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February 14, 2013

Pre-Season Positional Rankings

Top 15 Fantasy First Basemen

by Paul Singman

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In the coming weeks, the fantasy team here at Baseball Prospectus will be rolling out our positional rankings. Each team member assigned to cover a position will create an initial top 15 (more for outfielders and starting pitchers) on his own. He will then send that list to the rest of the team for discussion, at which point we will debate the rankings, both in terms of each player’s specific placement and the merits on which he was included in the top 15. This back-and-forth debate will yield the final list, which will be presented by the original author with notes on the pertinent players. We encourage you to bring your opinions into the fray using the comment section below.

Today, we continue the rankings with a look at our top 15 first basemen.

As usual, first base is a deep fantasy position that offers useful bats into the twenties. Following a recent trend, however, this year’s first basemen lack that signature-slugger starpower to warrant selection over their more-agile counterparts in the outfield. We see a clear nucleus at the top—a triumvirate of $200 million dollar men who, given their salaries, seem worthy of a mere first-round selection or $40 auction bid from one of us.

After that, the scene becomes much more muddled. A healthy crop of young, rising stars are scattered about aging veterans, who may or may not have another quality season in their tanks. One thing this position doesn’t lack is disagreement—with a number of players coming off of either career-best or career-worst years, I’ve seen plenty of divergent opinions on how best to rank them. With the help of the rest of the fantastic BP fantasy crew, here is my attempt to do so, including commentary on each player to help you flesh out my thinking.

First, the list:

  1. Albert Pujols, LAA
  2. Joey Votto, CIN
  3. Prince Fielder, DET
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, TOR
  5. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
  6. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
  7. Billy Butler, KCR
  8. Allen Craig, STL
  9. Freddie Freeman, ATL
  10. Mark Teixeira, NYY
  11. David Ortiz, BOS*
  12. Anthony Rizzo, CHC
  13. Ike Davis, NYM
  14. Eric Hosmer, KCR
  15. Paul Konerko, CHW

Honorable Mentions: Mark Trumbo, LAA and Chris Davis, BAL

*Ortiz started seven games at first last year, and thus has 1B eligibility in Yahoo leagues. This ranking assumes 1B eligibility.

Notes:

  1. Even with an incredibly slow start, Pujols managed to find his groove and meet the hit the 30-homer and 100-RBI benchmarks. Last year, he hit .217 with 0 homers in April, so even if we get a .225 average with a few dingers during the first month of the season, we should be happy, right? Expect more of the same from Pujols: 100/35/110/10/.300.
     
  2. Left knee surgery (a day before I traded for him in Tout Wars) slashed away a third of Votto’s 2012 season and spoiled what was looking like a monster fantasy campaign at the All-Star break. Now that he is healthy, Votto will get another crack at putting together an April-to-October effort, and when has done that, the results have always been impressive. He offers a truly elite batting average with great counting stats, and, like Pujols, the ability to chip in close to 10 steals. In OBP leagues, Votto is simply not fair.
     
  3. Perhaps the safest player out there, considering that he has missed all of one game in the past four years, Fielder delivered in his Tigers debut with a .313 average and 30 home runs. Continued reduction in his strikeout rate the past three years—from 19 percent to 15 to 12—indicates that he is a good bet to continue batting around .300. Although the Tigers lineup hardly needed another boost, the addition of Victor Martinez, batting fifth behind Fielder, should bump the latter’s run total closer to the century mark.
     
  4. Encarnacion exploded for 42 home runs last year, good for fourthn the majors. However, he did so not by hitting an unrealistic percentage of his fly balls for homers, but rather by simply hitting lots of fly balls. His 50 percent fly-ball rate was third highest in the majors, and as long as he maintains this “aim-high” approach, a 35-homer encore is reasonable. Encarnacion’s surprisingly good plate discipline keeps his batting average respectable, and the completely revamped Blue Jays lineup could work wonders for his counting stats.
     
