Mientkiewicz struggling at the plate

Updated: May 16, 2003, 9:31 AM ET
By Jim Baker
Does a slugging, "traditional" first baseman give a team an advantage, or is it preferable to rely on a more defense-oriented person to handle the job? This is a dilemma that will soon be facing the Minnesota Twins as their man at first, Doug Mientkiewicz, continues to razzle dazzle in the field but fail at the plate while more prolific hitters work their way to the major leagues. The defensive-plus/offensive-minus tradeoff that is so easy to make at shortstop or catcher has always been harder to justify at first base.

In today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jim Souhan discusses the options open to the Twins as Mientkiewicz -- who is eligible to ask for arbitration this off-season -- continues to struggle at the plate and Justin Morneau keeps hitting up a storm in the minor leagues. Two years ago, Mientkiewicz was no slugger but was holding his own with a decent batting average and a bit of pop. While he has continued to walk at a good rate, the batting average keeps falling and the pop is disappearing. His offensive numbers are the antithesis of those one would expect from the first baseman prototype. (Except in regard to stealing bases where he is five for 15 in career attempts.)

Can defensive prowess around the initial sack compensate for a lack of traditional hitting skills? It so happens that two of the better-fielding first basemen of recent times could also hit very well. Both Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly could pick it at first (Mattingly was even used as a left-handed third baseman for three games in '86, a testament to his abilities) but were good enough hitters that they could have been complete zeroes in the field and it wouldn't have mattered. Even if Mientkiewicz is in their league on the defensive side of the ball, has his offense slipped to the point that he needs to be replaced?
Jim Baker is an author at Baseball Prospectus and a frequent contributor to Page 2. You can e-mail Jim at bottlebat@gmail.com.

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