Thursday, September 24, 2009


Remember back when the Giants had a first baseman who hit over 30 home runs? If you were born after 1987 then the answer is no. That's how long it's been - 22 years!

I was talking about this fact with a friend this morning and it got me to wondering how the Giants power at first base, or lack thereof, compares with the rest of the league. In order to do that I decided to compile home run figures for starting first baseman for each MLB team since 1958 (the birthdate of the San Francisco iteration of the Giants). I relied on the starting first basemen for each year as indicated by I believe baseball-reference determines starters based on either games played, at-bats or innings played at a given position, but I'm not entirely sure. Regardless, there is definitely some room for error as platoons are not accurately reflected in my methodology, nor are injury replacements or situations where a trade occurred. Nonetheless, I think the methodology employed herein paints a pretty useful picture of the power production of first basemen over the past half century.

The following chart shows the Giants' first basemen's home run production by year versus the MLB average.

As indicated in the chart, the Giants enjoyed above average production during the 1960s, which is due to Hall-of-Fame-type power from Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. Then beginning in 1971 the Giants' production dipped below the MLB average and was relatively volatile for the next couple of decades. Highlights included: McCovey's 1973 and 1977 seasons (29 & 28 HRs, respectively), Darrell Evans' 1983 season (30 HRs), Clark's '87, '88 and '91 season (35, 29 & 29 HRs), and, most recently, JT Snow's 1997 season (28 HRs). Lowlights included: Willia Montanez' 8 HRs in 1975, Mike Ivie's 4 HRs in 1980, Enos Cabell's 2 HRs in 1981, Al Oliver's ZERO HOME RUNS in 1984, David Green's 5 HRs in 1985, Snow's 6-, 8- and 4-HR seasons in 2002, 2003 and 2005, respectively, and Ryan Klesko's stellar (and lone as a Giant) 2007 season (6 HRs).

While most of the Giants' data does not indicate a clear trend, it is worth noting that since 1998 the Giants have consistently been well below the MLB average, with the lone exception of 1999 when Snow hit 24 HRs, compared to the MLB average of 22.5. Coincidentally, or not, Brian Sabean took the reigns of the Giants in 1997. During his tenure, Sabean has routinely fielded a team featuring a 1B with well below average power. For the majority of Sabean's run as GM, that first baseman was JT Snow, who is one of, if not the best fielding first baseman at least of my lifetime and maybe ever. So his outstanding defense probably made up for some of his lack of power. However, Snow hasn't been the Giants' "starting" first baseman (by baseball-reference's standards) since 2005 and since then the Giants' homerun production at first base has not improved materially.

In a previous post I noted how the Giants' poor offense will likely cause them to fall just short of making the playoffs this year. Perhaps if they had just league average power at first this would not be the case. Perhaps if they had a remotely competent GM they could find a first baseman with league average (or better!) power. Perhaps I am among the lunatic fringe.

Consideration should be given to how the Giants' power at other positions compares to the league average. If first basemen have been lacking in power, maybe Sabean's made up for it elsewhere (Jeff Kent at 2B comes to mind, and Aurilia at SS to a lesser extent). Charts for other positions will be added to this post as time permits.

Special thanks to a certain displaced Giants fan in Los Angeles for help with formatting the above chart.

Image courtesy of

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