March 1, 2011

2011 Position Preview: First Base

Here you have it, the big free agent acquisition to upgrade the Pirates lineup: Lyle Overbay. Signed for one year and $5 million, Overbay if nothing else is a legitimate major league first baseman. He's not a star, but this is a far cry from running Jeff Clement out there on Opening Day.

Of course, Overbay should be a platoon first baseman. He was Toronto's regular first baseman last year, when he proved once again that he can't hit lefthanded pitching (.222/.295/.405 in 2010, .259/.308/.402 career). The Pirates nevertheless seem determined to start him every day, probably because they need his above average defense to compensate for their infielders' wild arms. He'll do a solid job overall.

2008: 158 games, .270/.358/.419, 74 Runs, 15 HR, 69 RBI, 1 SB
2009: 132 games, .265/.372/.466, 57 Runs, 16 HR, 64 RBI
2010: 154 games, .243/.329/.433, 75 Runs, 20 HR, 67 RBI, 1 SB

Overbay was in a strict platoon in 2009, so as you see, that year his overall hitting numbers were a lot better. I would like to see Steven Pearce or Garrett Atkins in a platoon here and I expect Overbay to lose playing time at some point. However, Overbay is pretty established and shouldn't really hit differently than he hit in Toronto. Figure on .255/.340/.430 with 55 runs, 17 homers, and 70 RBI.

Backup: Garrett Atkins
Atkins is battling Steven Pearce for this roster spot. I expect Atkins to win it since he was a four year starter for Clint Hurdle in Colorado. Unlike Pearce, Atkins also can play third base, although Atkins should get most of his playing time at first with Pedro Alvarez entrenched across the diamond.

2008: 155 games, .286/.328/.452, 86 Runs, 21 HR, 99 RBI, 1 SB
2009: 128 games, .226/.308/.342, 37 Runs, 9 HR, 48 RBI
2010: 44 games, .214/.276/.286, 5 Rubs, 1 HR, 9 RBI

An elite third baseman in 2006 and '07, Atkins' performance has been in free fall ever since. The Orioles released him in early July last year, opting to eat half of his $4 million contract, and Atkins couldn't catch on with another team.

Despite these struggles, Atkins is only 31 and is reunited with his former manager/hitting instructor. Under Hurdle, Atkins drove in 419 runs from 2005-08. I think he'll be a decent bench bat who ends the season as a platoon partner for Overbay. Figure on .250/.320/.420 in around 150 at bats.

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