  5. Gonzalez endured a well-publicized power outage during the first half of the season, but he rebounded to hit .317 with 12 home runs in the second half. Some people are reading into his declining walk rate and increasing chase rate and prognosticating doom, but I believe that A-Gon will rebound in 2013, and offer a .300 average with 25-30 homers and plenty of RBI.
     
  6. Goldschmidt had a solid first full season in the majors, batting .280 with 20 homers and 18 steals. It’s easy to get lost in this 25-year-old’s upside, but the reality is that an increase in homers will likely come with less steals and a lower average next year. I’ve still ranked him aggressively, but I wouldn’t advise reaching higher for him.
     
  7. Plenty of people look at Butler’s relatively boring stat lines and think, “How’s it worth it to draft that guy?” The real question should be, “When hasn’t it been worth it to draft him?” Butler’s mini-breakout last year, which consisted of a .313 average and 29 home runs, will likely cut away most of the surplus from his value. Still, I’m always amazed at how quickly in drafts you are stuck choosing between players with serious question marks, and Butler provides a rock-solid option in those early-to-middle rounds.
     
  8. The oft-injured Craig has yet to do it, but he’s very capable of a 25-homer, .300-average campaign if he can avoid the disabled list. If Craig manages to notch those totals, he will turn a nice profit for his owners at this spot. That said, be wary of selecting him earlier without accounting for his injury risk in the price that you pay.
     
  9. Although his career is only two years old, Freeman almost seems like a boring vet already. It’s important to remember he’s still only 23, and still has abundant room to improve. His average should rebound without last year’s BABIP misfortune, and one has to like the run and RBI potential that comes with batting between the two Uptons in the Braves lineup.
     
  10. Last year was a sobering one for Teixeira believers, as he showed once again that he is a .250-average hitter, and saw his seemingly unassailable durability get shattered by a calf strain. Nonetheless, Teixeira proved capable of hitting 30 homers, and with a little more luck on balls in play, he can easily recoup his price tag as the 10th-ranked first baseman.
     
  11. An Achilles injury caused Ortiz to miss the entire second half of the 2012 season, and it’s a shame that it did because Big Papi was on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career. Now 37, we can only expect his production to decline, though he could prove age-defiant for another year. A .285 average with around 25 home runs are my expectations for Ortiz, and remember—as I noted earlier—this ranking assumes first-base eligibility in your league.
     
  12. Rizzo was a tough player to rank. On the one hand, his .285 average and 15 homers in half a season comprised an impressive debut. On the other, his futility against lefties (.208/.243/.256) dampens his potential ceiling. Overall, though, his plate discipline was impressive and the power seemed legitimate. I agree with PECOTA’s projection of a .255 average with 28 home runs, which makes Rizzo an exciting young player, but not one with the star-level upside to warrant a significant reach
     
  13. Amazingly, the Mets stuck with Davis throughout the beginning of the season, even while he was defining ineffectiveness by batting .170 through the first two months. Their patience paid off, though, as he was able to turn it up in the second half, batting .255 with 20 home runs. His .246 BABIP looks anomalous compared to past years, and if that number ticks upward, a .260/30 season seems attainable. Similar to Rizzo, Davis’ continued struggles versus lefties limits his potential.
     
  14. The BABIP gods were brutal toward first basemen last year, with Hosmer representing another casualty. In Hosmer’s case, however, this wasn’t all misfortune—he brought the sour luck upon himself by rolling over a troubling volume of balls into the shift on the right side. A likely explanation is that Hosmer was downplaying the effects of an injury that, after the season, was diagnosed as a small tear in his rotator cuff. Given his pedigree, it’s easy to believe in a rebound in 2013, with a .280 average, 20 homers, and 10 steals within reach.
     
  15. Even at an advanced age, Konerko continues to show few signs of decline and remains a consistent producer. If he continues to defy Father Time, he’ll provide a nice profit here, but like all nice things, his ability to deliver will one day come to an end. 
Related Content:  Year Of The Injury

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

tylersnotes

Rizzo plays in wrigley, not petco

Feb 14, 2013 04:37 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Removed reference to Petco.

