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February 10, 2009

Fantasy Beat

First Base

by Marc Normandin

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This year, I'm going to change the format of the fantasy rankings a bit. Instead of lumping positions into sections such as infield or outfield and putting then together in a few large articles, I'm going to go position by position. This may take longer, but we are starting earlier this year, and we're also running two Fantasy Beat pieces per week. This will allow me to fulfill an oft-repeated request from readers of last year's rankings, which was to provide longer lists in order to give a better idea of what I thought about more players, as well as making things easier on those who choose to play in AL- or NL-only leagues.

Today, we'll start with first base. This position is in a transition phase, as many of the up-and-coming sluggers of years past are entrenched within the top ten, while many of the former standouts for the position have fallen towards the back of the list. There's not much of an injection of new blood though, as many of these players have been around for a few years. You're going to see names that you recognize, but the generational shift in power is in full force.

In order to make these rankings, I used the 2009 weighted-mean PECOTA projections as a base, and then tweaked things as I saw them. This isn't a descending list of projected 2009 VORP by any means. Remember to check out the players' 75th- and 25th-percentile forecasts on their PECOTA cards once they're released as well, as those will help you make decisions between players you may be debating over.


Rank Player          Team        PA  R  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
 1.  Albert Pujols   Cardinals  663 126 35 124  7  .339/.443/.609  0.78
 2.  Lance Berkman   Astros     620 104 28  97 11  .299/.402/.534  0.84
 3.  Mark Teixeira   Yankees    647  94 28 102  2  .287/.379/.506  0.89
 4.  Ryan Howard     Phillies   631  96 40 110  0  .270/.374/.547  1.10
 5.  Miguel Cabrera  Tigers     651  94 32 111  3  .294/.369/.527  0.95
 6.  Prince Fielder  Brewers    661  99 33 105  3  .286/.380/.527  0.95
 7.  Joey Votto      Reds       574  88 26  86 11  .289/.370/.514  0.99
 8.  Adrian Gonzalez Padres     649  83 27  99  1  .277/.356/.480  0.93
 9.  Carlos Pena     Rays       600  80 30  91  1  .239/.359/.476  0.92
10.  Chris Davis     Rangers    574  70 29  93  4  .259/.312/.490  0.97

I don't think it's a surprise that my first-base fantasy rankings would lead off with the best player in all of baseball. He's a force of nature whether he's playing hurt or healthy, and according to his Beta he's also one of the safest picks to meet that forecast. If you play in a league where defense counts, he's somehow even more valuable thanks to his excellent play with the glove. His offensive numbers across the board are basically a lock to all be top-five worthy or better, and the seven steals, a solid output from this position, are an added bonus.

Lance Berkman and Mark Teixeira are both switch-hitters who are consistently among the most valuable at the position, and they'd receive more recognition if the best player on the planet wasn't looking down on them year in and year out. I put Berkman first because of the projected difference in stolen bases. I think PECOTA may be a bit low on Teixeira. If nothing else, he's a player whose 75th-percentile forecast is worthy of significant interest once it's released.

Howard's forecast looks a lot like last year's campaign; maybe this time, for the sake of head-to-head leagues, he'll try to spread the production out over more than six weeks. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both capable of hitting some homers, and they should score and drive in plenty of runs. They aren't quite elite-level players at the position, but they do rate as at least A- types.

Joey Votto gets some extra love from me because of his home park, and because I feel like he's a safe bet to hit at least .275/.355/.490 or so. There's some upside there as seen in his forecast, and there's the fact that he plays his home games in the Great American (Batting Practice) Ballpark.

Adrian Gonzalez has the opposite problem; if he weren't in Petco for half of his games, I'd have him much closer to the top five, because he's one of the better hitters in the game. He hit .308/.368/.578 last year on the road, and .304/.367/.560 away in 2006-2008 combined. As it is, I like him better than his forecast, and potentially better than Votto's, even with Petco in the way.

