2014 Recaps: Getting Expensive Replacement Level Production From First Base

For the past few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been relying on a platoon at first base, trying to get All-Star production for a fraction of the price. Each year the platoon has struggled due to one player in the duo playing below his career average platoon splits. This year, everyone in the platoon struggled.

The Pirates started the season with Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez. Ishikawa won the job out of Spring Training, after Andrew Lambo struggled for a few weeks at the plate in his transition to the field. He hit for a .646 OPS in 15 games before the Pirates traded for Ike Davis to fill the left side of the platoon.

Davis started strong with the Pirates, posting an .862 OPS in the month of May. He then started to struggle, never posting an OPS over .747 in a given month, and falling below a .600 OPS in the month of June.

Meanwhile, Gaby Sanchez also struggled. The right-hander had a strong history of crushing left-handed pitching, but only managed a .746 OPS this season. Just like Davis, he was crushing the ball in May, posting an .898 OPS. He fell under a .600 OPS in every month after that, with the one exception being his .720 OPS in August.

By the end of the season, the Pirates had Pedro Alvarez getting time at first base, although the experiment was short-lived due to an injury that ended his season early. Alvarez was struggling with his fielding at third base, and his hitting also struggled, with just a .770 OPS against right-handers, compared to an .842 OPS last year, and an .833 OPS in 2012.

The Pirates also moved Tony Sanchez to first base down in Triple-A. That move was more a result of Elias Diaz needing time behind the plate. It was an interesting move, due to the fact that Sanchez has done well hitting left-handed pitching.

Overall, the first base position was easily the worst position for the Pirates this year. The group combined for exactly replacement level production, all while making a little over $10 M. Everyone remaining on the team is due a raise through arbitration, which means this off-season will provide a challenge for the Pirates to keep the players they think will bounce back, and get rid of the expensive players who might be starting their decline.

The Future

The Pirates will be going with some platoon combination in 2015. From the left-hand side, it will either be Pedro Alvarez or Ike Davis. From the right-hand side it will either be Gaby Sanchez or Tony Sanchez. My guess is that it will be Alvarez and Gaby Sanchez, although a lot of this depends on whether Tony Sanchez will be needed behind the plate, and what kind of trade value the Pirates could get for the other three players.

In the long-term, the answer at first base looks to be Josh Bell. The outfielder is making the move to first base this off-season in the AFL, and should be expected to continue that move next year. He should start off in Altoona, and could move up to Indianapolis by the end of the year. A conservative timeline has him making the majors by mid-season 2016, taking over as the starting first baseman.

Bell was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, and was given a $5 M bonus after he sent a letter to all teams saying he wouldn’t sign if he was drafted. That letter was the reason he went in the second round, rather than the top half of the first round. At the time he had hitting tools that you could dream on, with the potential for plus power and plus average. He broke out at the plate in 2014, showing off that ability to hit for average, along with some power in his time in A-ball.

He looks like a guy who could hit 20-25 homers, and possibly more, along with a .300 average. That would definitely play at first base, and would make Bell a fixture in the lineup for years.

Before Bell arrives, the Pirates need another year and a half of platoon players. Which players they go with will be an interesting topic¬†this off-season, since they’re in a position where none of the options, even the free agents, look strong.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Ike will bring it next year.. let gabby go.. trade pedro.. ike full time 1b.. enough of all this oakland platoon nonsense.


I can hit lefties better than Ike, and my cat can hit lefties better than Pedro. Can we please get rid of all of them and find someone without platoon splits who can just hit. 260 and 10 homers and play slightly above average defense? I’ll take a .720 OPS if it comes with some degree of consistency


The Savior James Loney had a whopping .9 WAR this year.

I think all you guys are using historical numbers instead of numbers compared to others. 1B was down but compared to the rest of the league it wasn’t that bad.


that whopping .9 is 1 win more than we had with two players who were making more than loney signed for, all while taking up an extra roster spot which could have easily account for another 1 win


Has there ever been a mlb player who is eligible for arbitration actually be awarded a salary less than the year before arbitration ? If you have a really bad year is it possible an arbitrator could give you less money .


