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.