The Battle for First Base and Carlos Quentin


If you listen at all to San Diego sports talk radio, you have undoubtedly have heard some caller call in and come up with ingenious plan to solve the Carlos Quentin dilemma.  That is to say, the outfield is more than full, the Padres are on the hook for Quentin’s $10 million salary this season, and no one likes Yonder Alonso (seriously, no one does)(he is tolerated maybe)(but really, no one actually likes Yonder).  The perfect solution is to just start Carlos Quentin at 1B.  After all, back when you played Pony League, coach always stuck the kid that was big, could whack the ball, but couldn’t field, at 1B.  Why wouldn’t it work with Quentin also?  Besides, every fan knows that “Carlos Quentin is a beast when healthy”.  Or at least we’ve been told this for years.

Finally, this Spring, reports came out of camp that the Padres were working out Quentin at 1B.  The perfect plan, right?!  Well, it’s time to face reality.  As Marver and I have discussed on the podcast, the whole Carlos Quentin is a “beast when healthy” thing?  It’s not true.  It’s not backed up by fact or stats or real life performances.  It’s based off of memories of 5 years ago when he was still on the White Sox, which in Quentin Time, is about 14 injuries ago.

Much of AJ Preller’s apparent strategy this winter has been acquire bats and defense be damned.  It’s going to be a great examination of the importance of defensive WAR to a player’s overall performance and team performance.  So, under that apparent paradigm, Quentin, assuming he can hit still, would fit the idea perfectly.  But it’s gone beyond just Quentin.  Bud Black is reportedly working out Will Middlebrooks at 1B, along with sometimes infielder sometimes catcher Cody Decker, former top prospect and notoriously bad fielder Brett Wallace, and marginal prospect Alex Dickerson.  Some fans even want to see Derek Norris at 1B.  Not to mention good ol’ Alonso, the only option that seems to be even average or above at fielding the position.  Of course, as we’ve all seen, hitting productively isn’t necessarily a key strength of Yonder.

So why is Quentin not a “beast when healthy”?  Let’s look at the stats and projections:

Carlos’ last productive seasons were 2012 and 2013 where he posted an OPS of .877 and hit 16 HRs, and OPS of .855 and 13 HRs in limited time.  Not so bad, right?  Except he only played about half a season’s worth of time in both seasons.  Going into the 2014 season, there were reports that Carlos was “in the best shape of his life”, as per usual for glowing Spring Training reporting.  Padres fans had high hopes that Carlos would solidify the offense by playing more and hitting with his apparently usual power.  Unfortunately, life just didn’t work out for Carlos last season.  He posted an OPS of .599 with 4 HRs over about 150 at bats.  He couldn’t stay healthy, and when he played, his bat looked slow.  Defensively, playing his native position of LF, Carlos has not had positive value since his 2007 season in Arizona.  Since then, he has steadily accumulated negative defensive value at the position, which makes sense, as his creaky knee have slowly been wearing away into dust.  Age-wise, Carlos is in the decline phase of his career, clocking in at 32 years old.  His positive value 2012 and 2013 seasons were right in the prime of his career.  Here are two charts showing the average aging curve for MLB players, specifically the K% and the ISO%:

ISO K_perc

As you can see that 32 to 33 range has led to a steep decline in power.  The K% aging curve shows a steady increase in K%, which can be somewhat explained by slowing bat speed.  In the case of Carlos, his K% jumped nearly 6% last season from the 2013 season.  His ISO dropped 37% from 2013 to 2014.  In my opinion, with a player as injured as Carlos has been, with creaky knees that may be restricting his rotation and bat speed, things are not looking good on the aging front.  I get the excitement of finding a place for Quentin since he’s eating up so much salary (THANKS BYRNES), but I strongly do not believe Quentin is the answer.  Not taking into account the likely increased negative value defensively he’d display at a new position, Fangraphs has him at 0.2 WAR.  So does ZIPS.  So where does that put him compared to the other possible 1B:

Name                                       Steamer/ZIPS

Yonder Alonso                       1.6 WAR/1.3 WAR

Alex Dickerson                      0.0 WAR/-0.1 WAR (Steamer only projects Alex for 1 AB in 2015)

Brett Wallace                         0.0 WAR/0.2 WAR (Steamer only projects Brett for 1 AB in 2015)

Cody Decker                          0.0 WAR/-0.1 WAR (Steamer only projects Cody for 1 AB in 2015)

Will Middlebrooks               0.4 WAR/1.0 WAR (Should be noted that Will is projected for positive value fielding, neg at the plate)

Derek Norris                         2.3 WAR/2.2 WAR (Projected for positive offensive and defensive value at C)

Carlos Quentin                     0.2 WAR/0.8 WAR (Projected for positive offensive and negative defensive value at LF)

