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February 17, 2011

Fantasy Focus

First Base Rankings

by Marc Normandin

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Today we kick off our annual fantasy rankings, starting with first basemen. Check back at noon Eastern today for the second base rankings!

Like last year, the fantasy rankings are broken into tiers. Generally speaking, five-star players should be worthwhile in five categories and have an auction dollar value of $30 or more in your standard, mixed leagues. Four-star players should be worth at least $20 and useful in four categories, three-stars $10 and up, two-stars are more of your single-digit buys that you hope fill a hole or return some bargain value, and one-star players are, most likely, roster filler in the deepest leagues that you hope can be worth the buck you throw down on them.

This year we are listing stats like we have in the past (plate appearances, average, R, RBI, SB and HR projections from PECOTA) but are also including dollar value estimates produced by the Player Forecast Manager. In order to make these columns fit into the tables, I had to shorten them: "2L-$" is for mixed leagues, and "1L-$" is for AL- or NL-only leagues, depending on the player. The dollar values may not always match up with the tiers perfectly, but those are just cases of PECOTA and I disagreeing on a player.

For reference, the dollar values were created with the PFM using standard 5x5 roto scoring, 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) Util (1) P (9)—and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify (though I snuck a few brand new first basemen in). If your league uses different settings, be sure to plug them into the PFM to see what kind of differences in dollar value we are talking about—I set these to be as close to standard roster construction as possible.

Five Stars

Player

Team

PA

R

HR

SB

RBI

AVG

2L-$

1L-$

Albert Pujols

SLN

650

104

35

10

105

.312

$39

$33

Miguel Cabrera

DET

640

94

31

4

99

.307

$30

$27

Adrian Gonzalez

BOS

685

96

30

1

96

.281

$24

$23

Joey Votto

CIN

650

95

30

11

97

.298

$31

$29

Pujols is first; I'm sure this shocked the lot of you. Miguel Cabrera is going to have more than 95 R and 97 RBI in 2011 (as will the rest of these elite first basemen), but the projections for those stats almost always tend to be conservative with PECOTA. The good news is that the dollar values are created with a relative sense in mind—if R and RBI are depressed for everyone, and Cabrera is near the top, it's the same as it would be if you bumped everyone up by 10 of each stat. Cabrera closed the gap between himself and Pujols a bit more than these dollar values let on, but his best year was the equivalent of a Pujols down year, meaning he shouldn't catch or surpass him.

I've rated Adrian Gonzalez with what will presumably be his 90th percentile projection in mind. PECOTA isn't a huge fan of the slugger at present thanks to the switch to the stronger American League and his 2010 season that was hindered by a bum shoulder almost the entirety of the year. In Boston's stacked lineup, out of Petco, and healthy, Gonzalez should rank ahead of everyone except Pujols at first. Problem is, we're not entirely sure when his shoulder will be 100 percent—it could be Opening Day, or it could take a month for the Sox new first baseman to get into the swing of things. I would be very surprised if Gonzalez didn't obliterate his forecast here, though.

I mentioned in the first base rankings review that Votto may have played himself into the five-star category, and his projection agrees with that sentiment.

Four Stars

Player

Team

PA

R

HR

SB

RBI

AVG

2L-$

1L-$

Prince Fielder

MIL

670

98

36

3

99

.274

$28

$25

Mark Teixeira

NYA

660

93

32

1

95

.275

$23

$23

Adam Dunn

CHA

656

92

38

2

95

.248

$22

$23

Kevin Youkilis

BOS

628

88

22

5

83

.285

$17

$22

Ryan Howard

PHI

670

93

40

3

106

.262

$28

$25

Prince Fielder has not been consistent in his career—he has never posted an ISO in the .200s or .300s in consecutive seasons. Starting in 2006, his first full season, Fielder's ISO has been.212, .330, .231, .303, and .210 in 2010. Given the pattern, we'll see another ISO over .300 this year just to spite fantasy owners who have given up on him. If there were fewer first basemen to choose from, I would be tempted to pop him back into the five-star range, but given his inconsistency and the other options available, he ends up (fittingly) next-in-line for the first base throne.

Teixeira had a down year in 2010, hitting .256/.365/.481, though batting in the middle of the Yankee lineup allowed him to crack the 100 R and RBI barriers. If he repeats that line, he'll be valuable, but chances are good that that was a blip and we will see some improvement on the already useful fantasy line that PECOTA has predicted. Dunn just snuck into the four-star range in 2010, but this time around, he has The Cell at his back—expect to see lots of homers, and plenty of RBI to offset the lower batting average.