PECOTA doesn't trust Chris Davis. The strikeouts are a problem that could become worse before they get better; that would explain the low batting average. His walk rate isn't anything special, so if he does hit for low average, his OBP will go in the tank as forecasted. That being said, he has massive power potential, and he is playing half of his games in the American League's version of Coors Field in the middle of what should be one of the most powerful lineups in the game. There's too much to love here to not give him a shot if you're a gambling lad or lady, and he's conveniently ranked in an area where all of the stars are already gone; you have to choose between upside and safety at the position from here on out.


Rank Player         Team        PA  R  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
11.  Justin Morneau Twins      655 84  24 101  1  .281/.354/.475  0.96
12.  Kevin Youkilis Red Sox    597 81  21  84  3  .275/.366/.475  0.93
13.  Derrek Lee     Cubs       612 84  19  85  8  .289/.369/.464  1.05
14.  Conor Jackson  D'backs    602 85  16  76  8  .295/.373/.461  1.00
15.  Carlos Delgado Mets       583 77  26  96  2  .277/.355/.486  0.96
16.  Adam LaRoche   Pirates    551 71  24  82  1  .270/.353/.487  0.88
17.  James Loney    Dodgers    595 74  15  78  6  .286/.347/.445  0.95
18.  Nick Johnson   Nationals  430 66  15  58  4  .266/.410/.472  1.09
19.  Casey Kotchman Braves     538 64  11  66  1  .288/.353/.423  0.88
20.  Todd Helton    Rockies    444 62  11  55  1  .291/.405/.449  1.02

You may have noticed that almost all of these projections, save for those of Nick Johnson and Ryan Howard, are considered to be on the safe side via Beta. That lowers the potential upside and downside for all of these guys, but at least it makes it easier to translate the rankings into draft picks.

Being ranked 11th is not a knock against Justin Morneau; first base is just loaded with talent, and PECOTA and I agree that he was a bit higher than he should have been in 2008. Those of you who know that I watch the Red Sox may be surprised to see that Kevin Youkilis has fallen all the way to 12th, but he was ranked third in the American League in home runs that were classified as Just Enough, with 12. "Just Enough," according to Hit Tracker, is when "...the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, or that it landed less than one fence-height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence." You can't expect Youkilis to get all 12 of those home runs again this year, which significantly reduces his power value.

Derrek Lee's stock has fallen, but he started out at such a high place that we can still pretend he's likely to recover and not be too upset when he doesn't. Conor Jackson is solid, but he's kind of like the poor man's Youkilis. PECOTA thinks that Carlos Delgado still has something left in the tank; I'm a bit skeptical, but PECOTA is usually pretty good about sounding the death knell on players who are losing their skills, and it clearly doesn't think that Delgado's there. If you believe he's going to keep it up at least one more year, then he and Adam LaRoche are pretty fungible, with LaRoche's upside about the same, despite being significantly younger.

What is it about potential sluggers turning into mid-range first basemen for Los Angeles teams? Loney is starting to look like a better version of Casey Kotchman, but that's not enough in fantasy leagues that use both AL and NL rosters. Speaking of Kotchman, he makes it on to the list by virtue of having the starting job in Atlanta; you will probably only want to pay attention to him if you're in a deep NL-only league.

Nick Johnson would get more love if you could promise me he wasn't going to shatter into a million little pieces because he swung too hard at a fastball. As it is, I think ranking him at all is being generous, so feel free to strike his name from the list and replace him with your favorite of my "Just Missed" candidates. Last, we have Todd Helton. The same deal that applies to Johnson applies to Helton; if you could guarantee his back was healthy, I would have an easier time believing PECOTA. Until then though, only deep NL-only leagues need apply, and that's only if you get hosed out of your other options.

Just missing the top 20: Jason Giambi, who may lose a little more power due to age and the switch to pitcher-friendly Oakland; Nick Swisher, who should be considered as a rebound candidate that can play multiple positions (problem is, I'm not sold on just how much he'll rebound yet); and Paul Konerko, who apparently didn't hear that the White Sox were finished with spring training until August last year. PECOTA thinks he's capable of .256/.345/.458, but if you've got more faith in his big finish than his lackluster start, swap him on the list with one of my guys who you don't approve of and go from there, as a productive Konerko grabbed late in the draft is a good way to boost your own team's chances of victory.

