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Rays best-ever series, Part IV: First Base

We move on in our series deciding the best-ever season from a Rays first baseman

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images

We continue our search for the best Rays season from each spot around the diamond with a stop at first base today.

First, let’s check in on who the winners were at each previous position, as voters on by you, the readers of DRB: Starting Pitcher - 2012 David Price (70 percent of the vote); Relief Pitcher - 2012 Fernando Rodney (86 percent); Catcher - 2008 Dioner Navarro (39 percent). Not a bad squad so far, let’s add to it.

When the options for Rays best-ever season from a catcher, the options were diverse, but not really that great. At first base, it’s somewhat dissimilar. There are some crazy strong options, and one player had three seasons that could have appeared here as candidates. That seemed boring, but even as is, he is here twice, and one season of his is a heavy favorite.

Best seasons from Rays first basemen

Name Year G R HR RBI BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR rWAR
Name Year G R HR RBI BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR rWAR
Fred McGriff 1999 144 75 32 104 0.310 0.405 0.552 140 -16.3 3.6 4.0
Travis Lee 2003 145 75 19 70 0.275 0.348 0.459 112 6.2 3.4 3.6
Carlos Peña 2007 148 99 46 121 0.282 0.411 0.627 167 -12.8 5.9 7.2
Carlos Peña 2008 139 76 31 102 0.247 0.377 0.494 132 -5.5 3.8 5.1
Logan Morrison 2017 149 75 38 85 0.246 0.353 0.516 130 -9.9 3.3 3.6

Yeah, one pretty strong leader right there.

With 2007 Carlos Peña being the heavy favorite, let’s go one-by-one through the other candidates and figure out what your mentality would have to be to go against the odds-on favorite.

1999 Fred McGriff

This would be the sentimentalist pick. The Crime Dog came to Tampa Bay as a 34-year veteran for the team’s inaugural 1998 season and had a solid season, slashing .284/.371/.443 for an OPS+ of 111, easily the top figure in the fledgling Rays lineup.

His best season with the Rays came in 1999, when, as a now-35-year-old, he put up his best statistical season since the strike-shortened 1994 season, and you have to go two years back before that to top 1999 in terms of his best output in a full, 162-game season. McGriff, one of the most lovable Rays of all time, went yard 32 times (five off his career-high), drove in 104 runs (three off his career-high), and his 4.0 rWAR are the best-ever for a Rays first baseman not named Carlos Peña. Of course, the issue is Carlos Peña does indeed exist, and you have to be relying heavily on sentimentality to go with The Crime Dog over Peña.

2003 Travis Lee

The case here is pretty straight-forward. In the catcher edition of this series, I made the case for 2012 Jose Molina because I believed defense the most important portion of a catcher’s contribution to his team. If you, for some very strange reason, feel the same way about first base, Lee is your guy. Lee is the only one of these five to post positive metrics in both versions of WAR listed above, and he arguably could have won the Gold Glove that season (John Olerud was still a solid choice, though).

However, there’s a reason teams (both MLB and beer-league softball) stick their most lumbering and plus-sized players at first base. There really isn’t all that much a first baseman can do to impact the game from the defensive side of things. Plus, it’s not as if Peña was a dreadful first baseman. The 2007 season wasn’t his sharpest defensive year (hold that thought), but he was never brutal out there. Baseball-reference WAR has Peña as quite literally twice as valuable in 2007 as Lee was in 2003. Unless you’re wayyyyy against what the current defensive first base metrics say, that’s a big difference to swallow.

2008 Carlos Peña

Actually that meme isn’t quite appropriate. It should be the Tobey Maguire version of Spiderman (2007 Peña) pointing at the Tom Holland version of Spiderman.

The 2008 Peña’s case comes to something similar to Lee. Peña won the Gold Glove in 2008 and was a better defensive player by every metric available. If you think that’s enough to make up for the 35-point difference in wRC+, well, do your thing.

2017 Logan Morrison

If the Rays best-ever first base options were to be compared to the excellent 2017 Oscars Best Actress race, Morrison would be Isabelle Huppert. Solid, but no comparison to the rest. (Peña is Meryl Streep.)

His biggest contribution was his 38 home runs, and they don’t even really come that close to Peña’s 46 in 2007. As they say, “It’s an honor to even be nominated amongst such great company.”

My vote is certainly going for 2007 Peña, and I assume most of you will agree, but the catcher result quite surprised me, so I’m excited for another potential upset. Get out the vote!

Poll

Which season from a first baseman was the best in Rays history?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    1999 Fred McGriff
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    2003 Travis Lee
    (1 vote)
  • 85%
    2007 Carlos Peña
    (78 votes)
  • 9%
    2008 Carlos Peña
    (9 votes)
  • 2%
    2017 Logan Morrison
    (2 votes)
91 votes total Vote Now