Kevin Youkilis' forecast is pretty low—expect a batting average maybe 20 points higher, a few more homers, and much more from the R and RBI departments given his placement in the Red Sox lineup. Ryan Howard may be slipping, but he hits in the middle of the Phillies' lineup and still hits homers in bunches. He's too good to be a three-star player, but maybe not good enough to be any higher than this.

Three Stars

Player

Team

PA

R

HR

SB

RBI

AVG

2L-$

1L-$

Buster Posey

SFN

500

66

16

1

64

.289

$20

$15

Billy Butler

KCA

655

84

16

1

79

.294

$13

$18

Paul Konerko

CHA

625

84

30

1

87

.270

$16

$21

Justin Morneau

MIN

550

75

21

1

76

.286

$9

$17

Kendry Morales

ANA

650

83

25

3

89

.284

$18

$21

Mike Napoli

TEX

446

57

22

5

61

.251

$17

$14

Carlos Pena

CHN

625

82

33

3

82

.230

$11

$16

Posey gets extra credit for being a catcher. Sadly he won't pick up as much playing time as the rest of these guys due to his backstop duties, but he'll make the most of the ones he does get. Billy Butler was covered in loads of detail by Craig Brown earlier this winter, so check that out if you missed it. Paul Konerko probably won't be the beast he was in 2010, but he should approach either the 100 R or 100 RBI mark now that the White Sox employ an actual hitter at the DH spot and not Mark Kotsay. Justin Morneau is a four-star talent who sustained a concussion, and your guess is as good as mine in terms of how he will be when he returns. Some players return from severe concussions fine, and other players end up like Corey Koskie. Morneau is a good bet to deliver production if he's healthy, but with the other first basemen available, I wouldn't pop down any of my auction money on him unless the price were low.

Assuming Kendry Morales doesn't get all overzealous with the celebrations again this year, he should be able to retain the use of all of his appendages, and send a few baseballs into orbit before the season ends. Mike Napoli is a three-star prospect if he gets more playing time than is listed above—that hinges on Michael Young being moved in a trade to free up DH appearances for the slugging catcher. If Young sticks with the Rangers, Napoli's value takes a hit, and he becomes a pretty useful catcher and not so useful first baseman. I like Carlos Pena in Wrigley a lot—the left-hander with serious pull power is a perfect fit for Wrigley Park, and I can see him exceeding that projected homer total, albeit while hitting .230 as suggested above.

Two Stars

Player

Team

PA

R

HR

SB

RBI

AVG

2L-$

1L-$

Gaby Sanchez

FLO

625

78

18

7

74

.271

$10

$17

Derrek Lee

BAL

600

78

20

4

74

.276

$9

$18

Aubrey Huff

SFN

611

75

18

3

73

.263

$6

$14

Lance Berkman

SLN

608

81

22

8

73

.264

$11

$18

Adam Lind

TOR

644

80

26

1

90

.264

$14

$19

Adam LaRoche

WAS

625

77

23

2

81

.258

$9

$16

Carlos Lee

HOU

637

77

24

6

83

.268

$14

$19

Michael Cuddyer

MIN

650

78

15

6

73

.264

$7

$17

Ike Davis

NYN

650

77

17

2

70

.252

$4

$13

Kila Ka'aihue

KCA

682

94

30

1

85

.261

$18

$20

Brad Hawpe

SDN

575

72

18

3

67

.251

$2

$12

Freddie Freeman

ATL

570

66

14

2

66

.264

$1

$12

Matt LaPorta

CLE

666

81

24

1

80

.246

$9

$16

James Loney

LAN

650

77

11

8

67

.276

$7

$16

Mitch Moreland

TEX

547

68

17

2

67

.272

$3

$14

Gaby Sanchez is a solid pick here—just make sure you don't overpay for him, as he's the kind of guy you get at a low price and enjoy because it allowed you to spend elsewhere. Derrek Lee is much the same way, as he's another player in a solid lineup that should score some runs, but not a ton of them. I like Aubrey Huff more than his projection, as his newly patient approach worked out well for him in 2010, but that's why he's near the top of the two-star pile, and not down below in the one-star group. Lance Berkman will have outfield and first base eligibility, and while hitting in Busch Stadium won't do him any favors, a healthy season should help him improve on his 2010 and earn back some of his past value. I'm not touching Adam Lind with any of my draft picks or auction money until he learns how to hit lefties more effectively.

