If you’re a regular reader of this site (or a regular observer of baseball games), you’re probably quite aware that the Texas Rangers are a ridiculously good baseball team. Entering play today, they sit 15-5 and are already nine games up on their only real competition in the AL West, the Angels Angels of Anaheim.

It’s early, yes, but as the brain trust said yesterday on the Getting Blanked podcast, this is no small sample size fluke; they’re off to a great start because they’re a great team.

But this is not a team without its holes. In fact, the Rangers have one of the worst starting first basemen in the American League in Mitch Moreland. First base is traditionally a position where you want power and consistent production and Moreland is easily the worst everyday player on the team.

This past winter, much was made of the Rangers apparent interest (or lack thereof) in free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. That interest never seemed to rise above tepid and many, myself included, thought this to be strange. I mean, imagine how ridiculous the Rangers offense would be if you added Fielder to it.

Then again, the Rangers offense is already as ridiculous as can be. And maybe that’s the thing.

With the recent trend of teams locking up elite-level first basemen to cumbersome contracts, the Rangers appear content sticking with a clear second-division option. Clearly, they believe that first basemen are over-valued and who’s to argue with them?

It’s extremely unlikely that players like Albert Pujols, Fielder and Joey Votto will provide enough production to truly justify their massive deals and even deals like the ones received by Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira are unlikely to produce the kind of value that can be found elsewhere on the diamond. That’s not even mentioning Ryan Howard’s terrible albatross of a contract which will continue to be one of the worst in baseball until its conclusion after 2016.

The main reason the Rangers are okay with Moreland at first is that they have several players with first base production at positions that are not traditionally seen as offensive positions. Ian Kinsler at second base had a higher wRC+ than all but six full-time first basemen in 2011, while catcher Mike Napoli led the world in wOBA. The Rangers have major production at almost every spot on the field, they can live with a below-average first baseman

Of course, another reason the Rangers are okay with Moreland is that Napoli is not the type of catcher you want back there 140 games a year and when he’s not catching , you need to get his bat in the lineup at first. It’s much easier for the Rangers to justify sitting Moreland rather than benching Michael Young at DH.

The Rangers, recognizing the overvalued nature of first basemen, are instead locking up players like Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and likely Mike Napoli in the near future. None of those players are going to command the type of money or years regularly handed out to elite first basemen, yet are every bit as valuable, if not more.

The Rangers are going to be very good for a very long time. They not only have the most complete roster in the Majors, but they also have one of the best minor league systems. They have drafted and developed as well as any team in baseball and they have the money to spend on the Major League roster in order to keep their core players in the fold. They are the Rays with money and that my friends, is frightening.

If you look at the way the Rangers, Rays and even the Blue Jays (a team that seeks to replicate both models) have treated the first base position over the last few years, this could be an emerging inefficiency for smarter teams to grab hold of.

Comments (13)

  1. I don’t know if I’d really call that particular example an inefficiency though. I’m all for not spending money at first and using it on other positions, but Moreland is basically a replacement to below replacement level bat. There has to be someone who could be a cheap option who could be something close to a league average 1B.

    I’m sure better players pass through waivers then Moreland. The strategy might be more effective with someone who has the potential to be worth more then 1 WAR over 700+ ABs. Pretty sad that’s how little value Moreland has provided them with.

    • True, but Moreland’s also younger and spent a lot of time developing as a pitcher in amateur baseball. There’s a slight chance he gets better and becomes closer to league average.

      • His numbers in the minors were great but they haven’t translated in the majors.

        I agree that it’s something that other teams can take advantage of, as getting quality up the middle guys and average corner IF can be better than strong at the corners and weak up the middle.

    • But yeah, it’s certainly not a big inefficiency or anything, just something to take note of. The notion that you need a big-offense first baseman to contend is sort of a baseball truism that doesn’t quite add up.

      • It seems like any time there becomes a widely accepted idea of how baseball teams should be constructed, smart teams will recognize that idea will be more expensive than it’s worth, and will do something else.

        The trick, if there is one, seems to just be never doing what everyone else is doing, because they’ll drive the prices up too high. Something stops being a good idea when everyone does it.

        • +1–Common sense, really, but MLB displays little of that wrt 1st baggers. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes.

  2. Moreland does have a lot of country strength.

  3. So, the inefficiency you’ve discovered is that of you have great production from a bunch of other positions, you don’t need to pay $25M for 10 years at 1B?

    Move over, Woodward and Bernstein.

  4. I don’t know if I’d call what the Blue Jays have done with first base a ‘market inefficiency.’ I mean, Alex Anthopoulos probably isn’t putting Adam Lind on the cover of his book, is he?

  5. Thanks! I worked really hard to come up with it.

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