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Miami Marlins Season Preview: First Base

Should we expect more of the same from Gaby Sanchez in 2012? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Should we expect more of the same from Gaby Sanchez in 2012? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Today, we continue on with our look at the position players that will populate the Marlins in 2012. First base was a position of contention in season's past, and to some degree it still is. The Marlins pursued free agent first baseman Albert Pujols this past offseason to add to their myriad of other first basemen. The team's ongoing issue with Logan Morrison manning left field despite an inability to play the position is something that the Fish will eventually have to deal with.

But despite all of those issues surrounding first base, the position has been the epitome of consistency for the last two years. Gaby Sanchez has not been great, but he has followed through on two straight seasons of almost identical solid play, and the Marlins are hoping to get a third year out of that.

Depth Chart

1. Gaby Sanchez
2. Greg Dobbs
3. Logan Morrison

MInor League Depth: N/A

Gaby Sanchez had a season in 2011 that was very similar to his rookie 2010 campaign.

Sanchez, Season PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2011 661 .266 .352 .427 .342 113
2010 643 .273 .341 .448 .346 111

This previous season was almost an exact replica of his 2010 rookie year; he hit for less power and traded that for more walks and a higher OBP, and while his overall wOBA was lower in 2011 than in 2010, it was actually better when compared to the league average via wRC+ (wRC+ measures wOBA as compared to league average, with a score of 100 being average and above 100 being a percentage of that above average and vice versa). So Sanchez's offensive contributions have been almost identical the last two seasons.

This identical nature even mirrors the timing of when he played well and when he struggled. Take a look at his splits by first and second half in each season.

2011, First Half 394 .293 .374 .472
2011, Second Half 267 .225 .320 .359
2010, First Half 351 .302 .365 .467
2010, Second Half 292 .237 .312 .424

As a result, you get splits that look something like this for his career:

Sanchez, Half PA AVG OBP SLG
First Half 745 .297 .370 .470
Second Half 590 .234 .316 .402

Again, two seasons just is not enough to predict a guarantee that this will happen again, but at least it is understandable in the case of 2011; Sanchez actually started the team's first 102 games at first base before receiving multiple days off in late July. Compare that to his 2010 campaign, which saw him play his 102nd game of the season in the team's 106th game at the start of August. It may not seem like much, but perhaps the workload has gotten to Sanchez over the course of a full season and the Marlins maybe should consider resting him more often in 2012.

Of course, what the Marlins get while Sanchez is on the field is a decent player with a knack for plate control. Last year, he improved on his plate discipline stats and contact rate and this resulted in a one percent drop in strikeouts and a nice increase in walks. This should not surprise anyone, as Sanchez has always been good at managing the strike zone, as evidenced by his career 11.9 percent strikeout and walk rates in the minors. Combine that with mostly stable power numbers and you have a reliably above average player in the major leagues.

Looking into the future, the Marlins and their fans should expect a very similarly above average player going forward. It is difficult to recall that, despite the fact that Sanchez only recently broke into the majors two years ago, he is actually 28 years old this season. Sanchez began his major league career in the same way Dan Uggla once did with the Fish; both players went to college but stayed in the minors for four seasons before receiving a call-up. For whatever reason, the Fish did not believe Sanchez was ready by 2009, one year after he had won Southern League MVP. As a result, the team delayed his entry by a year and now it is reaping its rewards a little late. The result is a player who is good, but unlikely to develop into anything special in the future.

Proj. System PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA / TAv*
ZiPS 602 .270 .348 .436 .345
PECOTA 584 .269 .345 .435 .282
Fans 642 .271 .348 .436 .344

Offensively, most of the projection systems are fairly certain about where Gaby Sanchez lies in the spectrum. Last year, he finished with similar numbers and was a middle-of-the-pack first baseman, as he was 19th out of 25 qualifying first basemen in wRC+. So while he was decently above average, he did not necessarily do a whole lot with the bat, as most systems had his offensive contributions more or less evened out by the first baseman defensive adjustment.

The key to Sanchez's play may be his defense. Last year, he was a "Gold Glove finalist" and many defensive metrics had him as solidly above average (between four and six runs above average). But the previous season, he did not rate as highly, and as a result many systems had him as a below average player in 2010. Visibly, there were not significant differences in Sanchez's defensive play, but to hear him as both a Gold Glove candidate and have defensive stats support the case does make the argument for improvement at the position from 2010 to 2011. If he is drastically improved, the Marlins may have an almost three-win player on their hands, but if not, we may see a regression to a less-than-stellar Sanchez.

Projection: 620 PA, 2.4 WAR

This projection takes a neutral stance on whether Sanchez is heavily improved at first base or whether he is a strong candidate for regression. Here, I label him as an average defender at his position, making him just a bit better than league average overall. If he shows significant strides towards being a good defensive player, he may jump up to near three-win ranges, but for now, the safe bet is that the Marlins will have another solid, unspectacular, above-average campaign for team-controlled prices, which is nothing to scoff at for this team.