Best Seasons Since 2000: First Base


Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the offseason and trade talks have yet to pick up considering the post-World Series GM meetings in Arizona have yet to occur.  Teams are piecing together their offseason wish lists and strategies, deciding who to pursue and what players to inquire about.  Lots must be going on, but not action that is widely or explicitly known for the media to report.  Because of the general lull in news related to the Rangers I figured now would be as good a time as any to do a short series of articles juxtaposing some of the best individual offensive seasons from Rangers position players in the last fifteen years (from 2000 up until 2014).

Taking a look at the best individual seasons should be interesting for a couple reasons.  Whose big seasons translated to a big contract renewal? Whose big year led to a long stretch of productivity for the Rangers and whose performance led to their eventual departure?  The aftermath of a terrific season, in retrospect, is almost as telling as the individual’s season itself.

Here are a few of the parameters for the subsequent rankings:

  1. A player will not be selected more than once despite multiple impressive seasons (i.e. Alex Rodriguez will not represent the best three seasons as a Ranger shortstop despite his incredible, steroid enhanced, numbers from 2001-03).
  2. A player can rank at multiple positions (we all probably have the same player in mind).
  3. Players will be graded exclusively on their offensive performance, thus defense will not be a factor in my ratings.
  4. Should another players season come close in the rankings they will be listed as an honorable mention.
  5. That’s about it.

First base seems like a logical place to begin:

First Place: Mark Teixeira, 2005 Campaign. In 2005, Mark Teixeira followed up his breakout 2004 sophomore campaign with a truly impressive offensive year. As a 25 year old, Teixeira played all 162 games in the Texas heat and posted an impressive .301/.379/.575 slash line. He finished with 87 extra base hits including 43 homeruns. From a WAR standpoint, Teixeira was work 5.9 oWAR while making less than 4 million in salary (he also won the Gold Glove, but that is irrelevant for this instance). Teixeira plated and scored a great deal of runs this year too; he tallied 144 RBI’s to go with 112 runs scored. Despite these numbers, Teixeira finished just 7th in the AL MVP voting due probably to the existence of steroids still around and Texas’ poor play as a team.

Speculating several years after “The Teixeira Trade” was pulled off, it seems like this season in particular boosted Teixeira’s value enough to warrant the huge return Texas received.  That core, as we all know, played a large role in the Rangers push back into relevance.

Second Place: Rafael Palmeiro, 2002 Campaign.   Palmeiro produced a tremendous 2002 season during which he played the majority at the ripe age of 37. His .273/.391/.571 slash line gives him a higher OPS than Teixeira’s 2005 season but only because of his better on base capabilities (104 walks whereas Teixeira had 72 in his arguably best season). In addition to taking a pitch, Palmeiro was also given some level of respect, having been walked intentionally 16 times that season. 74 of his 149 hits that year were for extra bases (though he had no triples), almost exactly 50% in total.

Despite his great offensive season, Palmeiro would be on his way out as Teixeira would eventually replace him the next year in 2003.  Texas likely knew that Palmeiro couldn’t replicate his huge season (given that he was already 37) and was almost certainly aware too of the mega-prospect they had in Mark Teixeira.

Third Place: Mitch Moreland, 2013 Campaign. Mitch played 147 games in 2013, his highest total as a big leaguer. In addition to that, he was good for 23 homeruns in his age 27 season. Most of his power came against righties as 20 of those 23 homeruns were hit against opponents throwing from the right side. The Rangers hoped that Mitch could stay similarly healthy for 2014 but improve his drastic splits against LHP’s, but as we all know, Prince Fielder was signed before the 2014 season to take over the first base role.

Honorable Mention: None

Thoughts: A couple things stick out to me after doing this exercise. For one, the rangers had two very good first basemen hold down the position for the first half of this fifteen-year stretch in Palmeiro and later Teixeira. The two were just about a lock to produce a near .900 OPS from an offensive heavy position and fill out the middle of the order. Since then, though, the Rangers have had very poor or inconsistent production following the July 2007 Teixeira Trade (hence the .736 OPS Moreland season ranking as high as third). Chris Davis, Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, and not Prince Fielder have been the anticipated run producers to hold down first but none of them has yet to produce a season even close to what their predecessors were accomplishing, hence the omission of an honorable mention. With improved health, Prince Fielder should ameliorate that offensive hole and really should be included on these rankings if they were to be done a year from today.

The Rangers offense was as fierce as the pitching was awful for the first nearly the entire first decade of this century. A big part of their daunting lineups was the heart where a power-hitting first basemen was sure to be found. The 2015 Texas Rangers will not have that type of explosive offense, but they have a better chance than they’ve had the last five or so years to have that power-hitting first baseman back in the fold.