Related Content:  The Who

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

BP Comment Quick Links

jimbrewersbro

Will a player like Miquel Cabrera, who has 3rd base elgibility in yahoo leagues, be ranked at 3rd in you positional rankings also? In addition, does that make him more valulable than Tex and Berkman?

Feb 10, 2009 08:16 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike V.
(596)

Are you sure 2009 Yahoo will have Cabrera eligible at 3rd still? He only made 14 starts at 3B last year, and he's going into spring training as the definite 1B for the Tigers, which I think Yahoo takes into consideration when choosing position eligibility at the start of the season.

Feb 10, 2009 09:02 AM
rating: 0
 
ddudley55

i thought it was 5-game elig. from the prior yr for Yahoo.

Feb 10, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
jimbrewersbro

I have always believed that Yahoo used a 10 game minimum from the prior year to establish position elgibility. I may be mistaken. Does anyone know if it is actually 15?

Feb 10, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike V.
(596)

http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/baseball/season/status/baseball-09.html

"At the beginning of the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball season, Yahoo! Sports placed all players into positions based in part on information from official rosters, but focusing mainly on past performance."

If you have 5 starts or 10 appearances at a new position during the season they will add you.

As for the beginning of the season positions, it just has that vague quote above, so it is hard to tell.

Feb 10, 2009 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
bcraig13

In Yahoo's "mock expert draft" for '09, one of the reasons the writer that took Cabrera 9th gives is "He’ll be just 25 on opening day, he’s eligible at first or third in Yahoo! leagues" so it looks likely he will be.

Feb 10, 2009 10:12 AM
rating: 0
 
wijamie

If Cabrera's eligible at third, then Adam Dunn should be eligible at first. He played in 19 games there last season.

Feb 11, 2009 14:04 PM
rating: 0
 
mymrbig

Konerko's BABIP last year was .247 (career .285) and that came with 21.5% line drives. He was quite unlucky in that regard and despite his age, some regression to the mean is in store. Plus his BB%, K%, and ISO were all within his normal ranges (ISO was a bit low, but this was the result of a lower FB%, not a lower HR/FB. Translation - he hit fewer in the air but his power was the same when he got the ball in the air).

So expect a rebound to 2006/2007 Konerko, but not 2004/2005 Konerko. 30 HR, .275 AVG.

Feb 10, 2009 08:38 AM
rating: 1
 
Marc Normandin

I'm in agreement that he will rebound, but PECOTA also regresses for BABIP, meaning that it's tough to assume he'll automatically bounce all of the way back. Out of the "Just Missed" guys, he's the one I would easily throw a draft pick at, so know that I do have faith in him producing.

Feb 10, 2009 12:44 PM
rating: 0
 
mymrbig

Also, Miguel Cabrera's BABIP last year was .316 (career .350). i expect that to rebound some and would be shocked if he doesn't hit at least .310. I mean he hit at least .320 from 2005-2007 and packing on a few extra pounds and switching to the AL shouldn't erode his AVG or BABIP like that. Berkman went to my alma mater and I love the guy, but I think Cabrera is worth more in fantasy baseball.

Feb 10, 2009 08:41 AM
rating: 1
 
Fresh Hops

Not a good assumption since he also changed parks. Ball park has a pretty good effect on BABIP.

Feb 10, 2009 15:30 PM
rating: 0
 
Nick J

Does it? I'm not saying I doubt it, but was there someone who studied this? I'd be interested to see the research.

Feb 11, 2009 17:08 PM
rating: 0
 
ddudley55

looks like the real bargains are Votto and Jackson. the stay-aways are Morneau, Youkilis, Chris Davis (this year), and Derek Lee.

Feb 10, 2009 09:19 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

Remember Davis qualifies at 3B in a lot of leagues, though. That dual-position eligibility is valuable, not to mention those kind of numbers at 3B.

Feb 10, 2009 17:11 PM
rating: 1
 
Teraxx

If you use OB % as a scoring category as we do, Berkman becomes more valuable than Cabrera.

Feb 10, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
eliyahu

Wither Billy Butler?

Feb 10, 2009 09:44 AM
rating: 1
 
aavenoso

I am a bit surprised on Berkman to be honest. Two years in a row he has managed only one good half each year. Between age, body type, and general attrition I was expecting petcota to be more leery of him.

