First Base – Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi
This could depend on whether the Pirates face a left-hander or right-hander in their first game. But between Ji-Man Choi and Carlos Santana, the first base platoon looks to be in good hands. They complement each other very well, providing good defense at first base.
We’ll first start with Ji-Man Choi. Choi was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Jack Hartman. Choi is coming off a decent season, slashing .233/.341/.388 with a .322 wOBA and 115 wRC+. Choi drew walks at a phenomenal 13.8% rate, and his .154 isolated slugging percentage was above average. The downside is struck out in 29.4% of his plate appearances.
But Choi has consistently been a lot better vs. RHP and LHP. Choi has a career of .810 OPS vs. RHP but .589 OPS vs. southpaws. Another split that helps Choi is his wOBA when the shift is off. Choi had a .304 wOBA when he stepped to the plate with the shift. However, in the handful of times when the shift was off, he had a .415 wOBA. Plus, the Korean infielder had +2 defensive runs saved.
Choi underwent surgery soon after the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired him. It was only a minor procedure, but it severely affected his second-half performance. Before the All-Star Break, Choi had a 145 wRC+, but after? He registered a 69 wRC+. Choi will be put in a situation where he can succeed with the Pirates next year as his platoon mate Carlos Santana helps make up for his deficiencies against LHP.
The long-time Cleveland first baseman is coming off a pretty mediocre season. Sure he had a 102 wRC+, making him every so slightly an above-league-average hitter, but his slash line isn’t going to wow anyone. He batted .202/.316/.376. But there were some positives to draw from Santana. He only struck out 17.4% of the time with a 14% walk rate. He hit 19 home runs on top of that. He was also shifted on the most frequently last year of any qualified hitter, having the infield move positions 98.3% of the time on him.
On top of the reduced shift, Santana will likely see most, if not all, of his time vs. LHP. The switch-hitter had a 134 wRC+ when it came to facing a southpaw, but when he faced a right-hander, he had a miserable 89 wRC+.
If you take what Santana has done vs. LHP in his career and combine it with what Choi has done vs. RHP, you get a batter who hits .265/.369/.447 and averages 20 home runs every 600 plate appearances. The Pirates know what they’re doing at first base this year, and Santana and Choi should split the position and provide a very productive platoon in 2023.