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January 4, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Rankings Review: First Base

by Marc Normandin

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Before the 2010 season, we introduced a few new looks for our fantasy content here at Baseball Prospectus. We shifted our numbered ranking system for fantasy rankings to a tiered model that grouped similarly producing players together rather than ordering them in a much more rigid—and not necessarily reflective—numerical format. We, in many cases, doubled the number of players we were ranking at each position, which (we hope) was more helpful to you, our readers. We also began to review the previous season's rankings, in order to see what lessons could be learned from what we thought we knew, to see if the processes for putting together the rankings were sound. We're bringing back the tiered format this season, but that will come later on—for now, we're diving into the review of the 2010 rankings.

First up is first base, which is where the rankings began. A few things to remember while analyzing my analysis of my analysis: these are not the 2011 rankings—they are just a reflection on the 2010 ones—and the focus here is not so much on whether or not the projections were correct, but whether or not the thinking and process that led me to do what I did was correct. For example, there is literally no way I could have foreseen Jose Bautista's 2010 campaign back in February, but I should have looked at his productive September of 2009 and dug deeper to see if he would be a better player over the old Bautista—as discussed in his Player Profile from September, there were some signs he could be better in the future. That doesn't mean I'm going to give extra credit to everyone who finished the year hot, but it does remind me that projection systems don't always know about certain changes in a player, and won't always reflect those changes. With that, let's check out what first base looked like back in February of 2010.

Five Stars

Albert Pujols (.322/.443/.577 PECOTA, .312/.414/.596 2010; $41.2 mixed/$42.3 NL): Pujols is Pujols. He lost out on the Most Valuable Player award to Joey Votto, but was just as good as he was offensively.

Miguel Cabrera (.304/.390/.555 PECOTA, .328/.420/.622 2010; $39.4 mixed/$41.0 AL): Cabrera was even better than his projection, which helped justify putting him into the five-star tier rather than the four-star.

Prince Fielder (.287/.409/.586 PECOTA, .261/.401/.471 2010; $16.9 mixed/$21.9 NL): Fielder was nowhere near as good as advertised—a .316 TAv is still great, but it's not elite like the two players he was with. I'm not convinced another player should have been here instead of Fielder, but I will say I'm a bit more leery about a first baseman that has the jumps in Isolated Power Fielder does (.213 to .330 to .231 to .303 to .209—who are you, Prince?) Of course, if the pattern holds, I will make him a four-star first baseman in 2011 and then he will slug .600 with 45 homers.

Four Stars

Adrian Gonzalez (.287/.393/.533 PECOTA, .298/.393/.511 2010; $23.6 mixed/$28 NL): Gonzalez's shoulder injury limited his power output, but this was the right place for him. Things will be a bit different in 2011 in Boston, but we'll get to that when the time comes.

Justin Morneau (.288/.372/.518 PECOTA, .345/.437/.618 2010; $8.9 mixed/$18.0 AL): Morneau looked more like a five-star player until a concussion ended his season, but with basically half-a-season of data to look at versus the rest of his career, I'm still comfortable with the decision to put him in the four-star group.

Kevin Youkilis (.290/.393/.506 PECOTA, .307/.411/.564 2010; $12.4 mixed/$20.6 AL): Youkilis, as I wrote in the rankings themselves, was outpacing his PECOTA forecast (hence his inclusion in the four-star group despite a stat line that looks odd next to these other players) but then he had a freak injury in his thumb that required surgery and ended his season.

Mark Teixeira (.292/.395/.534 PECOTA, .256/.365/.481 2010; $23.2 mixed/$27.6 AL): Teixeira's PECOTA forecast looked low to many eyes, but it turned out to be not low enough. Chances are good that was a bit of a fluke, especially with his strong showing in the second half (.259/.372/.502), but I'm anxious to see his detailed PECOTA card.

Joey Votto (.294/.386/.524 PECOTA, .324/.424/.600 2010; $39.1 mixed/$41.1 NL): Always been a big Votto fan, and his 2010 should give him a bump to the five-star tier.

Lance Berkman (.285/.404/.514 PECOTA, .248/.368/.413 2010; -$1.3 mixed/$9.9 AL): Berkman didn't have the power to make this projection happen, and he also dealt with injuries throughout the season. His forecast looked pretty similar to his 2009 line, so getting upset about missing on this one seems kind of pointless.

Ryan Howard (.268/.370/.543 PECOTA, .276/.353/.505 2010; $21.6 mixed/$25.8 NL): Howard was described as "the closest thing to a three-category player in the four-star range", and when he didn't own RBI and homers the way he normally does, that point becomes even more emphasized.

Kendry Morales (.294/.347/.513 PECOTA, .290/.346/.487 2010; -$5.1 mixed/$7.2 AL): Morales was doing well until he landed on home plate awkwardly and ended his season, though he might be a better fit for three-stars in the future.

Three Stars

Adam LaRoche (.280/.358/.477 PECOTA, .261/.320/.468 2010; $13.4 mixed/$19.3 NL): Laroche's season was a disappointment, though with the move to Arizona and with that projection, three-stars was the average place to put him.

Nick Swisher (.249/.376/.465 PECOTA, .288/.359/.511 2010; $20.1 mixed/$26.4 AL): This projection seemed sound, but Swisher outperformed it, and was most likely one of the better buys at first base because of it.

