2012 projections: top 10 first basemen

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Last night’s go at the catchers led to some hard feelings apparently, so let me make it clear, these are just OPS projections for 2012, they’re not meant for a hard statement on the game’s best at a position. Anyway, here are the top 10 at first base:

1.017 – Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) – 589 AB – 1.033 in 2011
.993 – Albert Pujols (Angels) – 596 AB – .906 in 2011
.990 – Joey Votto (Reds) – 567 AB – .947 in 2011
.946 – Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox) – 604 AB – .957 in 2011
.921 – Prince Fielder (Tigers) – 563 AB – .981 in 2011
.873 – Mark Teixeira (Yankees) – 583 AB – .835 in 2011
.864 – Ike Davis (Mets) – 553 AB – .925 in 2011
.860 – Lance Berkman (Cardinals) – 485 AB – .959 in 2011
.850 – Ryan Howard (Phillies) – 380 AB – .835 in 2011
.846 – Paul Konerko (White Sox) – 551 AB – .906 in 2011

– I’ll rank Cabrera with the first basemen for now. He’ll open the season at third for Detroit, but I doubt he’ll finish it there. Of course, he would have topped that list, too. The 1.017 projection is the highest I’ve given to any player this year.

– I would have had Fielder higher had he stayed in the NL, but there will probably be an adjustment period with the league switch. Also, Comerica Park favors right-handed hitters over lefties, which will probably cost Fielder some homers. I have him hitting 32 this year after he finished with 38 last season.

– Just missing the cut were sophomores Eric Hosmer and Freddie Freeman. I have Hosmer improving from .799 to .836 in year two and Freeman going from .795 to .823.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.