A little follow-up to my post the other day about the decline in production across the majors from first basemen. High Heat Stats MLB sent this tweet my way:
There's less and less disparity in offensive output among positions: pic.twitter.com/URWKoATwFl— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) February 11, 2016
What the chart basically shows is that the production of all positions has tightened since the 1970s. Second basemen and shortstops, in particular, hit much better than they once did. First basemen just haven't improved, relative to the league, at the same rate. In other words, first basemen don't look as good because second basemen and shortstops are no longer the .250 banjo hitters who littered major league lineups not so long ago.
On another aspect, teams just haven't drafted and developed many top-hitting first basemen in recent years. From to 2003 to 2011, many first-round picks were spent on first basemen who didn't pan out:
2003, 11th pick: Michael Aubrey (Indians)
2003, 19th pick: Conor Jackson (Diamondbacks)
2005, 39th pick: Hank Sanchez (Twins)
2007, 7th pick: Matt LaPorta (Brewers)
2007, 13th pick: Beau Mills (Indians)
2007, 41st pick: Sean Doolittle (A's)
2008, 3rd pick: Eric Hosmer (Royals)
2008, 7th pick: Yonder Alonso (Reds)
2008, 11th pick: Justin Smoak (Rangers)
2008, 13th pick: Brett Wallace (Cardinals)
2008, 17th pick: David Cooper (Blue Jays)
2011, 17th pick: C.J. Cron (Angels)
Hosmer is the big success story here, worth 9.0 WAR in his five seasons. Doolittle reached the majors only after moving to pitching. Guys like Alonso, Smoak and Wallace were elite college hitters who were supposed to rake in the majors. The last really big star first baseman taken in the first round was Prince Fielder way back in the 2002. I don't know if this failure rate matches other positions or not; there just aren't that many first basemen taken in the first round to begin with, since they have to hit at such a high level just to make the majors.
Look at where today's best first basemen were drafted (the top 10 via WAR):
Paul Goldschmidt: 8th round (2009)
Joey Votto: 2nd round (2002)
Anthony Rizzo: 6th round (2007)
Chris Davis: 5th round (2006)
Miguel Cabrera: Venezuela
Adrian Gonzalez: 1st round (2000)
Brandon Belt: 5th round (2009)
Mark Teixeira: 1st round (2001)
Jose Abreu: Cuba
Eric Hosmer: 1st round (2008)
Rizzo, Davis and Gonzalez were all traded before they established themselves as major leaguers (Rizzo and Gonzalez, in fact, were both traded twice). Votto moved to first base after his first season in the minors. Cabrera played the outfield and third base before moving to first.
Maybe the moral of the story is: Don't use a first-round pick on a first baseman.