Feb 14, 2013 06:22 AM
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

This was my mistake during editing. I apologize for the confusion.

Feb 14, 2013 07:39 AM
 
gtgator

Just FYI that according to Fredi, when McCann plays, Freeman will bat 6th or 7th (depending on the opponents SP).

Feb 14, 2013 06:22 AM
rating: 0
 
cavebird2

I wouldn't be too concerned about that, nor too overjoyed with the idea of his batting between the Uptons. Lineups are very flexible over the course of the season, and I am sure Freeman will get plenty of time in various spots in the lineup. Given the depth of the Braves lineup, I don't think that there are too many bad places to hit in it anyway.

Feb 14, 2013 06:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Dave Scott

Where have you gone Ryan Howard? To the hospital maybe, or better yet, the gym.

Feb 14, 2013 07:32 AM
rating: 6
 
amazin_mess

Subway. Time for a five dollar 11-incher.

Feb 14, 2013 15:07 PM
rating: 5
 
BurrRutledge

Paul, this a great in-depth look into the top-15. I appreciate it. But... I'm going to join the chorus of comments from the catcher rankings.

I need way (way) more info before draft day, digging deeper into the options in the pool.

I'm willing and able to be patint, but it would be super to get a list of your next 15, even if there are no additional comments added. I'm appreciative of the effort, and would like the opinion as a baseline comparison to the PFM (where I can customize lists from PECOTA).

Thank you,
Burr

Feb 14, 2013 09:44 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

Hi Burr

I posted this under another of these positional rankings, but part of what I'll be doing is rolling out positional bid limits for A.L. only, N.L. only, and mixed league formats. It will only be in a "list" format as you mentioned above, but hopefully will provide the kind of deep dive that you and others are looking for.

Thanks

Mike

Feb 14, 2013 10:08 AM
 
BurrRutledge

Thank you.

For your reference, I think we may have been spoiled by some of the content that Marc and Derek had published over the past couple years (and once the bar has been set...):

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=16143


Pro:
Forty-two first basemen listed and ranked, including projected stats.
Organizes the players into tiers, which I found helpful for for snake-format drafts (yeah, I know), but I understand it may not be useful for everyone. I guess dollar-values provide similar information.

Con:
Published March 1st. Definitely a bonus to get the information out earlier than that


Thank you again.

Feb 14, 2013 10:18 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

The difference though, and partly why we decided to change, is those projected stats can be found in PFM. I'm not sure why we would need to reiterate them. And most of the previous rankings were just rankings, with just selective commentary. If you're waiting for pure rankings, then you WILL see them when Mike publishes his values.

But if you want 40 guys in tiers without us saying much about them, consider it done once this series is over. I just thought you'd want more analysis than pure lists, but perhaps I was wrong.

Feb 14, 2013 10:36 AM
 
BurrRutledge

Joe, I wouldn't suggest that anybody is 'wrong.' I like the added commentary and insights, so that's a nice feature of the list. Knowing how the list was developed is important, and this approach definitely does that.

Personally, I use BP's expert opinions as my benchmark, and adjust my internal lists from the PFM (thank you for accelerating their release) and ADP info. Going deeper into the lists adds tremendous value, especially in the mid/late rounds of a draft, so I am looking forward to seeing the deeper lists, too. With 360 players drafted in a league, top 15 lists only scratch the surface, especially for league-only owners.

We're 2+ weeks ahead of last year's analyses, so it is all very much appreciated. I'll try to be more patient.

Feb 14, 2013 11:34 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

Ok, fair enough. I'm going to publish an outline soon of all the products we plan to roll out. That should help quell some of the concerns. I understand readers feel we're venturing into an unknown, and that makes it more unsettling. Thanks

Feb 14, 2013 12:28 PM
 
swarmee

This reminds me of a season of Saturday Night Live when the established comics all leave and there's a whole new cast. You expect it to be funny, because it was funny in the past. But you see the first few sketches, and you're not sure you get the joke. After a few episodes, you start to understand the new comedians shtick, and the laughing comes more naturally.

