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January 24, 2014

Fantasy Players to Avoid

First Basemen

by BP Fantasy Staff

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First base is a very deep position, which affords fantasy owners plenty of opportunities to pad every offensive stat save for steals through their use. It also means that plays who whiff on their first base picks are automatically in a hole, an must make up for that lost ground elsewhere. Making up ground stinks, so be wary of these eight players.

Jose Abreu White Sox
This comes with a caveat, I’m not saying Jose Abreu will be a bust, but at a position like 1B, you have to get the production levels right. We don’t know what Jose Abreu will be in 2014; all we have are some reports and memories of his performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In deeper leagues he’s worth a shot, but in a standard 5x5 league, there’s too much risk here to pursue him aggressively. Sure, sometimes a gamble like this can pay off like Yoenis Cespedes did, but I would strongly advise against taking a huge gamble at a position that produces at the level 1B does. —Mauricio Rubio

Matt Adams, Cardinals
Adams finished August with a .270/.332/.456 line along with nine homers and 36 RBIs in about a half season’s worth of games (83 to be exact). The 162-game pace would’ve netted him 18 HR and 71 RBI with the .788 OPS, a perfectly acceptable effort for a lower-tier first baseman. However, he got a chance for full-time work when Allen Craig went down in September and he did not let the opportunity pass him by. In just 25 games, he nearly doubled his home run potential with an explosive .315/.344/.609 line including eight home runs and 15 RBI. The sprint to the finish line upped his 162-game pace to 26/77 with an 839 OPS.

Several early projections have him reaching that home run in 2014, but there are some concerns that leave me skeptical:

  • He had a 22 percent HR/FB rate in 2013.

This in itself isn’t a concern, as the top rung of power-hitting first basemen have high HR/FB outputs, but he doesn’t have an established track record for it like a Chris Davis or Ryan Howard.

  • The rest of his profile isn’t very conducive to a 22 percent HR/FB rate.

Adams only had a 36 percent fly-ball rate last year. Looking at first basemen with a 20 percent or higher HR/FB rate over the last three years combined, only two of the 10 had a fly-ball percentage that low: Miguel Cabrera (35.7 percent) and Michael Morse (32.4 percent). First off, it’s a small group of outliers to even join, but we know he’s no Cabrera, and while he could be Morse, that might not be such a positive outlook, since we have seen just the one big year from him.

  • Only one guy in the group had a ground-ball rate as high as the 44 percent of Adams.

It was Morse at 48 percent. Of course, that’s part of the reason Morse only hit 18 homers in 2012 despite a 23 percent HR/FB rate. Adams doesn’t hit enough flyballs or line drives to live in the 20+ percent HR/FB range. He looks like more of a 20-home run hitter than someone pushing into the mid-20s.

  • He struggled against lefties (654 OPS) which could eat into his playing time.

This is the weakest of the factors, because it was only 52 PA and the Cardinals may be willing to eat that in an effort to give him experience against southpaws and make him better. Plus, he had an .877 OPS against them during his last three seasons in the minors (244 PA).

This is more of a soft-avoid for Adams depending on price. I think his price will vary greatly league to league depending on how much stock is put in the bottom line which was inflated by that hot September. The depth of first base should keep him from being too overrated, but there is enough depth at third base, too, so you don’t need to overvalue Adams as a possible corner infielder, either. —Paul Sporer

Brandon Belt, Giants
Let me just start by imploring you to put down your pitchforks. Please, put down your pitchforks. Now that you are (hopefully) disarmed, let me discuss why I'm unlikely to own Brandon Belt on any of my teams this year. I like him from a skill perspective, I really do, but the hype has just gotten a little too rich for my tastes. We, at BP, have him ranked as the no. 10 first baseman, ahead of the likes of Allen Craig and Mark Trumbo. I just don't see it. He won't be a .300 hitter with that strikeout rate. He won't be a 25-home-run hitter in that ballpark. He's unlikely to steal double-digit bases. And those counting stats are not going to be there the way you'd want out of your starting first baseman. He's a good all-around player, but I'm not going to be the guy paying for a breakout based on a two-month sample to close out 2013. —Bret Sayre

