Gleeman: The archetype of the slugging first baseman is dead

From SABR member Aaron Gleeman at Baseball Prospectus on June 9, 2016:

It started, like most things in my life do, with an argument about Joe Mauer.

In trying to figure out the Twins’ best (or perhaps more accurately least-worst) option to be the mandatory All-Star rep for a last-place team I noticed that Mauer ranks third among American League first basemen in OPS+ and fourth in WARP despite a modest-looking .281/.388/.409 line in 56 games. Basically, only Miguel Cabrera and Eric Hosmer have clearly been better than Mauer this season.

I never pass up a chance to paint Mauer in a positive light, but that surprised me. He’s having a good, solid season—and taking a big step in the right direction after back-to-back rough years following a career-altering concussion—but the notion of a first baseman with a .409 slugging percentage and sub-.800 OPS ranking among the league’s best is hard for my brain to comprehend.

But here’s the thing: Mauer’s underwhelming .409 slugging percentage is almost exactly average among AL first basemen this season. As a group, the position has produced a .246/.321/.411 line that nearly any fan in nearly any era of baseball history would quickly identify as “bad” for a first baseman. This season “bad” is actually “average” and that’s why Mauer—with an on-base percentage-heavy OPS that’s 65 points above par—is one of the AL’s top-hitting first basemen.

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Originally published: June 9, 2016. Last Updated: June 9, 2016.