Next up is my choice for American League First Baseman. Voting totals can be found here.
The first baseman used to be the position where teams would shove the unathletic slugger and sacrifice defense for the sake of a big bat. With the game shifting back towards the pitchers, defensive first basemen are more important than ever. A first baseman can cut errors off from teammates by making smooth plays with quick hands and feet. The first baseman is as much a part of the game as anyone else, needing to be focused on every play in the event of a ground ball. First base in the American League is still a position of hitting strength, especially as two of the NL's biggest hitters made their way over to the AL to hook up with contenders. On to the analysis:
#1. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers 1,946,045
Prince Fielder has lived up to the hype. In a previous article, I questioned whether Prince was the next King of Motown, and he may well be on his way. I projected his stat line to be somewhere along the lines of a .287 AVG, .376 OBP, .617 SLG, .993 OPS, 50 HR, and 121 RBI. Here we'll analyze Fielder's success thus far and determine if he is on pace to meet that goal.
Prince has showcased his durability by showing up in 69 games so far this season. Much to the disappointment of the Tigers, the power numbers have not quite been Fielder-like. Isolated power is a statistic that measures a players ability to hit for extra bases, providing some "pop" to the offense. From 2008-2011, Fielder was able to connect for power on pitches throughout the strike zone, but this season, it seems like he is missing a hitter's favorite pitch - right down the middle.
Fielder should be feasting on pitches in the middle of the zone, but he has yet to find his power stroke there, and it has cost him some home runs early on. Let's look at his stats to this point.
69 G, 80 H, 15 2b, 1 3b, 11 HR, 30 BB, 40 SO, 45 RBI, 1 SB, .309 AVG, .386 OBP, .502 SLG
The average and on base percentage are above my projections for Fielder, but the slugging is way down, as he has settled for only 27 extra base hits out of his 80. Compared to other first basemen in the American League, Fielder is absolutely all-star worthy as a middle of the order presence who has had a little trouble adjusting to the not so friendly confines of Comerica Park. If Fielder settles in and starts launching balls left in the middle of the plate, he will put up monster numbers in the second half.
#2. Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox 1,680,793
Has anyone ever been as quiet a productive hitter as Paul Konerko has been in his career. For fantasy fans, Konerko is your prototypical .300/25/95 lock every season, and so far he is by no means disappointing anyone. Did you know he leads American League qualifiers in batting average at .354?! Konerko is like a fine wine; he continues to get better with age. Some of his success this year can be attributed to his ability to hit pitches in the upper half of the strike zone.
The right handed slugger has increased his ability to drive the ball in the upper part of the zone, leading to a higher batting average as he takes advantage of pitchers' mistakes. One of the tough breaks for Konerko is that he is in a lineup that has struggled to get on in front of him when he muscles up; runners have been on base for only four of his thirteen home runs. Here are Konerko's numbers to this point.
62 G, 81 H, 14 2b, 13 HR, 26 BB, 37 SO, 39 RBI, .354 AVG, .426 OBP, .585 SLG
In seven less games, he has accumulated one more hit than Fielder, as well as two more home runs. He is sixth in the AL in RBI and tied for second in home runs. He has the highest OBP and SLG among qualifying first basemen and has been all around one of the best hitters in baseball over the first half. Konerko is a stud, and with one week left in voting, he could easily overtake Fielder for the starting nod at Kauffman Stadium.
#3. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees 1,405,187
Tex has slowly been on the decline the past couple of seasons. Between 2008 and 2009, Teixeira played for three different teams, all the while averaging .300, hitting 72 home runs, and knocking in 241 RBI. After his first season in pinstripes, the average dropped off the table, as he has hit a paltry .253 since '09. The home runs and RBI have always stayed about the same, as he continued to have 30+ HR, 100+ RBI seasons. Teixeira is one of the few switch hitters in this league that you can say does not lose much power when switching sides of the plate, as evidenced by his .460/.484 right-handed/left-handed splits for slugging percentage. At this point in his career, it is safe to say that Tex has developed into a pull power hitter, as ten of his twelve home runs have been to the pull field, bolstering a .406 ISO when pulling the ball. Take a look below at Teixeira's pull field heat zones.
Tex has been a commodity at first base for a long time, coupling power form both sides of the plate with gold glove caliber defense throughout his career. His ability to perform in a big market and produce power numbers at a steady rate make him one of the best in the game, but not quite at all-star starter level this season. His stats are below.
65 G, 62 H, 17 2b, 12 HR, 28 BB, 37 SO, 40 RBI, 1 SB, .256 AVG, 336 OBP, .475 SLG.
Overall, Tex's numbers are fantastic, and he should definitely be considered for a reserve role on the team.
#4. Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers 1,202,724
Now I think Mitch Moreland is as good as the next guy, but I believe there are plenty of players having a better season at the first base bag. Moreland only cracks the top ten in traditional stats for first basemen in HRs with ten. Every other statistic calls Moreland out as an above average first baseman in the league. Since he has been connecting on home runs, we will look at the general locations of where he is hitting the ball for out of the park power.
As you can see, Moreland has been taking advantage of balls left out over the plate on the outer half. As long as he continues to contribute at least HRs to Texas' lineup, the rest of the team will carry the load in other respects. Let's take a look at his stats.
55 G, 43 H, 8 2b, 10 HR, 12 BB, 31 SO, 25 RBI, .272 AVG, .326 OBP, .513 SLG
The power numbers are there, but I find it hard to believe that a guy with half as many hits at Konerko and Fielder should be given the nod in the Summer Classic.
Wild Card: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
So "The Machine" has finally flipped the switch to on, and pumped the volume up to eleven. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he turned on his stroke, but a horrific first month may have cost him a berth in the all-star game. After Pujols launched his first home run, everything turned around. Below, we look at his slugging percentage from before his first long ball, and after.
It was only a matter of time before Albert figured it out, and he is positively crushing the ball right now. After he hit that first home run, he started punishing mistake pitches left in the zone. Here is a look at his total stat line.
69 G, 69 H, 17 2b, 11 HR, 24 BB, 34 K, 43 RBI, 4 SB, .255 AVG, .312 OBP, .439 SLG
The numbers are not quite there for an all star appearance at the half, but to not be concerned; Albert Pujols will have an amazing second half if he stays the hitter in the second graphic.
Starter: Paul Konerko
Reserve: Prince Fielder
3: Mark Teixeira
4: Chris Davis (Didn't discuss him but he is having quite the season out in Baltimore)