The team puts forth its arbitration figure. The player puts forth his. The arbitrator chooses.

I’m not aware of it ever happening, but I ‘spose it could be possible theoretically to come outta arbitration worse than you went in. However, I imagine the CBA has rules against it.


The way the process works is that the player has to first be tendered – offered arbitration. There are numerous cases were players coming off of bad years are not offered arbitration – and in some cases they actually come back to the team at a lower salary – or the same salary. If a players has played well enough to get offered arbitration it generally comes down to how big an increase he will get not whether he gets one.

I can envision the Bucs not offering Gaby arbitration and trying to resign him for $2-3M. If they offer him arb he will get at least $4M – way more than he is worth in his platoon role.

John Lease

Gabby Sanchez again? If the Pirates want to save money, not giving him any more is a good place to start. He hit .207 against righties 3 years ago, 204 against righties 2 years ago, .202 this past year. That’s not a trend, that’s a guy who can’t hit right handed pitching.


Tim, in a related matter, I have a lingering
question about El Toro. My impression is that Pedro does not use the
off-season to improve his skills. He has refused to play winter ball
when NH wanted him to go south. His level of plate discipline seems to
have remained at the rookie level as when he first arrived and his
concentration with his throwing is almost revolting (where’s Don Hoak
when you need him?). I hate this lingering question about his commitment
and efforts. Can you clarify his work ethic? Thanks. -Bucco fanatic
since 1957 who prefers “Beat’em Bucs!” to “Go Bucs!”

IC Bob

All good questions. I have heard Pedro has a great work ethic but it sure doesn’t translate to the field. I think Pedros good when you don’t count on him and you bat him 7th. As soon as you ask for more you seem to get less.


Jared. Stop drinkin the Kool-aid. I said, “big time” project. What happens if, this project doesn’t pan out? He’s lost a year and half of outfield development in an already young, deep and talented Pirates outfield. He still has a lot to learn in the outfield- ball off the bat, angles, routes, ARM STRENGTH development. He certainly is NOT going to get any of that at first base. Remember this- baseball is a big time business-just saying!


I don’t get what you mean. Are you suggesting that if Bell doesn’t pan out at 1B, then he gets switched back to being an OF? With the OF the team has for the foreseeable future, why would you wanna do that? And if he doesn’t pan out with the bat, it doesn’t matter where he plays– unless he learns to pitch or something.

Lots of players have been moved to 1B over the years and it’s not like they’re telling him to become Johnny Mize by the end of the month or anything.


They’ll know fairly quick during this process. What I was saying is that this process takes away from his outfield development. He has a lot to develop in his outfield skill sets- remember he missed almost a full season with a knee injury and part of his AA season with a knee issue. They have a huge investment in Josh from a business standpoint as well. His name was coming up a lot in recent trade rumors- deal just didn’t done. Different animal at first base when you are trying to transition from a outfield to first base- situations, glove/hand actions etc. etc. That’s all I am trying to say! It is not that simple- complex-ed is a probably a better word.


He’s been an most of his life and all his minor league career until now. So he may not be a finished product, but it’s not like he’d have to learn being an OF from scratch if he can’t hack 1B. But barring an unforeseen event, his path to MLB is blocked in the OF with the Pirates. Hence the move to 1B. Learning another position would only increase his trade value.

All reports are that he’s not the defensive OF that McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco are– and there’s a few prospects who are ahead of him on that score as well, I’m sure. So it’s not like moving him outta the OF is really gonna deprive the team of some phenomenal defensive talent; whereas not getting his bat in the lineup because he doesn’t have a position to play that not locked down by the likes of Cutch, Marte, or Polanco will, presumably, deprive the team of a darn fine offensive talent.

