The start of the 2020 baseball season is quickly approaching, which means questions begin to be asked. New Kansas City Royals manager, Mike Matheny, seems to have a favorite when it comes to first base. However, maybe another player should be considered the favorite.
To start the year, it has been said that Matheny is favoring Ryan O’Hearn as the Royals starting first baseman. In some light, that makes sense. He has been with the teams big league roster the last two years, he has shown the ability to hit for power, and he doesn’t seem to be a liability at first base defensively.
Unfortunately, O’Hearn spent nearly all of last year being a liability at the plate, especially while facing left-handed pitching. Against left-handed pitching, O’Hearn is hitting a lackluster .170/.262/.245 and it isn’t much better against right-hand pitching.
His .201/.286/.394 against right-hand pitching isn’t great, however, it did “save” his 2019 season because of the power that he shows against righties. While having just two extra-base hits against left-hand pitching, O’Hearn had 26 extra-base hits against righties.
To dive deeper into the sabermetric world as well, O’Hearn is still near the bottom when looking at his 2019 offensive season. His weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is a statistic used to measure his overall hitting value, was a .279 wOBA which was in the bottom 4% of the league last year. For perspective, they break this statistic into seven different categories:
- Excellent (.400 or higher)
- Great (.370-.399)
- Above Average (.340-.369)
- Average (.320-.339)
- Below Average (.310-.319)
- Poor (.300-.309)
- Awful (.299 and lower)
Defensively, 2019 O’Hearn is exactly what the Royals would hope for. He has a UZR of -0.5 and a UZR/150 or just -0.9 at first base. While the negative isn’t appealing, a 0.0 is considered league average, so O’Hearn is right where you would hope a defensive first baseman is.
This brings the conversation to an alternative at first if it won’t be O’Hearn, and it’s another Ryan on the team. Ryan McBroom might be the better option for the Royals first baseman.
Obviously sample size is everything. In 2019, O’Hearn played in 105 games while McBroom played in just 23 games. In the same token, O’Hearn had 370 plate appearances and McBroom had 83 plate appearances. So that is being taken into consideration.
However, McBroom was better offensively than and projected to be just about the same defensively. McBroom hit .293/.361/.360 and had a wOBA of .318 over his 23 games. While his power numbers weren’t there, hitting just five extra-base hits (all being doubles), the value of his hits were higher than O’Hearn’s. His .318 wOBA places him in the “Below Average” range, but just 0.002 points away from being considered an “Average” offensive player. He also posted a 95 wRC+ during his 23 games as well.
Defensively, McBroom posted a -0.1 UZR and a -1.5 UZR/150. Remember, 0.0 is considered league average and O’Hearn would have finished with a -0.9 UZR/150. So defensively, it’s nearly a wash.
Why not Dozier?
While I understand the potential appeal for wanting to play Hunter Dozier at first base, a few things stand out as “red flags”. One being the amount of exposure Dozier has with the position. Dozier didn’t start playing first base until 2016. Remember, Dozier was drafted as a shortstop and moved between shortstop and third base for the first three years of his career.
Including minor leagues, Dozier has only played 74 games at first base. Taking that into consideration, this could be why offensively Dozier struggles while playing first base. In the majors, Dozier has a .233/.289/.405 slash over 58 games at first. Comfort has to be taken into consideration here, and while his defensive metrics show it might not be as big of a deal as it seems (.992 fielding percentage, a career -0.2 UZR, and -0.6 UZR/150), that doesn’t mean he hasn’t spent time in his own head while playing first.
Sample size and Dozier are always going to be the first retort when suggesting playing McBroom at first base. And those aren’t bad responses. While McBroom has just 23 career big-league games under his belt, and his power yet to really show at the big league level, his minor league numbers show that his power will start showing with more playing time.
He’s also spent nearly his entire career at first base while logging time in the outfield as well. Therefore, the comfort factor discussed with Dozier isn’t necessarily a topic of conversation. Then going towards O’Hearn, McBroom has shown an ability to hit both right-hand pitching and left-hand pitching consistently through his first 23 games (.300/.364/.340 against right-hand pitching and .280/.357/.400 against left-hand pitching).
Spring Training is going to be an important time for McBroom, O’Hearn, and Dozier. My hope is that the three are going to be fighting for the spot and that the Royals don’t just give the position to O’Hearn. Competition isn’t a bad thing and the Royals need to make sure every guy has a legitimate chance. Personally, I feel like McBroom will outshine O’Hearn and Dozier, but Dozier will find a home in the outfield. So it will just be a matter of how to utilize O’Hearn if McBroom is at first base consistently.
What do you think Royals Nation? Do you feel like O’Hearn automatically has the position? Should the Royals give McBroom a chance at first base? Should Dozier even be considered for the position? Let us know below!