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Occasionally I like to check out the Equivalent Average Report as a quick reference to some of the things that are going on in the league offensively. I always look at the positional averages for EqA, just because it’s one of those neat pieces of information that lets you see what positions are the weakest at the plate, and which ones are doing the most for their teams with the bat. Those of you who are unfamiliar with EqA may need a little context: .230 is replacement level, and .260 is average. If a position has a higher EqA than .260, then that position has a lot of above-average hitters. Knowing this is useful for fantasy, as it lets you gauge how well your player is doing in a contextual environment.

That’s why one position in particular stuck out when I was checking out the report yesterday. First base is generally the most offensively productive position on the EqA report, and it was generating an average EqA of .293. The past two seasons saw major league first basemen post a .283 average, so that’s a rather large bump; every other position is within a few points of last year’s rates in either direction. To give the .293 mark some perspective, Ryan Howard has a .294 EqA. Howard is currently hitting .254/.331/.551 with 20 homers; that sounds good, but he’s a league-average first baseman in 2009. That almost doesn’t seem right; after all, how does a guy with an ISO of nearly .300 come to be merely average?

My initial thought was that there were probably a few players skewing the results for first base and bringing up the position as a whole. The first person I thought of was Albert Pujols, given he is slugging over .700, but because he lost over 20 points of on-base percentage between last year and this year, his extra power has been somewhat negated in value, and he’s managed an EqA only two points higher than last season’s. As I looked down the list to see what was causing the jump, it occurred to me that it wasn’t a few players at the top, it was almost the entirety of the position that had brought about the increase.

Let’s switch to VORP for a moment, and look at the first baseman report for that statistic. If you take those with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, you get a list with Pujols on top and Chris Davis on the bottom. Nearly six wins of offense separate the best from the worst at first, but in between there’s a lot to love. Just in the top 10 after Pujols, you have Adrian Gonzalez hitting .275/.416/.602, Justin Morneau having a fine year with a .316/.390/.571 showing, Russ Branyan shining in his first legitimate opportunity as a starter in years and hitting .302/.401/.608, the rebound of Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez playing a lot more first base and hitting like he belongs there, Kevin Youkilis continuing to abuse Fenway Park to his advantage, Miguel Cabrera slugging .559, Mark Teixeira erasing any memory of his early slump, and Joey Votto, in the short time he has played, killing the ball by slugging .602.

That’s an impressive group, and at many positions you would have begun to see a dip in quality this far down the list, but first base just keeps going. The next three players are all slugging over .500 and have Equivalent Averages of .303, .313, and .320, respectively. Of the starting first basemen in the majors, 16 have an EqA over .300, which is just an incredible amount of depth at one position. This basically means that no team should be without an above-average first baseman in most fantasy leagues-unless of course you have a team or two hoarding multiples for their utility slot. What’s most unusual about this is that you have someone like Kendry Morales, who is hitting what appears to be an acceptable .269/.321/.506, as a guy who is nearly 20 points below average via EqA. You basically have to recalibrate the lines that might initially be quite aesthetically pleasing to you, and remember that the position is so stacked that perhaps Morales isn’t as good as he would normally be given his slash stats.

Morales isn’t the only one with the deceptively below-average line. Paul Konerko is hitting .293/.343/.486, and he’s posted a below-position-average .285 EqA. Aubrey Huff has struggled relative to last year (.267/.333/.443), but maybe you held on to him hoping he would regain some of that magic; his EqA is .264, which is nearly 30 points below average, essentially killing the position for you considering the other talent that is out there. Billy Butler looks like he’s making some progress at .283/.337/.445, but his .270 EqA is far from acceptable for the position.

While it is painful to carry a below-average first baseman in fantasy, it is mind-boggling what some real-life teams have put up with at the position this year (or have been forced to put up with). Bobby Crosby has started 14 games as the Athletics‘ first baseman, and has hit .125/.194/.193 there, and .190/.291/.306 overall. They are not the only offending Bay Area team either, as the Giants have Travis Ishikawa (.259 EqA) and Rich Aurilia (.186 EqA) at first base. The Braves have seen a little too much Casey Kotchman for their offense’s liking (.266/.327/.374, .251 EqA), and the Dodgers have dealt with James Loney‘s struggles this year-though it hasn’t exactly slowed down their run at the NL West. If you have been holding on to Loney, you may want to reconsider that position, given how well his peers are doing; he’s 25 points below the average mark for a first baseman via EqA.