Is it a perfect world where a guy has to learn a new position on the fly? No, of course not; but if you’re gonna fret over things that aren’t perfect, you might as well give up being a baseball fan altogether. I think you’re fretting over things not being perfect.


Quite simply Steve, you could just say, “….and?” and we are getting to the same thing. Who cares? He isn’t going back to outfield with us ever, so his outfield development is no more important than who wins the most perogie races next year. If we were worried about his value being hurt by playing first base, that ship is sailed and it would become another teams problem after a trade if they want to move him back


We’re not getting to the same thing.

You’re saying– I think– that making Bell a 1B is a bad idea. I’m saying it’s not.


How much, I wonder, would Michael Cuddyer go for as a free agent this summer? I am guessing 2 years and $20-24M which would make him too expensive to platoon, but it wouldn’t be bad from a positional flexibility stand-point and he would improve 1B production with his bat.


I suppose you can bring Gaby back if he’ll come back at a reduced salary, but I can’t see tendering either Sanchez or Davis; the Pirates can’t afford to overpay for mediocrity.


Generally speaking, sure.

But if the team doesn’t resign Martin, there’s gonna be a lot of cash to go around. If you’re going to go with a platoon, do you chance losing Gaby over $1-1.5m?

John Lease

Yes, I’m more than willing to take a chance on losing G. Sanchez. And if they start spending money on turds like that, I’ll be fit to be tied. Pay money for guys who are worth it, not just happy to be tendered.

IC Bob

What are you really losing if you don’t resign Gabby? There are plenty of 4A 1Bs that will work for the minimum. Seattle has about 5 1Bs that we can get for a bag of balls equal to Gabby, I think there is ample opportunity to improve on the position. I am not excited about Pedro bringing his less then stellar defense to the 1B side of the infield. Its not a coincidence that the team played way better with him hurt or on the bench then they did with him in the field. Once we know what happens with Martin everything else will fall into place. If we lose Martin I think we will see a big upgrade at first from somewhere. maybe Adam Laroche can return. We could gt him for a 30% discount and he can out perform the platoon all by himself.


why are we casting aspersions regarding Pedro’s defense? His fielding has actually never been better, you could actually say it was far above average. His problem is throwing, and that problem is really muted at first base. Doesn’t mean he’ll be a good 1st baseman, but he might be. The bigger problem is his complete inability when it comes to pitch recognition for a changeup, he is actually far worse vs. changeups than any leftie’s curveball, and I don’t know that there is any coming back from that weakness once its been exploited


Tim. I was waiting for the bunch line-“APRIL FOOLS” in October. You can not be serious about Josh Bell at first base. Com’mon Man! You are baseball IQ better than that aren’t you? Have you seen video on Josh at first base- he is a “big time” project. That position requires a lot more than what the average baseball person understands. Don’t see it man! The Pirate fans/you talk about this guy, that guy etc. Some times it gets comical about the first base position in the Pirate organization.


If you can hit well enough you can play 1B.

John Lease

We’ve seen Garrett Jones play 1st, if he can, anyone can.


Eaasssy there, Slugger.


Yes, he can be serious about Bell at 1B…he said by mid-season 2016. You think for an athlete like Bell he cannot learn how to field the 1B position in a year and a half? With all the reps he’ll get in instructs/fall league/winter league/spring training/minors…you don’t think he could learn how to play 1B?


I’d let loose of both Ike and Gabby. Plan on a platoon of Pedro/Lambo from the left side, T. Sanchez/Lambo from the right side, with T. Sanchez being the backup catcher as well.This is a cost effective way to obtain equal or better production at 1B until Bell is ready. Is Allie only trade value then?

William Wallace

Why not move Walker to first and clean house with the other options except Alvarez- keep him at third and Harrison at 2nd?

Jason Webb

Tim – Is the Lambo experiment over? Also, are you aware of any serious consideration by Pirates to moving Travis Snider to first or splitting time between first and outfield?

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