So what does this tell us?  Well, first, it tell us that Steamer has issues with projecting value for upcoming prospects.  I think the way to answer this is to guess at AJ Preller’s rationale.  If what he is going for is let’s get some power at the plate and forget defense; that defensive saber projections are overrated, I’d argue that Cody Decker and Brett Wallace might be who they should be looking at.  Both are projected for 16 HRs in limited time by ZIPS.  Meanwhile, Quentin is projected for 10 HRs.  Brett Wallace was a former top prospect, ranked the #27 prospect in baseball in 2009.  In some ways, he’s similar to Will Middlebrooks.  Both were highly ranked prospects who have displayed power in the Majors but strike out a ton.  Wallace hit 13 HRs in half a season’s time in 2013 but posted a 36.5% K%.  Middlebrooks posted 17 HRs in 2013 but saw his K% increase from 26.2% in 2013 to 29.9%.

As I’ve said on the podcast a few times, if I’m going to support the Padres taking a chance on someone, I’d rather it was someone that was regarded as a top prospect in all of baseball.  The amount of scouting, analysis and scrutiny top prospects receive lead me to believe they are a somewhat safer bet to “put it together” at some point.  This applies to Yonder Alonso as well, who at one time was the Baseball America #33 prospect in baseball in 2011.

Moving forward, I just can’t see Quentin providing much value at 1B.  His hitting is deteriorating, his fielding, which was already bad, isn’t going to be blossoming at a new position in 2015.  If the team is intent on gambling on a power hitting terrible fielder, I’d much rather see Brett Wallace or Cody Decker get a shot backing up Yonder Alonso.  Clearly, based on projections, Yonder is the best option to start the season at 1B.  All things being equal, if/when things go south with Yonder, either on the field or after injury, get Brett Wallace up there.

While we’d like to keep those rosy memories of Carlos Quentin alive in our heads.  Hey guys, remember when the team had a replica jersey night with Quentin’s name on the back?!  Those days are long past.  There is a reason no AL teams want to trade for him.  Why acquire a designated hitter that can no longer hit?  It’s time to close the book on the Carlos Quentin saga.



9 responses to “The Battle for First Base and Carlos Quentin

  1. I hearya, but I think there is a slim upside with Quentin you’re neglecting. Fact is, between ’12-’13, he produced almost 4 WAR in about a full season’s worth of time, even with the awful defense. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The 150 crappy ABs last year could be a sign of things to come, as the projections suggest, but it could also be a flukey SSS. The possibility of the latter is enough for the “beast when healthy” statement to have some validity IMO. 30-something decline is not always linear–a can name a few familiar sluggers of the top of my head who had resurgent years in their 30s: Greg Vaughn, Phil Nevin, Steve Finley, Mike Piazza. I’m not counting on it from Quentin, but I think it’s more possible than you make it out to be.


    • 2 things about those names. They didn’t have the terrible injury history of Quentin, and their late career performance was during the steroid era. I’d argue Wallace has more sheer upside being a former top prospect, and honestly, Yonder also has more realistic upside. This is ignoring the fact that 1B fielding grounders is in many ways harder on the knees than playing LF.


  2. Nevin ’02-’04: strained elbow, broken arm, dislocated shoulder, arthro surgery on the knee, yet had a nice comeback year in 2004 at age 33. Quentin’s knees are chronic, but they didn’t seem to hinder his hitting in ’12-13, except whatever hitting he couldn’t do while on the DL.


    • Nevin also totally fell off the next year by over 3 WAR into negative territory. Bodies break down quickly and suddenly. If we’re talking realistic upside, I still think there are way better options than a literally broken man in the twilight of his career.


      • That doesn’t change the fact that Nevin had that good comeback year. It was one of the possibilities–his upside. You’re talking about downside, which happened the next year for him. Quentin has that downside, obviously, but he still has the upside too.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing his upside is better or more likely than other 1b options (so in essence I agree with your main point), but there is upside there that I think you’re neglecting.


      • I’m not trying to say there’s 0% chance he will somehow be productive. But given that he’s changing position, his age, his injury history, and his recent performance, I don’t think Nevin is an analogous comparable (and this is totally ignoring the era’s dabbling with PEDs whose effect was faster and better recovery times).


    • Maybe there are reasons Nevin isn’t comparable, but those aren’t it–Nevin also changed position (twice), was comparable age (actually older), and had extensive injury history. The only difference is how bad Quentin hit last year, but it’s a small sample size. It was just 150 PAs ago that he was a reasonably beastly 145 OPS+ hitter, good enough to accumulate 2 WAR per year DESPITE the DL time and poor defense. It’s an exaggeration of passion to say he hasn’t been a good hitter “when healthy” for years.

      Not sure why you’re fixated on HR when comparing projections to Decker and Wallace. Quentin is projected to hit so much better than them that his projected WAR is higher in 1/2 the playing time. A .750 OPS in 250 PAs is more valuable than a .650 OPS in 500.


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