As the Pittsburgh Pirates begin the unofficial second half of the season this weekend against the Colorado Rockies, they have to be concerned with how poorly their first basemen have performed offensively.
Entering Friday’s game at PNC Park, Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez have combined for 415 plate appearances, with the left-handed swinging Davis getting 250 of those. Together, the platoon partners have produced roughly at replacement level, as Davis has a triple-slash line of .237 AVG/.352 OBP/.341 SLG while Sanchez boasts an equally unimpressive output of .229/.285/.412.
With the Pirates locked in a tight four-team battle for the National League Central – and a more crowded wild-card chase – any improvement could make a major difference come late September. It stands to reason that Pittsburgh should be open to an upgrade at first base.
But it’s one thing to say that and quite another to get it done. As my colleague Brett Tunno argued a few days ago, former Pirate Justin Morneau would look awfully good in black and gold right about now, but that’s the case for maybe two-thirds of the current crop of MLB first basemen.
In lieu of going outside the organization for a corner bat, I propose a different approach. After utilityman Josh Harrison‘s unexpected first-half breakout led to an all-star selection, he seems to be the best candidate to take over at first.
Before you object, I realize that a player can’t just start playing a new position in the middle of a season, especially a campaign of this much importance. Playoff runs don’t come around that often, and the opportunity is at hand for the Pirates to make back-to-back postseasons.
However, while Harrison hasn’t played first base regularly in the professional ranks, he has experience at every position on the diamond from his days at the University of Cincinnati. It would take some work to get him back up to speed, but it’s the type of risk the Pirates should be willing to take at this point.
Just ask yourself how good Harrison’s first-half line of .297/.333/.450 would look in the lineup spot that Davis or Sanchez usually occupy. J-Hay’s on-base percentage could still use some work, but those numbers meet respectable benchmarks for first basemen, where offensive standards are higher.
With Starling Marte returning from bereavement leave, the outfield opportunities are about to dry up for Harrison. Considering how well he’s hit this season, it’s a necessity for the Pirates to find a semi-permanent spot for him in the batting order.
The best way to do that is by handing him a first baseman’s mitt.