There has been some angst among Milwaukee Brewers fans about the recent acquisition of Mark Reynolds. Many point to his high strikeout totals, low batting average and on-base percentage, and his questionable defense as reasons that this was a bad decision. It’s only fair then to compare what Reynolds brings to the table versus what the Brewers got out of first base in 2013.
Last season, Milwaukee employed seven different players at first base over the course of the season. In order of plate appearances at that position, they were: Juan Francisco, Yuniesky Betancourt, Sean Halton, Alex Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldanado and Blake Lalli. The fact that two non-first basemen (Betancourt and Gonzalez) had 241 plate appearances from that position tells you almost all you need to know.
This collection of misfit toys weren’t just bad, they were horrendous. Among the 15 NL teams, the Brewers’ first basemen were dead last in batting average (.206), on-base percentage (.259) and OPS (.629). Those numbers harken back to the dead-ball era of first base offensive futility. Sometimes it’s hyperbole to say anything would be better than this. Well, that would be a accurate statement in this case.
Let’s compare these numbers with Reynolds’ worst season in MLB, which happened to be last year. He had a .220 batting average, which was 14 points higher than the Brewers’ first basemen. His OBP wasn’t pretty at .306, but it has a 47-point edge on the Brew Crew. I didn’t touch on slugging percentage above, but it was .370 for Milwaukee, while Reynolds was at .393 for the season.
Finally, his OPS was a full 70 points better as well. So, Reynolds beat out Milwaukee first basemen in each of slash line categories, with wide margins in two of them. Let’s not forget that this was his worst season as a pro.
If you look at his last three seasons, his averages were even better in OBP (.321), slugging percentage (.438) and OPS (.759). There’s potential for him to be a major contributor, particularly if they can slot his bat lower in the order.
On the defensive side of the ball, it can be a little trickier to utilize stats effectively. Many statistics on defense require an examination over a few years to truly judge one’s ability. One stat that appears to be a quality gauge is defensive runs saved. This measures, in runs, how much above or below average a player is at that position in a given season. Zero is considered average on this scale.
The Brewers’ first basemen posted a -4 DRS last season, meaning they cost the team four runs. Reynolds had a DRS of -5, so basically a wash in that department.
While Reynolds has his defensive issues, he’s far more experienced at first base than the next option, Francisco. Reynolds has played over 2,000 innings at first, while Francisco has only experienced 532 frames. It’s possible Reynolds is as much a butcher as Francisco, but he has more range and won’t drop balls that hit him directly in the mitt.
Reynolds isn’t the greatest option in the world, but he’s a sizable improvement over what the team fielded last season, and he’s the best guy the Brewers currently have on the team.