Feb 10, 2009 09:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

I believe you mean one en fuego half and one solid half.

Feb 10, 2009 10:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

Yes. Looking at first half/second half splits is silly... unless you just add them up and call it a season.

Feb 10, 2009 15:35 PM
rating: 0
 
HugeShoulderpad

Pena at #9, but no commentary? I have to say I'm surprised to see him that high given how much he'll hurt in BA...please clarify.

Feb 10, 2009 10:16 AM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

I think Pena is capable of at the least repeating his second half from last year or better. That's where PECOTA and I differ on him, so I don't think he's as big of a drain on batting average. Plus, he's going to excel in the other offensive categories that first basemen need to be concerned with.

Like I said though, part of the reason I want to go 20 deep with these lists and include a few just missed guys is so that all of you have a list you can use on draft day that you can tweak to your own liking. If Pena doesn't work for you in your own league because of the BA, or you don't think he'll hit for a decent one, then shift him down and swap someone else in. That's not a knock on you either, just my general idea with these rankings.

Feb 10, 2009 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Nathan

Agree with eliyahu, it seems Billy Butler belongs somewhere in the LaRoche-Kotchman range, or at least deserves a mention if for some reason you don't trust his Pecota, unless you're running a separate article on DHs.

Feb 10, 2009 10:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

Bingo. I will be running a DH list, though obviously it won't be as deep as the other position.

Feb 10, 2009 12:27 PM
rating: 0
 
eliyahu

But Butler will qualify at DH this year, so shouldn't we evaluate him relative to 1Bs?

Feb 15, 2009 01:21 AM
rating: 0
 
SC

This isn't necessarily specific to fantasy, but why is Howard's beta so high. Given that this implies more risk, is that a good reason to nudge him below Cabrera?

Feb 10, 2009 10:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Thanks, Marc. Very much looking forward to the Fantasy Beat!

Expanding on the comments above regarding positional eligibility in Yahoo leagues, many of the fulltime DHs have 1B-eligibility. How would that eligibility affect your rankings above?

Feb 10, 2009 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

I would also love it if the top 20 included players who are likely to be eligible at that position, regardless of whether they will play there much in 2009. I'm talking about guys like Ortiz, Butler. Heck, PECOTA projects Giambi to spend most of his time at DH--why not add the others who are eligible and belong in the top 20?

Feb 10, 2009 10:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

Too many repeats. I would rather cover more players and mention the positional eligibility in the actual writing.

Feb 10, 2009 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

Thanks! I appreciate that. As I mentioned somewhere else in the comments, I will be doing a list for DHs, and will mention in that which ones have 1B eligibility and therefore a bit more value.

Feb 10, 2009 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

I love the new format. It makes eyeballing players to draft so much easier.

Feb 10, 2009 10:42 AM
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Marc Normandin

Thanks, I appreciate that. I'm certainly open to feedback going forward, since this is the first week of these.

Feb 10, 2009 12:28 PM
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bubba3m

Nicely done. While I'm no Morneau fan, the PECOTA lines you give for the players suggest that Morneau should be three spots higher- I'd have his line over any of the 8-10 guys, esp. with the greater # ABs combined with his higher AVG. Why does AVG get no love? Even PFM agrees with me. Did you sort this based on HR-centricity? Upside? Gut? Age?

Also, you're obviously not basing this on eligibility, but 2009 primary position, otherwise Atkins and Gordon would have to fit in here someplace, probably in the top 10 based on PECOTA.

Feb 10, 2009 11:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

There are so many of those guys around that I think my best course of action is going to be to just mention it when I write about them. When I get to third base, you'll see a lot of times where I say, "he's also eligible at first, so if that's helpful in your league, bump him up some".

What's difficult about making these lists is that so many people play with different rules, or don't even play the same type of fantasy game. It makes creating a universal rank kind of difficult, so I do my best to make note of things like that when I can.

Feb 10, 2009 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I guess I'm surprised at Pecota's distaste for Chris Davis, even with his whiffing ways. He's never posted a BA below .277, and hit .333 in the minors last year (while combining for 40 homers between AA, AAA, and the Majors. I could see him going .310/.365/.680 and clubbing 55 homers.