Feb 14, 2013 13:49 PM
rating: 1
 
jashnew

You forgot Mark Reynolds. That dude can rake.

Feb 14, 2013 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Singman
BP staff

I have concerns about his vision: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/a/19409

Feb 14, 2013 13:36 PM
 
NJTomatoes

I find Chris Davis's honorable mention intriguing. Any chance of an elaboration, since he struggled for so many years?

Feb 14, 2013 12:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Singman
BP staff

Yes, he struggled to stick in the majors in his first few chances, but unlike some other "Quad-A" type players, Davis continued to develop and mash in Triple-A, rather than stagnate. This reminds me of Nelson Cruz' career path, where he dominated Triple-A in 2008, albeit as a 27 year old, and then finally broke through in the majors in 2009. Davis has more contact issues and his average will likely fall into the .240-.250 range, but his 30-homer power looks legit and isn't likely to simply disappear at age 27.

Feb 14, 2013 13:16 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Paul - What kept Adam LaRoche off the list? Would the list change much/at all if you were ranking for Scoresheet? Thank you

Feb 14, 2013 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Singman
BP staff

LaRoche is close to making the list--and probably should have been an honorable mention--given that I like him for next year. He's been remarkably consistent and is in a good spot in Washington. However, he isn't likely to quite repeat his career-high 2012 numbers, but .265-25 with 100 RBIs is attainable. I'll try to get another member of the fantasy crew to comment for Scoresheet, as I'm not overly-familiar with it.

Feb 15, 2013 11:45 AM
 
BP staff member Rob McQuown
BP staff

He comes out about 15th - so he's marginal for a top 15 list at best - in SSSIM among 1B using the Draft Aid (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/fantasy/scoresheet/draftaid/)

... but a lot of his value is due to his durability, as he comes out much lower if sorting by R-TAv', which I usually look at first. (see http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/Scoresheet_LaRoche.PNG for example)

I'd view him as a filler player if you have a very strong team elsewhere and need a conservative pick who is likely to not miss time, but not someone who will help drive a strong Scoresheet offense.

Feb 15, 2013 12:10 PM
 
jonjacoby

Paul, what about Yonder Alonso. he had prett solid power numbers, especially at Petco. with the fences being moved wondering how man if any of his doubles, become HR.

Feb 14, 2013 14:30 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Singman
BP staff

Stadium adjustments don't tend to make major effects (some evidence: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/moving-in-the-fences-a-history/) and in Alonso's case, even a few extra home runs won't make his stat line appealing. Despite a billing once as a top prospect, his contributions are looking increasingly likely to be James Loney-esque.

Feb 15, 2013 11:23 AM
 
sbnbaseball

Paul-why did you include Ortiz in your 1b rankings? He hasn't played 20 games at the position over the past four seasons. He did play 7 games there last year, so maybe your games played threshold is lower than elsewhere.
thanks
Ray

Feb 14, 2013 19:03 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

See the asterisk next to Ortiz. Paul references the following note below the list:

*Ortiz started seven games at first last year, and thus has 1B eligibility in Yahoo leagues. This ranking assumes 1B eligibility.

Feb 14, 2013 19:14 PM
 
calumg

teixeira is unlikely to have a better BABIPS because he's a dead pull hitter and the Shift eats up those singles that used to get through.

Feb 16, 2013 23:56 PM
rating: 0
 
calumg

Agree with you on Davis. He looks like a late bloomer, and he showed character in not getting discouraged when Texas showed little faith in him by Young ab's instead of Davis.Bet they
regret it now.

Feb 17, 2013 00:14 AM
rating: 0
 
boatman44

How far does Teixiera fall on your list ,with the news on his injury ? Personally he would'nt be top 15 for me anymore.

Mar 09, 2013 01:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Singman
BP staff

Teixeira falls far with this injury, due to his time missed and the tendency for wrist injuries to affect a player's power stroke even when healthy. I'd slot him 25th near Kendrys Morales and Adam LaRoche.

Mar 10, 2013 14:37 PM
 
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