Allen Craig, Cardinals
While Craig was baseball’s best hitter with runners in scoring position (.454/.500/.638), The Wrench missed most of September in a walking boot and left his owners high and dry at the most important time. Craig did top 90 RBI for the second consecutive season, but a drop in power (13 home runs in 2013, 22 in 2012) was the biggest letdown for his owners. Craig’s floor is relatively safe, but exactly what is the ceiling here? I’ll gladly take another 15 home runs and 90 RBI, but not if it means spending a top-10 pick at the position. His power numbers will need to rebound in order to make an early selection worthwhile. And judging from last year’s 28.1 percent fly-ball rate, it’s not a likely scenario. —Alex Kantecki

Justin Morneau, Rockies
After landing in perhaps the best possible place for his fantasy value, Morneau has seen a climb back up the ranks in many preseason first baseman valuations this offseason. While Coors Field will certainly stand to help the former MVP, I caution against projecting Morneau to rebound significantly. Morneau gets a lot of flack for being “injury prone,” but he’s accumulated more than 1,200 PA over the past two years and has averaged 18 homers, 77 RBI and an average around .263 per season. It’s possible that an uptick in BABIP and Coors could combine to boost his overall stat line, but Morneau is entering his age-33 season and the odds of him seeing drastic improvement are fairly slim. Add in that he has no business batting against lefties, and I think Morneau will struggle to finish as a top-20 fantasy 1B in 2014. He’s a fine grab as a bench option in mixed leagues, but don’t count on him as a starting CI. —Ben Carsley

Ryan Howard, Phillies
At the right price, Howard will be a good player to own in NL-only and very deep mixed leagues. However, there is a good deal of risk associated with a 34-year-old slugger whose profile as a heavier slugger doesn’t speak to a bounce back year or even a gradual decline. Howard hasn’t hit lefties with any kind of authority since 2010 and hasn’t played a full season since 2011. Howard believers are going to point to improved overall numbers in June and July before knee surgery ended his 2013 campaign, but the sample size is too small to give it much merit. While a strict platoon is unlikely given Howard’s albatross of a contract, it would not be surprising in the least if Darin Ruf and John Mayberry Jr. spelled Howard against southpaws now and again. Twenty-five home runs and a .280 batting average is probably a very generous upside for Howard, but there is way too much that can go wrong here to target anything close to those numbers for your fantasy lineup. —Mike Gianella

Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
I do think he gets overrated just a tad, as people combine his batting average from 2012 (.285) with his home run total from 2013 (23) and then project growth from there. I’m not sure that’s a fair thing to do to a young player like Rizzo.” That’s me in the Cubs fantasy preview, and it’s the reason I’m “avoiding” Rizzo this year. I still like him as a player, both now and in the long term, but I think people are bumping him up their draft charts based on an upside that he isn’t quite ready to fulfill. I like Rizzo as a .260s, 22-25-home-run type. I acknowledge that there’s the upside to hit in the .280s and enough power to at least approach 30 home runs. I don’t think those two things happen in concert though, and without that tandem, I think the upside is getting overvalued. This isn’t to say Rizzo won’t be worthwhile asset in fantasy this year—he will—but I fear that where you have to draft him, robs him of the majority of his value. —Craig Goldstein

Mark Teixeira, Yankees
I talked in my "Target" piece this week about the value of consistency and its appeal for a player like Adrian Gonzalez. Prior to 2013 Mark Teixeira would've offered the same appeal. Teix overhauled his approach when he arrived at Yankee Stadium in 2009 to play more to the short porch. It led to more HR than his prior incarnation offset by chasing significantly more balls out of the zone and a lower BA. After a final peak season at Age 29 when he was runner-up to Joe Mauer’s MVP Teixeira put up BA's of .256, .248, and .251 over the next three seasons with ISO's of .225, .246, and .224. He remained pretty much the same hitter throughout the run, though his RBI & R totals did decline on account of a weakening lineup around him. But then 2013 happened. And losing a full season at age 34 to a wrist injury, with his skillset and body type, is a big deal. Yes he comes back to the same favorable park and a re-built lineup around him. However, with an already suspect BA profile and a significant question now about how much his power will rebound with a surgically rebuilt wrist I’d just as soon let somebody else in your league find out the answer. —Wilson Karaman

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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