Feb 10, 2009 14:14 PM
rating: -4
 
chuckmotl
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"I could see him going .310/.365/.680 and clubbing 55 homers."... idiot

Feb 10, 2009 14:55 PM
rating: -12
 
Morris Greenberg

What position does Pablo Sandoval count as? I would put him ahead of Nick Johnson.

Feb 10, 2009 15:08 PM
rating: 1
 
patdoc98

Agree, I really like the format and analysis here. A couple of suggestions:

1. I'd be a fan if you went even further than 20 players per position. I'm in an NL-only auction league where every player is relevant, and I'd bet many BP readers are similarly in very deep leagues where guys like Sandoval matter (recognizing that for guys like Gaby Sanchez, the playing time variable is probably more important, and a lot harder to predict, than the performance variable, especially in February). And I don't think it needs to be consistent for every position - for example, going with only 20 at 1B but 25 or 30 at 3B might make sense, since 1B has more overlap with DH/OF.

2. Since you're starting so early, you might also consider adding some kind of "UPDATE" at the top of each article every few weeks, to note any risers/fallers. Will feel a lot better about Helton and Nick Johnson if we're hearing good things in March.


Feb 10, 2009 16:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

Good ideas. I'll see if I can stretch the list out for certain positions along the way.

If some new items pop up, I'll try to wrap that stuff up when I can in future articles as well. Thanks.

Feb 10, 2009 16:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I agree with patdoc98. You'll need to go more than 20 players deep, especially as you get closer to "position battle" reviews like closers. Just look at how the comments are asking about Sandoval, Butler, Giambi, Helton/Atkins etc. Fantasy baseball is usually won not with the first pick, but with the later round picks.

I'd also add in a 5x5 projection for what PECOTA thinks the production of an average player at each position would be.

I agree with the rankings for the most part, except for Conor Jackson and Casey Kotchman being ranked so high. I prefer to draft players who, at minimum, would be average with the potential to be above average.. and neither of those two players have shown a high enough average or power to justify taking them over more interesting gambles like Butler, etc... though if it was a points league, Conor Jackson makes more sense.

Feb 11, 2009 01:05 AM
rating: 0
 
nicholj

Great article. Always enjoyed your work here and elsewhere. If I can make two requests, since you are using PECOTA as your basis, I most appreciate any thoughts on why you think PECOTA may have it wrong, eg. Youkilis and the 'Just Enough' Hr's. And, if you can highlight any perceived significant gap in the rankings, eg. the difference between Morneau to Youkilis being larger than difference between Votto and Morneau?

Re some of the comments above, obviously the more players you can cover the better. Also, I wouldn't comment on position eligibility or any non-traditional categories - let the readers apply their own league eligibility rules to the PECOTA stats; that's what PFM is for.

Feb 10, 2009 17:45 PM
rating: 0
 
3FingerBrownU

I liked the article, and I'll be looking forward to the future positions. I was hoping you could clarify something though. You have Kotchman ranked 19th, yet you say that he should only pay attention to him in a deep NL-only league. Even in the shallowest of leagues, say a 10-team mixed league, you can expect everyone to carry a backup 1B, and at least 20 1B will be owned. Was this just an oversight on your part? Or do you think other first basemen should be ranked higher than Kotchman?

Feb 10, 2009 23:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I don't know what league you're playing in where every person drafts backup 1B that just sit on the bench.. but by the time you get to Kotchman's level, that kind of "talent" is generally available on the waiver wire so there is no point wasting a draft pick unless it's your team's last pick. Even then, it'd be better to draft an outfielder with some 5x5 potential and check the waiver wire if your main 1B gets hurt.

Feb 11, 2009 01:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Nick J

Thanks, Marc. I look forward to reading future rankings.

I'm curious as to your ranking of Howard ahead of
Miguel Cabrera. Are 8 HRs really more valuable than .24 points of batting average. Plus, Howard has that riskier Beta. What was your reasoning here?

Feb 11, 2009 17:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Schere

Where would Aubrey Huff rank at 1B, since it looks like he'll mostly be playing there.

Feb 12, 2009 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
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