A.L. East midseason review: First base

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Trying to predict baseball is begging for trouble. Oh, Chris Davis, where art thou?

This week and next, you'll see the luminaries of Camden Chat revisiting their preseason position-by-position predictions for the AL East.  Today, you'll see me doing so.  You see, I was assigned the task of handicapping the first basemen of the AL East, which seemed laughably easy coming off of the 2013 campaign.  Well, let's see how I'm doing so far.

Steve's insane preseason rank 2014 WAR 2014 slash line
Edwin Encarnacion 2 3.1 .277/.368/.591
Mike Napoli 3 2.1 .265/.386/.432
Mark Teixeira 5 1.0 .239/.340/.463
Chris Davis 1 0.8 .197/.308/.380/ugh
James Loney 4 0.5 .277/.332/.374

So, that's happening.

Edwin Encarnacion is easily pacing the AL East first basemen, and there'd be no room for debate about it if he weren't hurt right now.  Injury aside, though, Encarnacion is just destroying the baseball, mashing out 26 home runs so far.  He was absolutely unconscious in May, slashing .281/.369/.763 with 16 HRs in 130 PAs.  You just can't argue with that kind of production from a first baseman.

I'll at least take credit for calling Mike Napoli pretty well.  A quiet producer with an ugly neckbeard, Napoli was, in my words, a good bet for steady production if he remained healthy. Well, Napoli has stayed healthy so far, and after a 129 OPS+ in 2013, he has a 128 OPS+ so far this year.  Steady production, indeed.

Mark Teixeira, however, I can't twist that prediction into anything remotely correct.  Mark Teixeira had been declining for years, and was fresh off of a major recurring wrist injury, but here he is, having a decent (if unexceptional) campaign at 34 years old.  Baseball, man, I'll tell you.

I don't even know what to say about Chris Davis.  He had a sweet three-homer barrage in Pittsburgh, a go-ahead pinch-hit home run in Washington, and ... has been really hard to watch otherwise.  His swing looks hampered and uppercutty, he can't hit against the defensive shifts being put on against him, and the walks he was taking at the beginning of the year (which made his power dropoff seem OK) have evaporated as other teams have become unwilling to pitch around him.  It's not fun watching Chris Davis in 2014. [Update: Davis hit last night's go-ahead bomb about 30 minutes after I wrote this, because of course he did.]

Loney's bat has regressed from his breakout 2013 as well, but to a much lesser degree than Davis -- he finds himself below Davis in WAR only because he's having a rough defensive 2014 (-0.8 dWAR) while Davis is continuing to hold a league-average glove.  Loney's one of many things going wrong for a tough Rays season, but he's not nearly the worst one (that's mostly in the starting rotation).

So, there you have it.  Maybe these rankings will shake up a little more before the end of the year.  Maybe the All-Star break will let Davis rediscover his swing.  Whether Encarnacion's injury ends up being serious will be a big part of the final ranking.  Maybe 32-year-old Mike Napoli with an about-to-pop hip will be the most valuable first baseman in the AL East.  Baseball is strange.

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