Let’s say that you were invited to a steak dinner and when you sat at your seat you were handed a cheesesteak. But it was a good cheesesteak… and you were invited to take the cheesesteak into the living room and watch a game while you ate.
Did you have a steak dinner? Not really. Did it work out OK? Sure.
I think the Pirates steak dinner at first base in 2015 was Pedro Alvarez. In the end it was a lot of Sean “Serpico” Rodriguez. A lot more than I realized as well. Let’s look at the games, games started, complete games and innings at first base for the Bucs in 2015:
The numbers that stood out to me were:
- How few games Pedro finished for the 119 he started. Only Aramis Ramirez finished a fewer percentage of games that he started of the five Pirate first basemen listed.
- How many games Serpico played at first base. If you would have asked me how many games Rodriguez played at first base, just on gut feel I would have said about 50-60… not 102. You can also notice how few games Rodriguez started versus his total games played.
When the Pirates do something so bold there normally is a reason. So I dug into the numbers at Fangraphs and I found my answer. I searched the Defensive input into Fangraphs WAR for first basemen for the seasons 2012-2015 and here’s what I found:
Sean Rodriguez is not merely good at playing defense at first base… he’s GREAT. He’s Billy Hamilton’s speed great. He’s Andrelton Simmons defense at SS great. (If I’d care, I’d see if Simmons vs. average SS defense is better or worse than Serpico vs. average 1B defense).
You can see that Serpico is much better than even a reputed good defensive first baseman like Mark Texiera or Mike Napoli (who is a Free Agent the Pirates might like, too).
Let’s look at another chart. This one is for the same years but it’s for the Baserunning input into Fangraphs WAR of all first basemen:
While Rodriguez is no Paul Goldschmidt, he still has tremendous value on the base paths and can be used a a pinch runner, which he was used several times last season.
Another point of this is that Pedro pretty much knew he was getting pulled after the 5th or 6th inning. This means he probably didn’t have to study the other teams relievers as much as their starter; likewise for Serpico and the starters. Maybe this is another reason Pedro had a good offensive season and I hope it doesn’t make Rodriguez’s poor offensive output in 2015 as his ceiling.
So as the dust settles at first base after the non-tender of Pedro, don’t be surprised if the Pirates turn to a familiar face. Sean Rodriguez’s defense at first base could buffer now with Morse and in the future with the defensively weak Josh Bell. He could help the Pirates more than the common fan realizes.