Back to fantasy, the question is now whether this is sustainable or not. The short answer is “probably”. Most of the top 10 is made up of established beasts. Sure, Adrian Gonzalez is having a career year, but he’s in the magical age-27 season, so maybe he will keep hitting like this until the calendar turns over. Kevin Youkilis couldn’t do what he’s doing without Fenway, but unless the Red Sox trade him for some inexplicable reason, he’s still going to have that park working to his advantage. Even Russell Branyan may maintain his pace, though he’s the one I’m most concerned about given his history and his current .363 BABIP.

Even if one or two of them do regress though, the middle of the list has a few rebound candidates, like Carlos Delgado (once he returns from injury) and Joey Votto, who is now back and already hitting again with his second four-hit game of the season last night. While it’s too early to tell how much of this will carry over into 2010, at least in 2009 we have some incredible depth to utilize that no other position can lay claim to-how many other positions get to say someone like Ryan Howard is merely average?

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llewdor
6/26
It's the Mariners. After years of using guys like Jose Vidro and Miguel Cairo at first base (and the thoroughly finished Richie Sexson), they now have their most productive hitter manning the station.
Mountainhawk
6/26
Kevin Youkalis - 2009: .333 Career: .298 Carlos Pena - 2009: .309 Career: .297 Russ Branyan - 2009: .338 Career: .282 Adrain Gonzalez - 2009: .353 Career: .301 Prince Fielder - 2009: .340 Career: .305 Victor Martinez - 2009: .325 Career: .295 Adam LaRoche - 2009: .298 Career: .283 Lyle Overbay - 2009: .317 Career: .282 Justin Morneau - 2009: .322 Career: .292 Joey Votto - 2009: .356 Career: .303 Ryan Howard - 2009: .294 Career: .308 When Chase Utley improves stats over his career numbers, it's because he's playing "over his head" and will regress to the mean. When other players do it, it makes Ryan Howard "average", despite the fact that his career EqA is 5-15 points better than almost every single person on that list above. Yeah, I understand why you all get upset when people complain you have agendas against certain teams.
drewsylvania
6/26
Way to cherry-pick stats to weakly support baseless conclusions. You're going to have to do better than that for an argument.
Mountainhawk
6/26
That's 11 of the 16 players above Howard. Marc used the EqA stat in the opening paragraph, and that's what I used here. It's also the stat that's been used in several articles claim Utley is 'way over his head' this season. How, exactly, did I cherry pick?
Mountainhawk
6/26
Actually 10, counted too fast. The other 6 are performing closer to their career averages.
yankeehater32
6/29
In all fairness, BP is not a hive mind, it's a bunch of different authors. I haven't said Utley is over his head, and haven't done it using EqA.
eighteen
6/26
All he said was that Ryan Howard is average THIS YEAR relative to other 1B's based on EQA. Which he clearly IS. Take your hyper-sensitivity routine to the Phillies home page. It's worn thin here.
LindInMoskva
6/27
"Inappropriate" to me means fbombs and insults not a well thought out opposing point of view. Why would anyone deam this as inappropriate? I may not agree but I wouldn't call this inappropriate.
mhixpgh
6/29
Why do some BP readers silence other BP readers who have contrary opinions? Why even visit the comments section if you do that...
drewsylvania
6/26
Anyone have this year's HR spread data on Youk? My memory says most of his homers at Fenway have been bombs.
acmcdowell
6/26
What about median EQA? That would limit the outliers like Pujols and Davis have on what is considered "average" (in a non-statistical sense).
jtrichey
6/26
I think BP as a rule loves Chase Utley. Someone's way too sensitive here.
llewdor
6/26
Incidentally, Branyan's BABIP is high, but it's 26 points lower than Ichiro's (and Ichiro's .389 BABIP isn't unusual for him). Maybe he learned something.
ultimatedub
6/27
Look at Huff's triple slash right now compared to last year after the same number of games. He's always been a second half hitter, and he's right on pace from last year thus far. He'll get there.
cdamon
6/27
Why pick on Youk about his home/road split? He is the leading offensive 1B in the AL on the road by OPS (the best stat I have h/r splits available). Texiera and Mourneau has 100 point larger home/road split in OPS than does Youk.
hyprvypr
6/27
I've watched Branyan all year(and for the last ten years) very closely. If you want an amatuer scouting report it's this: He's improved his plate discipline from horrific to pretty decent. He's laying off more pitches, fouling off more breaking balls and going the other way when pitched away. I'm positive he won't hit .300 all year, his average has steadily dropped since that five-hit game in May, but he has really improved his approach at the plate and batting 2nd(god I love this decision), he's getting plenty of pitches to hit. If I had to guess his final season's line I would suggest something like .255/.345/.550 which is pretty damn nice for 1.4 million. His defense at firstbase has also been solid if not exceptional.