Derrek Lee (.287/.376/.472 PECOTA, .260/.347/.428 2010; $9.4 mixed/$16.2 NL): Injuries helped slow Lee's progress, but he finished the year strong as an Atlanta Brave to make up for his time with the Cubs.

Billy Butler (.299/.371/.497 PECOTA, .318/.388/.469 2010; $15.9 mixed/$23.2 AL): Butler doesn't shine in many of the traditional fantasy categories, but he does a little bit of everything, which gives him plenty of value as you can see in those dollar amounts.

Carlos Pena (.237/.381/.518 PECOTA, .196/.325/.407 2010; $3.4 mixed/$13.2 AL): Pena continued to falter thanks to his ability to fail at BABIP, but a three-star ranking may make sense for him in 2011 regardless thanks to the move to the weaker NL Central and lefty-friendly Wrigley.

Adam Dunn (.250/.387/.493 PECOTA, .260/.356/.536 2010; $19.7 mixed/$24.3 NL): Dunn was already moved to four-stars in every other position he was eligible for, so let's pretend he was there for first base too, which is where he belongs.

Michael Cuddyer (.275/.354/.462 PECOTA, .271/.336/.417 2010; $12.8 mixed/$20.5 AL): Cuddyer didn't reproduce his 2009 or his projection, which makes him less valuable than a three-star player, though the multi-position eligibility is useful and is reflected in those dollar amounts.

Victor Martinez (.290/.367/.471 PECOTA, .302/.351/.493 2010; $20.9 mixed/$23.5 AL): Martinez was a three-star first baseman with his season, though things look a bit rosier at catcher. The dollar values would have been higher if he had not missed a month with a thumb injury and then taken another month to re-acclimate himself to the league after his return from the DL.

Two Stars

Todd Helton (.294/.412/.449 PECOTA, .256/.362/.367 2010; -$6.4 mixed/$4.8 NL): Helton faltered even more than expected, and had little fantasy value, even in deep leagues, because of it.

James Loney (.295/.359/.444 PECOTA, .267/.329/.395 2010; $8.5 mixed/$16.5 NL): Loney was much more 2009 than in the past when he showed some ability to put the ball over the infielder's heads. Two Stars is right for him, especially once you get a load of who is a one-star.

Daniel Murphy (.284/.345/.466 PECOTA) Murphy ended up hurt and a second baseman, with Ike Davis taking over in April at first base. Chalk that one up to publishing this a little after pitchers and catchers reported.

Nick Johnson (.283/.433/.431 PECOTA, .167/.388/.306 2010; -$18.6 mixed/-$3.3 AL): Johnson got the "as long as he's on the field" two-star ranking, and surprise, surprise, he wasn't.

Jeff Clement (.251/.341/.445 PECOTA, .201/.237/.368 2010; -$9.3 mixed/-$0.4 NL): Clement was ranked two-stars, but nowadays the one-star players beat him up at recess and pick him last for kickball.

Matt LaPorta (.269/.353/.480 PECOTA, .221/.306/.362 2010; -$9.5 mixed/$3.7 AL): LaPorta was considered the player with the best chance of moving into the three-star category—Russell Branyan was in the first base mix as well at the time, and it was expected he would cut into LaPorta's playing time. He was alternatingly excellent and awful, and his end-of-season line is disappointing even for two-stars.

Garrett Atkins (.284/.351/.460 PECOTA, .214/.276/.286 2010; -$20.9 mixed/-$4.4 AL): I said Atkins' projection was too optimistic thanks to the switch to the AL and the lack of Coors to support him, and that played out appropriately, though apparently putting him in the two-star tier may have been too nice.

Jorge Cantu (.288/.353/.467 PECOTA, .256/.304/.392 2010; -$3.1 mixed/$8.7 AL): Cantu turned into a part-timer and moved around in 2010, which was a possibility with Gaby Sanchez around in Florida.

Paul Konerko (.254/.363/.466 PECOTA, .312/.393/.584 2010; $30.3 mixed/$34.3 AL): I said, "Konerko is a good option for homers, but I don't think he brings much to the table that you can't get in a better form elsewhere." Whoops. Konerko hit a lot of homers, and had his best season since his last contract year. I don't think he'll repeat that, but he's probably earned some extra attention for 2011 because of it.

Aubrey Huff (.280/.345/.466 PECOTA, .290/.385/.506 2010; $22.1 mixed/$27.2 NL): Huff changed his approach at the plate, and the result was more walks and a huge rebound from 2009. Next time you tweak your approach like that guys, can you let me know before I rank you incorrectly? Thanks.

One Star

Lyle Overbay's ($4.6 mixed/$13.9 AL) projection was pretty accurate; the difference between him and some of the disappointing two-star players is that he did what was expected of him. Daric Barton's ($6.2 mixed/$15.5 AL) existence is somewhat annoying to fantasy players, as he is a very good real-life player who soaks up a ton of at-bats as the starting first baseman for one of the 30 teams, but just isn't useful in mixed league fantasy. That repeated in 2010. Casey Kotchman (-$10.4 mixed/$2.7 AL) was kind of a joke of a starting first baseman at the time, and was basically the last-ranked player in these rankings thanks to Gaby Sanchez ($11.7 mixed/$18.8 NL), who "has the most potential to do better than his forecast given his minor-league production the past two seasons, but he's still a bit of a question mark as well" thanks to mid-February playing time concerns.


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Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Bob Ki... (01/04)
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