Colorado Rockies: What numbers tell us about recent first basemen

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 20: Justin Morneau #33 of the Colorado Rockies prepares to bat in the first inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field on September 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 20: Justin Morneau #33 of the Colorado Rockies prepares to bat in the first inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field on September 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /
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Yet again this offseason, it appears that the Colorado Rockies are searching for an answer to their offensive issues at first base.

When Ian Desmond was signed to a five-year, $70 million deal in the winter before the 2017 campaign, it was believed the Colorado Rockies had found their first baseman for the foreseeable future. Despite Desmond never playing the position before inking that contract, it was believed he could not only learn the position defensively but also be a solid offensive performer for the team throughout the lifetime of his contract.

However, that has hardly been the case.

Desmond’s struggles at the plate once again have the Rockies contemplating this offseason how they can bring offense to a position that has struggled mightily since Justin Morneau won the league’s batting title in 2014 with a .319 average.

In an offseason where Todd Helton first appears on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, the Rockies are still looking for the player who can be a serviceable replacement for him at first base.

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Certainly there have been flashes at the position since Helton retired in 2013. Morneau’s batting title in 2014. The first half put together by Mark Reynolds in 2017. Even Desmond’s 22 homers and 20 stolen bases last season can be spun positively (if you don’t look at his other stats that went along with those numbers).

Despite some of Desmond’s numbers last season, the facts remain that the Rockies are once again being rumored to be looking for a free agent to play first base this season. Why? Partly because, as a position last season, Colorado’s first basemen (Desmond, Ryan McMahon and Pat Valaika, all of whom drew starts at the position in 2018, along with Drew Butera and Matt Holliday, who wrapped up games at the spot) put together a slash line of .232/.314/.405.

Let’s look back to see how that compares to the last year of Helton at first base (2013, when he started 104 games at the spot). As a note, Jordan Pacheco started 39 games at first base while Michael Cuddyer started 13. The trio put together a slash line of .255/.309/.394. Interestingly, only the batting average was higher that season than what 2018’s crew put together.

In Morneau’s batting championship season of 2014, with him starting 126 games, Colorado’s first basemen pieced together a slash line of .308/.353/.503.

The next season, with injuries limiting Morneau to just 42 starts at first base, Ben Paulsen had the team lead with 60 starts at a position which was a carousel of players including Reynolds, Gerardo Parra, Stephen Cardullo and Wilin Rosario. The group combined for a .279/.321/.445 slash.

In 2016, Reynolds paced the Rockies at first base with 102 starts and was joined by Paulsen, Cardullo, Daniel Descalso, Jordan Patterson and Ryan Raburn. Together, they posted a .264/.332/.412 slash. It’s also interesting to note that only Cardullo is still with the organization (and he isn’t a member of the current 40-man roster), highlighting the turnover in talent there has been with the club even as recently as two years ago.

The next season, with Reynolds leading the way with 132 starts (thanks in part to a broken hand suffered by Desmond in spring training), Colorado first basemen (also including Desmond, McMahon, Parra, Valaika and Cristhian Adames) recorded a .267/.345/.439 slash line.

To recap by year, with the leader in starts in parentheses…

2013 (Helton) — .255/.309/.394
2014 (Morneau) — .308/.353/.503
2015 (Paulsen) — .279/.321/.445
2016 (Reynolds) — .264/.332/.412
2017 (Reynolds) — .267/.345/.439
2018 (Desmond) — .232/.314/.405

The numbers highlight not only the struggles of last season, but also the revolving door that the position has seen since Helton’s retirement.

Next. Desmond and five other Rockies under pressure to perform in 2019. dark

Unless the Rockies go with McMahon in a dominant role this season and don’t sign a short-term replacement at first base, Colorado likely won’t find the long-term solution at the position again in 2018. So the bigger question becomes this: When will the franchise find stability at first base?

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