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The First Base Dilemma, Again

There's been a bit of outrage over Brad Mills' decision to sit the Astros young first baseman Brett Wallace in favor of Carlos Lee. Shortly after Alyson Footer tweets the Astros daily lineup my twitter feed is bombarded with tweets including the hash tag #FreeBrettWallace. Which isn't a bad thing I like the passion Astro fans still actually watching this team have. They want this team to succeed and do so with an exciting young player like Wallace.

The only thing is that this team is better with Carlos Lee at first base and Wallace on the bench. 

I was just as excited as anyone else to get Wallace from the Toronto Blue Jays for Anthony Gose. He was a highly touted hitter and someone who was more of a sure thing than Gose was. At the time it t was a nice move by Ed Wad, but as time has passed I began to slowly creep towards the edge of the wagon until recently when I finally jumped off.

The problem with the Astros trading for a first baseman in the first place is that they already had one hanging out in left field.

As we got to know Wallace some of that shine went away. One of his detractors was his swing mechanics which a lot of scouts were beginning to bag on. I never really bought into that because the mechanics they were talking about were at a time when he was struggling. When a player is struggling it probably has at least a little bit to do with his mechanics.

In the Minors he had a good year at Las Vegas, Toronto's AAA affiliate, posting a .301/.359/.509 line. The problem was that Las Vegas is known as a hitters environment and like Lancaster, numbers shouldn't be taken at face value. Thrown in his high batting average on balls in play (BABiP) in the minors and there were concerning signs about Wallace's ability. If you were like me you chose to ignore them, a hitters going to hit regardless of the environment and good players are supposed to have high BABiP's in the minors because of pitching and defense that would never see the majors and field conditions.

Recently I've declared myself off the Brad Mills bandwagon, but last year when I was still on both bandwagons I did a little digging and found that there was a method to Mills' madness in regards to sitting Wallace. With the exception of Chris Johnson that hasn't changed, struggling young hitters will be given regular days off. Even Jose Altuve hasn't escaped this philosophy as he was given a day off recently after going 3-12 in his first three games. Fans on the other hand strongly feel that Wallace should be given every opportunity to succeed and fail, it's part of the learning process.

I've come to the conclusion that one philosophy probably doesn't work better than the other, in the end the player is going to have to produce regardless of how he's handled.

The biggest advantage of Lee at first is that he's less of a liability defensively at the first base position. Yes I know his defensive numbers are better this year. I don't know who he paid off or if maybe Mills' trip to Panama actually motivated him, but  I'd still be more comfortable running Jason Bourgeois or even Jason Micheal's out to left field in his stead. 

In 1094 innings Wallace has appeared to be only average at first base, while Lee in 302 innings has been average to slightly above average. There's not really a defensive advantage at this point of playing Wallace over Lee and in fact the advantage probably swings towards Lee since you're keeping him out of left field.

Offensively they've both posted slightly above average numbers, Wallace walks more but Lee provides more power both attributes the Astros desperately lack. To be honest their offensive numbers are below average for a first baseman so choosing one over the other really isn't that big of deal. that is until you take a gander at their respective BABiP. Lee is right around his career number, while Wallace even with his recent struggles is still at an unsustainable level, meaning his numbers look to further decline.

It's fascinating the Astros appear to of duplicated Chris Johnson.

The fact of the matter is that Lee is making millions and Wallace is making league minimum. As much as I'd love to see where Wallace's potential takes him the Astros aren't going to sit Lee and so Wallace playing time suffers, especially considering he's not producing.

I think I'm okay with that.