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Back in February, before it was known that Corey Hart would be out for the year, I wrote a post lobbying for Sean Halton to get the bulk of playing time at first base, if only to see what the Brewers had in Halton. Looking back at that post now, it’s funny how the picture of a clean-shaven Halton looks little like the grizzly hero of Sunday’s walk-off victory. Halton has made a mark in limited playing time. A lot of people last winter were talking about Hunter Morris as a fill-in for the position, and we know now that was a lot of pointless chatter. I certainly didn’t think I’d be in a spot in September 2013 when I’d have reason to once again champion Halton for time at first base, but the circus at first base for the Brewers this year has brought us here. Halton has earned a shot to play first base for the majority of what remains this season.
For some reason, the Brewers front office evidently doesn't want to tilt the playing time at first base to Halton, who is more of a true first baseman than Juan Francisco or Yuni Betancourt. It’s almost as if they’re playing him recently by reluctance, as if he’s a lesser of evils. That just may be the case, because Halton may not have the power or defense to play long term at first base in the majors. But when you look at the alternatives in Francisco and Betancourt, the trauma of not playing Halton is palpable. I think the Brewers have proven this year that it's better to start a first baseman at first base.
Obviously, Hunter Morris hasn’t earned a call-up from the Brewers, so until he reaches the majors, he’s not in the discussion. As for Francisco, he’s been given over 220 at-bats and is batting .230 with 13 homers and 31 RBI. Betancourt has been miserable since May, batting .209 with 13 homers and 43 RBI in over 360 nonsensical at-bats this year. Halton has 72 at-bats, and he has 3 homers, 11 RBI and a .264 average. Halton’s numbers aren’t eye-poppingly better than Francisco’s or Betancourt’s when you compare them by playing-time percentages. But since the All-Star break, Halton is batting .333 with 9 RBI in 30 at-bats. Betancourt is at .242 with just one more RBI than Halton (10) in three times as many at-bats. Francisco is at .202 with 16 RBI in over four times as many at-bats as Halton.
The bottom line is, why not play Halton? Why not play the hot hand? Halton drove in several runs in a game last week against St. Louis but then was pulled in favor of Yuni toward the end of the game in a defensive substitution. So even when he plays a solid first base and drives in runs, he still gets yanked. Yuni B is Yuni B. Enough has been said about his abilities or lack thereof, yet the organization continues to play him, even for laughable ‘defensive’ reasons. My guess is he’s playing because he’s a veteran on a major-league deal. I thought they should have released him in August, as a way of offering him the chance to hook on with another team for a playoff run. That would at least be a PR-friendly maneuver and would allow the team to move on rather than playing a veteran with no future on the club.
Francisco has the potential to be a 30-homer guy if given enough playing time, yes. Indeed, he’s young and has a controllable contract. But at what cost? If the Brewers had a DH slot to put him in, fine. But think about all the runs Francisco leaves on the bases because he’s batting .190 with runners in scoring position and striking out in every 2.5 at-bats. I just don’t get it with these homer-happy wannabe-sluggers with the Brewers. Year after year they are enamored with power potential when teams like the Braves, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates have shown that it’s more important to have solid defense in the field and perhaps fewer homers than it is to have a guy who can hardly play the field (on a NL team no less) but can hit some dingers occasionally. It’s no coincidence that the Reds and Braves have already taken a look at Francisco and passed on him. The Brewers broadcasters often talk about how they’re in the top five in homers in the NL. So what? A position in the top five means absolutely nothing when the team’s 21 games out of the division lead and 18 out of the wild card. Until the Brewers start evaluating players with a closer eye on the context of actual game action and the ensuing consequences of not having complete players on the field, it will be the same old, same old. Sure, the home run is cool and fun. But it’s not the reason baseball is played. It doesn’t punch a ticket to the postseason. Baseball is about run prevention as much as it is about scoring runs. Otherwise you’ve got a battleship taking on water. Eventually you’re going down.