Can Mark Reynolds fill the Brewers’ first base void?

Mark Reynolds at first base. - J. Meric

Mark Reynolds may not be an All Star, but he's certainly good enough to be a major improvement over what the Brewers had at first base last season.

Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers were an absolute mess at first base. Seven different players were trotted out at the position, including catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, as well as shortstops Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt. As a result, the Brewers ranked dead last at first base in several offensive categories, including wRC+ (64), wOBA (.268), BB% (5.0), and fWAR (-4.6).

The position was primarily handled by a combination of Betancourt and corner infielder Juan Francisco, a duo that Milwaukee will probably want to avoid using in 2014. As such, the Brewers just signed Mark Reynolds, the power-hitting, strikeout heavy corner infielder (~2,000 innings at first base, ~6,000 innings at third base) to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Reynolds wouldn't be a complete fix at the position; in fact, there is a chance -- albeit small, as management seems to lack confidence in Francisco's abilities as a full-time player -- that he won't get the job over Francisco, the projected 2014 Opening Day starter.

Much of that will depend on his performance throughout the spring, as well as the status of third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez, who turns 36 this season, missed time last year with a left knee injury. He will be a question mark as the Brewers enter the upcoming season, creating the possibility that Milwaukee will need to play Francisco at third and Reynolds at first.

But, if we work under the assumption that Ramirez is fully healthy and maintains his rightful control of third, Reynolds will be fighting for a job. In that case, how much additional value could he offer the Brewers if they chose to start him at first base?

Here's how Reynolds compared offensively to Betancourt and Francisco in 2013:

Player PA HR BB% K% ISO wOBA wRC+
Mark Reynolds 504 21 10.1% 30.6% .173 .310 96
Yuniesky Betancourt 409 13 3.4% 17.4% .143 .257 56
Juan Francisco 385 18 8.3% 35.8% .195 .313 96

While Betancourt doesn't come close to Reynolds' offensive output, Francisco is a near match. And, if we only look at his data once he was traded to the Brewers (smaller sample size, but a more accurate portrayal of his time in Milwaukee), Francisco's offensive numbers are even slightly better than Reynolds' throughout 2013.

Overall, though, Reynolds and Francisco are mostly comparable offensively. That still leaves defense. Here's how Reynolds stacks up to both Betancourt and Francisco defensively at first base:

Note: all statistics taken for innings played at first base in 2013 only.

Player Innings DRS UZR UZR/150
Mark Reynolds 500 -5 0.6 1.6
Yuniesky Betancourt 409 -2 -2.7 -10.4
Juan Francisco 532.1 -3 -8.7 -27.1

Although Reynolds lacks behind the other two in DRS, he makes up for it by being leaps and bounds ahead in both UZR and UZR/150. Roughly 500 innings for each player isn't enough data to declare Reynolds the best fielder of the three, especially considering his near-1,000 innings at first base for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 in which he posted a UZR of -7.0 and a UZR/150 of -12.5, but neither Betancourt nor Francisco have any other playing time at first base for comparison.

And, that may be the answer as to how valuable Reynolds will be for the Brewers in 2014. Betancourt certainly isn't a viable option at first base, and Francisco is probably better suited at third base -- his career -1.0 UZR and -1.8 UZR/150 over 910.1 innings at third base are significantly better than his small sample at first. Having Reynolds offers them an alternative at a position that's horrifyingly anemic on their depth chart.

Reynolds might have most of his best days behind him -- after four years of 1.2 fWAR or higher to start his career, including a 3.2 fWAR in 2009, Reynolds hasn't topped 0.4 fWAR -- but, given the current situation in Milwaukee, even the 2014 Steamer projection of 0.7 fWAR would be a very valuable addition to the Brewers this season considering how little they got from the position a year ago.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Evan Kendall is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and co-founder of The Sports Post. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_TSP.

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