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Evaluating the Success of the 1B Platoon

It's early but Nix and Wigginton have been among the Phils' brightest spots. Photo: AP

It’s early in the season. In fact, it’s really early, 19 games early. But one of the most surprising, and interesting, developments is the success of the first base position of the Phillies.

Perhaps success is not the word, but rather improvement. Over the Winter, I speculated that a platoon of any combination of John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Jim Thome, and Ty Wigginton may perform at or better than the level of Ryan Howard. The surprising news is: they’re doing it.

Wigginton has received the bulk of the time at first base, hitting .304/.365/.435, and is currently riding an 11-game hit streak. The bulk of his success has come against lefties, hitting a remarkable .368/.455/.526 in 22 PA. It is worth noting that Wigginton has a career .275/.355/.462 line against lefties. The expectations for Wigginton as a platoon first baseman should remain high, and if played in the right scenarios, i.e. against lefties, Wigginton could hover around the latter mark and continue to contribute.

Nix, Wigginton’s primary lefty platoon-mate, has recently started to pick up traction. In just 25 PA, Nix’s triple-slash is .348/.400/.652 and all but one PA has come against righties. It’s worth noting that Nix has been a master of the definitive outcome – he’s struck out seven times and walked twice out of those 25 PAs, having a definitive outcome 36% of the time.

While their performance is likely definitely not sustainable, it should be worth noting that their, and including the disappointing Jim Thome (2 for 19, 52% K rate), current performance has put them in the top half of the NL in offensive performance by players playing first base. The trio of Nix, Thome, and Wigginton has been good enough to rank right around 6th in the NL in four advanced stats. And the platoon has not given up anything defensively, placing firmly 12th, right where the Phils usually fall.

The chart below is the Phils’ NL rank in each category since 2007.

Here are some things worth noting: Albert Pujols’s departure has not sunk the Cardinals’ ranking. The Cards still have a near-the-top first base situation with Matt Carpenter and Lance Berkman. The Nationals and Giants are likely due for regression similar to that of Nix/Thome/Wigginton will face: Adam LaRoche is leading the hot Nationals at first while Brett Pill and Brandon Belt are holding off Aubrey Huff’s best attempts to sabotage their first base situation.

The biggest change has come from Prince Fielder’s departure: the Brew Crew has gone from OBP machines to near the bottom and from near the top of every other category to firmly in the middle of the pack. The biggest surprise at first base by far is career minor leaguer Bryan LaHair, 29, tearing the cover off of the ball for the Cubs and pacing them as the lead the NL in most categories for first basemen.

It is possible that Nix and Wigginton, and sometimes Thome, can be successful enough to keep the Phillies afloat? Yes, but we obviously should not expect the numbers that Nix and Wigginton are putting up to continue. If they regress to their career splits, it will be more than enough to keep them right around the 5th or 6th spot in the NL and that has been good enough since 2010 to keep the Phillies competitive.

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  1. betasigmadeltashag

    April 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    just curioius if all the offensive numbers are from when they actually played 1st base and not PH or played another position in the field. Cause hasn’t both nix and wigington played third

    • Ian Riccaboni

      April 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      The numbers I pulled from FanGraphs are for when they were in the line-up playing first base. Wigginton has played a little third and I believe Nix may have played a little in left – FanGraphs is able to filter that kind of stuff out though. Pretty neat, eh?

  2. phil

    April 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Nix hasn’t played 3rd and these numbers appear to be just at 3rd. Wiggington should play 1b against lefties when Howard gets back…

  3. betasigmadeltashag

    April 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    thank’s Ian, not that it really matters if they hit they hit, You may see Howard get a few days a week off when he first comes back a la Utley last year. But Charlie decides he is able to play every day, he will play every day. But would not be surprised if Charlie finds a place for him against lefites at third or in the OF

  4. Joe a

    April 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Anyone know what the Nats will do when Morse comes back?

    • c schreiber

      April 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Don’t think the Nats will be moving Morse anywhere but possibly to the outfield.

