control and his age.
Chris Davis was an easy choice to finish last but as a fan of the game and a fan of comeback stories, I really hope Davis has a monster season for the lowly O’s.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of JFtC Ryan Mueller
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Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn’t cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I’m more right.