Defending Yonder

It’s difficult being the band that follows Led Zeppelin.

In San Diego we were the beneficiaries of multiple All-Star caliber seasons from Adrian Gonzalez. And then, one day, he was gone, leaving a black hole at first base. Of course, it was supposed to only be vacant for a short period of time as Anthony Rizzo, part of the haul the Padres received for Adrian, was due to take over. Then the front office went through a complete change and suddenly the GM who brought Rizzo here was in Chicago and Josh Byrnes was here, eager to put his stamp on the team’s lineup. He did almost immediately in dealing Mat Latos for, among other players, a first baseman who was blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto.

In San Diego he was likely blocked by Anthony Rizzo as well. A simple enough fix as Jed Hoyer traded for Rizzo for the second time in his life. This left Yonder Alonso, standing alone at first.

It’s important to note that none of this is Yonder Alonso’s fault. Sure, Alonso has faults. Here’s one:

Fans aren’t sold on Alonso however. Last season, during the brief stretch of time that Kyle Blanks was A) raking; B) healthy, fans were ready to bid adieu to Alonso for good. Naturally, and unfortunately, Blanks got hurt. As is his pattern. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that a move to first base for Blanks would limit his likelihood of getting injured. Maybe that’s true. But there’s no way to know that.

But more importantly, Alonso hasn’t been bad. This is the part that is more difficult to grasp. He hasn’t shown the power that was predicted back in 2009. The doubles you know about but that hasn’t been followed by HRs. The fence modification, believed to benefit Alonso more than anything, had virtually no effect. In part that was injury related, which we’ll get to in a bit.

What he has shown is plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone that was predicted. Don’t believe me? In his rookie season (2012) Alonso was 2nd on the team in walks (62) and third in OBP (.348). That OBP was good for 7th in MLB amongst first baseman (4 points better than Adrian Gonzalez).

His 2013 was not nearly as good as it was hampered by a nagging wrist injury. Despite the injury zapping what was already a minimal power output and later his ability to hit the ball with any level of authority, it didn’t affect his eye as he continued to draw walks and find his way on base (.370 OBP in the 2nd half of 2013).

As a defender he’s no where near what Adrian Gonzalez is or, for that matter, Rizzo. He’s better then he was though and he’s far from an iron glove at first.

If the Padres are to contend in 2014, and that is at least better than a puncher’s chance of happening, in part it will be because they get a full season of Yonder Alonso. And a 2012 type season from Alonso is a solid addition to a lineup that is already looking better and healthier than it has in years.

The Padres abandoned one first baseman after basically one season and there’s no question that was a mistake. Abandoning another when that player has only had one full season in the Majors under his belt is equally foolish. Moreover, Alonso is an asset. Will the power come? Who knows? He’s still inexperienced and has time to develop. And if it doesn’t, is that the end of the world if he continues to get on base and hit the ball in the gaps? I’d say no. There is a belief that first basemen should hit for power. Attaching certain offensive traits to a position vs a person feels archaic though. When the biggest power hitter in Seattle plays second and the best hitter in Minnesota is behind the plate, what does it matter what position the offense comes from?

Fans were rightfully upset when Adrian Gonzalez was traded and were rightfully upset when Rizzo was traded. It’s time to move past the anger over that and move forward. Because the first baseman the Padres have isn’t so bad. You just have to give him a chance.

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