  5. bacardipr05

    April 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I didnt look at stats or anything. However it seems Wiggy and Nix are putting up most of the numbers. Thome and Mayberry havent done squat really at least offensively.

  6. "Big Ed" Delahanty

    April 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Of the Phillies with 20 or more at-bats, Laynce Nix (.333), Juan Pierre (.333) and Ty Wigginton (.302) have the highest batting averages. Nix (1.010), Wigginton (.809) and Shane Victorino (.786) have the highest OPS percentages. Rollins (.524), Polanco (.452) and John Mayberry Jr. (.444) — three incredibly important hitters in the lineup entering the season — have the lowest OPS percentages of players with 20 or more at-bats. Interesting stats, indeed!

    • schmenkman

      April 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      Some will regress (Nix a lot, Wiggy less), but overall team stats can still only go up. And then Utley and Howard will return.

  7. Brooks

    April 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Pierre should stay put hitting leadoff. As long as Poly is hitting the ball (he got on base all 5 plate appearances) like he did last game, the Phils will find a way to win. Pence hit 2 singles that were through the left side – the other 3 times at bat he struck out.

    I’ll say one of the biggest keys for any success this season will be the guys at the top of the lineup getting on base.

  8. schmenkman

    April 26, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I wouild bat Pierre leadoff against lefties only. Some of his success is due to bloops falling in, and that can only last so long. Rollins will start to hit, and when he does he needs to be leading off.

  9. Brooks

    April 26, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    This has been Pierre’s MO for his career – in which he is a certified .300 (.296) hitter. All the Phils need is for him to get on base, regardless of how he does it, bloops are fine.
    What he is doing is nothing out of the ordinary for him. Poly is the big plus here. Although he too is a .300 career hitter, he was not getting on, making good contact or moving runners over when needed. With Pierre and Poly getting on base, anyone hitting behind them will reap the benefits & RBI’s (this includes Jimmy when he starts hitting).

    This is big Schmenk – the Phils will be back in the thick of things with their 1 & 2 hitters getting on base.

    • schmenkman

      April 26, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      I hope you’re right. In the meantime, somebody please tell him to only steal when he knows he’s going to make it. The rest of the team is 12-0 in steal attempts. Pierre is 3-2, which is “unhelpful” as they say in diplomatic terms.

      • Lefty

        April 27, 2012 at 6:12 am

        That is also (to borrow Brooks phrase) Pierre’s MO. .34% caught stealing rate for his career. He’s stolen 557 bases to lead all active ML players, but has also been caught almost 200 times. (192)

        After all these years, you think he’s going to change? I doubt it.

      • schmenkman

        April 27, 2012 at 7:02 am

        Lefty, you have to divide by the total attempts, so 557/749 = 74.4% success rate, or 25.6% CS rate, which is actually very good (not great, like the Phillies have been in recent years, but very good).

        But 60% is hurting more than helping (in general; there are situations where it’s worth a try), and he needs a firm stop sign if he’s really lost a step and can’t steal at the same success rate he always has. As recently as 2010 he was at 79% (68/86), which is excellent, but he hasn’t looked good in a couple of his attempts this year.

      • Lefty

        April 27, 2012 at 7:33 am

        Yikes, I definitely blew the math! I guess my main point is that Pierre’s CS rate is larger than what we are used to around here the last few years. So I think we should get used to a new, lower standard. I think he can do better, just not that much better at this point in his career. I don’t mind aggressive base running, there is always risk in it, I’ll take between 25-30 CS rate.

  10. dude228883

    April 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    A one on one interview with Charlie Manuel that says Chase might not be back until JUNE http://tinyurl.com/849fww2

  11. Brooks

    April 27, 2012 at 1:12 am

    Was not counting on Utley at all this year. I am counting on Howard though.
    Like I said, as long as our leadoff men keep getting on base, we’ll be close.

  12. Brooks

    April 27, 2012 at 7:00 am

    According to MLB, it looks like KK gets the start on Sunday. Oh well, would have been Lee and quite the treat. But, if KK follows suit, he is due for a good game (hoping!). Its the Phanatic’s birthday.

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