clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sorting out the First Base Race

Let me show you my "I'm going to take this pitch" face.
Let me show you my "I'm going to take this pitch" face.

There are three contenders for the first base job. While Daric Barton is precluded from the discussion of candidates for Opening Day as he won’t be travelling to Japan with the team, he still is in the mix for the job once the A’s return to America. That leaves the Japanese opener as a battle between Brandon Allen and Kila Ka'aihue.

Spring stats are notoriously meaningless, but let’s take a look at them nonetheless:

PA Slash Line HR BB/K
Allen 39 .303/.359/.576 2 2/5
Barton 22 .176/.364/.235 0 5/4
Ka’aihue 36 .242/.278/.606 3 2/9

Allen obviously played the most and had the best results. Ka’aihue led the club in home runs, but had a pedestrian batting average, pretty abysmal on base percentage and had the third most strikeouts of any Athletic in the Cactus League as well (only Josh Donaldson and Chris Carter had more). Barton had an impressive OBP but his batting average wasn’t there and as is expected from him there wasn’t as much pop in his bat as many expect from a first baseman.

But let’s delve a bit further into this. In the Cactus League guys aren’t playing against MLB pitchers everyday. Oftentimes MiLB guys come over to fill a few innings, particularly in split-squad games, and other times this time of year is used for on the bubble guys to get some time in against live competition so that their big league parents can overlook their development first hand. Here’s how the three fared against MLB pitching. I defined MLB pitching as pitchers who had made the Majors, this is an inexact science as it included guys like Michael Fiers of the Brewers who has a big bad two innings of MLB work under his belt. But regardless, here is how they fared against guys that have made it all the way to baseball’s highest tier of play:

PA Slash Line HR BB/K
Allen 29 .280/.310/.440 1 1/4
Barton 16 .250/.438/.333 0 4/3
Ka’aihue 25 .250/.280/.600 2 1/7

Suddenly, the difference between Allen and Ka’aihue all but evaporates and even Barton begins to look arguably more impressive than does Allen. The thing to remember is we are dealing with now an even smaller sample size but it seems Allen truly beat up on MiLB pitching (one note Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners was considered an MiLB pitcher for his time spent in Japan):

PA Slash Line HR BB/K
Allen 10 .375/.500/1.000 1 1/1
Barton 6 .000/.167/.000 0 1/1
Ka’aihue 11 .222/.273/.556 1 1/2

Barton and Ka’aihue really struggled against the MiLB guys, and one can argue these are guys really trying to impress whereas the MLB guys are just working on new pitches et cetera and aren’t afraid of being lit up. But so many of the MLB pitchers were Fiers-like bubble guys, that they were perhaps among those most likely to show everything they got in the hopes of turning heads and earning a roster spot. Regardless, the point of this exercise is that a) spring statistics are indeed meaningless, b) small sample sizes does render most of this useless but c) there wasn’t that much daylight between these three regardless. This is one battle where it might all come down to what coaches saw on the sidelines as opposed to what we all witnessed between the white lines.