The first base position is seen by many as a “cornerstone” position on the infield. Often times the first baseman for a team is one of, if not the, best hitter on the team.
Many World Series teams have had stellar first basemen on the roster. For example, in recent years, the St. Louis Cardinals’ had first baseman Albert Pujols during their 2006 and 2011 championship runs, the Kansas City Royals had Eric Hosmer in 2014 and 2015, and the Chicago Cubs have Anthony Rizzo. Having a great first baseman is a common trait that many championship-caliber teams have.
The Brewers did not have that first baseman in 2020.
The Brewers’ first base position this season was an active “revolving door”. Eight players played first base at some point or another in 2020. That list includes Justin Smoak, Ryan Braun, Jedd Gyorko, Jace Peterson, Mark Mathias, Brock Holt, Logan Morrison, and Ryon Healy; three of those guys did not finish the season on the team, and one didn’t finish on the active roster.
If the team wants to improve in 2021, the “first base experience” should give them a good idea of who to look for in the offseason.
While the Brewers had eight players see time at first base, only two of them truly “played” the position; that would be Jedd Gyorko and Justin Smoak. Yes, Daniel Vogelbach is theoretically a first baseman, but only had eight at-bats at the position this year. Thus, this article will focus on Gyorko and Smoak as the primary players at first base.
The Brewers signed Justin Smoak prior to the 2020 season on a one-year/$4 million contract. An all-star in 2017, Smoak struggled in 2019 with the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting .208 with 22 home runs in 121 games. But, the Brewers decided to take a chance on the switch-hitting slugger in 2020. With Smoak hitter-friendly Miller Park for 82 games in 2020 (which ended up being only 30 games due to the shortened season), the chances for Smoak to produce increased the upside of his one-year contract.
That was not the case.
In 33 games with the Brewers, Smoak hit a measly .186 batting average with an on-base percentage of .262. He also hit only 5 home runs (pacing for 13 in a 162-game season) and posted a -0.7 offensive WAR. On an offense that struggled mightily in 2020, Smoak did not do anything to help improve it.
In terms of fielding, Smoak had a .991 fielding percentage, committing only two errors all season. Despite this, Smoak cost the Brewers a lot of runs this season, having a -1 DRS (defensive runs saved) and a -2 total runs saved above average (RTOT). He was not the worst defender in the league at the position last year, nor was he the best.
That being said, the Brewers could have used his offense more than his defense in 2020, and decided to buy out his contract on September 6th. Smoak then played three games with the San Francisco Giants in September, but was also cut by them on September 22nd.
Jedd Gyorko provided some much needed production at the first base position following the release of Justin Smoak. In 41 games played this season, Gyorko hit .248 with an .838 OPS, nine home runs, and a 0.6 WAR. He provided a nice spark in the lineup while others struggled all season long, helping the Brewers sneak into the playoffs.
On defense, Gyorko played in 209 innings at first base, committing only one error. Standing only five feet and ten inches tall, it’s no surprise that Gyorko’s range factor per nine innings (7.44) was way below league average (8.33). Despite that, Gyorko still had a fielding percentage above league-average, and was a staple on the infield this season. Following the season, the Brewers declined Gyorko’s club option, but it would be no surprise if the team decided to bring him back.
Overall Grade: C+
In the end, the Brewers’ first basemen this season were not the best, yet very serviceable. Jedd Gyorko turned out to be the main first baseman for the team to replace the struggles of Justin Smoak, and with the help of some other defensive replacements, the team still snuck into the playoffs.
As for the future of the position for the team, there are plenty of options this offseason. Of course, the team can check in on Jedd Gyorko once again. But, if they can’t bring him back, in-house writer @sarahspooon detailed her top five free agent options at first base for the Brewers next season. You can check out that article here.
Other Brewers’ 2020 Report Cards
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