I’d like to apologize ahead of time for bringing up the dark years at first base in Milwaukee. From 2013-2014, the Brewers had the worst production from that position you’re likely to ever see again. This past offseason, they decided to try something new. Instead of putting shortstops, outfielders, catchers and third baseman at the position, they would try a designated hitter, Adam Lind. With him comes the best first-base production the Brewers have seen since the days of Prince Fielder.
To fully appreciate Adam Lind, one must fully appreciate the H.R. Geiger nightmare that was the combined first-base production from 2013-2014. The Brewers tried nine different players at the position (not counting Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, who merely served as occasional fill-ins). Except for Mark Reynolds, every single “first baseman” was worth less than a win.
WARNING: The following table may not be suitable for young children, those with heart conditions, and pregnant women in their third trimester.
The table shows each first baseman’s contribution* for the Brewers between 2013-2014. Combined they hit .210/.275/.365 and were worth -1.7 WARP. Tom Hanks’ character from “A League of Their Own” is often quoted for the line, “There’s no crying in baseball.” It should be noted, however, that the movie was made well-before Yuniesky Betancourt played 68 games at first base.
When the Brewers traded non-tender candidate Marco Estrada for Adam Lind prior to this season, the move felt like more of the same. At the time, Lind was half first baseman, half designated hitter. He hadn’t started 100 games in the field since 2010. He dealt with a broken foot in 2014 and has dealt with lingering back issues for years. The Brewers took a significant gamble on his ability to stay healthy, counting on him to play more games in the field than he had in any given season of his entire career.
His bat, though imperfect, was less of a gamble. At the time of his acquisition, he was sporting a solid career slash line of .273/.327/.466. However, his production versus right-handed pitchers (.293/.349/.510) far outstripped his ability versus lefties (.212/.257/.331) — suggesting the Brewers should utilize a platoon.
His production from 2013-2014 (.301/.366/.390) was better than previous seasons, but the Blue Jays also protected him from left-handed pitching. He had 702 PA versus righties (.337/.395/.537) and just 137 plate appearances against southpaws (.171/.219/.264). It seemed, at the very least, the Brewers had acquired a potent bat to play at first base against right-handed pitching, assuming he could stay healthy.
Lind has done that and more.
In 316 plate appearances, he has hit .299/.377/.525 and has been worth +1.9 WARP. In half a season, he has been more valuable to the Brewers than any of the previous first-base options between 2013-2014. In fact, Lind has nearly accumulated four-more wins than all of them combined. Also, while it’s still not good, he’s even hit (marginally) better against lefties (51 PA), .234/.294/.340.
Adam Lind has been really good this year, and it’s not an overreaction that’s stemming from the horrible production the Brewers experienced before he arrived. He is a top first baseman this year by several measures. Here is how he ranks among MLB first baseman with a minimum of 100 plate appearances:
Through the first half of this season, Adam Lind has objectively been a top-10 first baseman. He has provided more value than guys like Jose Abreu, Eric Hosmer, and Lucas Duda. Offensively (TAv), he’s been better than Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, and Brandon Belt.
Coming into this season, we all knew a healthy Adam Lind could swing the bat. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his performance this year has been his defense. Early in his career, Lind spent time in both left field and first base. However, he hadn’t played in the outfield at all since 2010, nor regularly since 2011. From 2012-2014, approximately half his time was spent as a designated hitter and was generally below-average defensively.
This year, he has completely flipped the script.
He has appeared in 81 games, played at first in 76 of them, and of those games started 73 of them. He’s been a positive defender in those games — posting a 3 DRS and 0.9 UZR. Those numbers won’t “wow” anyone, but during the previous two seasons, he was well-below-average by the numbers (-7 and -3 DRS, respectively; -3.9 and -3.9 UZR, respectively). Defensive numbers can be fluky, especially in smaller samples, but having watched every inning Lind has played as a Brewer, I believe in the numbers this year.
I thought Adam Lind could provide solid value as the strong part of a platoon at first base. I didn’t expect him to be this good. I’m not sure anyone could have. It has been a pleasure to watch. And remember, he was acquired for Marco Estrada. The right-hander has been having a nice year, but at the time of the trade, he was coming of a train wreck of a season that saw him allow the most home runs in baseball. Doug Melvin turned that Marco Estrada into a top-10 first baseman — and that aspect of Lind’s season should be appreciated, too.
*That is their total contribution though, and since some of them played additional positions, it’s technically not all first-base production. The point still stands. From 2013-2014, the first-base situation in Milwaukee was absolutely brutal.
**Braves’ first baseman, Freddie Freeman, is tied with Lind.