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Sorting out the First Base Race

March 22, 2012

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.

This post was cross-posted at Athletics Nation where I am now floating during the week in addition to my regular Sunday piece. I encourage my readers, as always, to go there and comment and join a great community of Oakland A’s fans.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Drew W permalink
    March 22, 2012 6:08 pm

    Thx–this is nicely done.
    If the A’s think that Barton can be the offensive player he was in 2010, and his struggles last year were due to injury, then they should let him rehab completely and put him back out there at first. I can live with a little power, some doubles, and great defense. If not, then I guess give Allen the next shot. Not sure about Ka’aihue–he didn’t do much in KC, but maybe he will be a late, late bloomer.

    • March 25, 2012 1:20 pm

      I agree completely. I think the prudent thing is let Allen and Ka’aihue battle it out, see what we’ve got and wait on Barton to get better in Sacramento. If he doesn’t tear up the PCL we know maybe it is more psychological and less physical issues.

  2. EddieVegas_NRAF permalink
    March 22, 2012 6:40 pm

    I can see where Drew W. is coming from, but I wonder at this point if the A’s and Barton should just part ways.

    There is no heavier burden than an unlimited potential, and Barton has never quite lived up to his. He’s a pretty good defender, and a pretty good eye at the plate, but his tenure in Oakland has been marred by injuries and bad decisions.

    This year, in a make-or-break year for him, Barton arrived at Arizona still recovering from the shoulder surgery, so he played too little, too late between MRIs and cortisone shots. Is six months to recover from labrum surgery not enough? (I’m really asking; I don’t know.) I’m afraid that either Barton has no sense of urgency about his job or that the shoulder will be one of those things that will keep him from playing more than 100 games a year forever. (Eric Chavez says hello.)

    If either of those are true, I’d keep Allen, waive Ka’aihue and trade Barton for whatever I could get. (I’m sure you’re relieved that it isn’t up to me.)

    • March 25, 2012 1:22 pm

      I am a huge Barton fan and don’t think he has disproven anything. If anything he was stupid last year by potentially masking an injury that only hurt the team, which one can argue is evidence of your “marred by injuries and bad decisions”. I think that Barton should be sent to Sacramento and have to earn his way up and with options remaining my guess is that happens. I don’t think you trade Barton right now because is a potentially very valuable player – as he showed in 2010 – who is worth the least he could be right now.

  3. Kasper & Ghosts permalink
    March 24, 2012 6:44 am

    Make one of these guys a third baseman ! they put up better numbers then anyone we got, plus Barton & Allen have solid defense.

    • March 25, 2012 1:23 pm

      Yeah I still like the trying Barton out at third idea. But unless A’s brass likes it, it seems dead in the water. Maybe we can prove it to them via MLB: The Show 2012. Haha!

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