Adam LaRoche is basically the Two and a Half Men of fantasy baseball (without the strippers and jail time, though maybe Charlie Sheen could hook him up), as he's safe and therefore enjoyed by a large audience. He's just so boring though, and there are better things you could be spending your time on. Carlos Lee has outfield and first base eligibility, but his bounce back in the second half amounted to a .242/.296/.442 line, so I'm not exactly waiting with open arms for his 2011 campaign. Michael Cuddyer has multi-position eligibility, which makes him useful in deep leagues, but he can hold his own at a low price if necessary in shallower ones.

I like Ike Davis. PECOTA…not so much. I suggested he was a better fit to hold onto than Gaby Sanchez due to his age and upside—while that may not show through immediately in 2011 due to that same youth I just praised, it should pay off in the end. Kila Ka'aihue has more PA projected here than I think he'll get, but if he earns a regular job right out of spring training, he may be worth more than this ranking suggests—he hit .274/.361/.548 in September following a dreadful August with the Royals. PECOTA sure does like him, which counts for something. Brad Hawpe dealt with injuries in 2010, but it turns out those bruised ribs he had in Colorado and Tampa Bay were actually fractured ribs. That changes his 2011 outlook a bit, though the status of his ribs doesn't change the fact that the left-hander now has to hit in Petco for half the year.

I'm a fan of the Free Man, but let me remind all citizens of the dangers of magical thinking: PECOTA doesn't think he's going to tear up the majors in his rookie campaign, though I'm inclined to believe his final line will be better than what has been forecasted, especially as he faces more and more big league pitching. Matt LaPorta is listed with a zillion plate appearances because the Indians don't have another first baseman on their roster (no, really). He's down here because he makes me nervous, and because he won't have that many plate appearances by year's end. Plus, he burned me last year when I placed faith in him, so now I'm a jilted fantasy lover.

James Loney benefits from a secure first base job that will net him plenty of plate appearances. Sadly, this doesn't change the fact that he is, in fact, James Loney, and therefore hits like James Loney, which is to say, not much at all. If Moreland's job were more secure, I would bump him ahead of Loney, because there is a lot to like about someone who plays half their games in Texas in the midst of a productive lineup. Chris Davis exists though, and Texas has been notoriously quick on the trigger when it comes to their first basemen the past few seasons.

One Star

Player

Team

PA

R

HR

SB

RBI

AVG

2L-$

1L-$

Dan Johnson

TBA

530

70

25

0

67

.244

$2

$14

Daric Barton

OAK

600

70

9

3

53

.245

-$4

$10

Justin Smoak

SEA

650

74

17

1

61

.235

-$1

$12

Xavier Nady

ARI

512

61

15

2

62

.269

-$1

$11

Brett Wallace

HOU

600

68

18

0

67

.249

$0

$11

Melvin Mora

ARI

532

60

11

5

55

.259

-$3

$10

Lyle Overbay

PIT

574

68

14

1

62

.248

-$1

$10

Todd Helton

COL

450

59

9

0

47

.288

-$6

$8

Ty Wigginton

COL

392

48

14

2

49

.268

-$7

$8

Jorge Cantu

SDN

380

43

9

1

41

.255

-$15

$5

Eric Hinske

ATL

296

35

10

3

33

.236

-$20

$3

Juan Miranda

ARI

200

24

7

0

24

.248

-$28

$1

This is worse than shopping in that $1 section at Target that is directly in front of you when you enter the store. Most of these guys are basically the kind of knickknacks you scoop up for no other reason than hey, it was just one dollar, but there might be a few hidden gems here. Dan Johnson, if he retains the first base job, should be a suitable Carlos Pena substitute, in that he too can hit for a low batting average but get on base often and clear the fence on enough swings to keep him interesting. Daric Barton won't contribute to power, but if he exceeds this ugly batting average and keeps his on-base percentage high, he should score some runs and be worthwhile in a deep, AL-only league. Justin Smoak will be useful if he hits, though given that Seattle's front office liked him as a hitter, he's probably doomed.

Xavier Nady is a solid buy at the end of an auction or draft if Arizona plays him as often as we think they will. Same goes for Melvin Mora, and if Eric Hinske gets a lot of playing time—if/when Chipper Jones goes down and Martin Prado moves back to third base, there is a possibility for a whole lot more Hinske in Atlanta's life—he fits the bill, too. Lyle Overbay and Brett Wallace aren't thrilling, and they play for teams that aren't going to score runs in bunches. Try not to let the excitement of the NL Central's basement keep you from finishing this article.

Ty Wigginton is useful for his versatility, as you can plug him in almost anywhere if one of your starters goes down. Juan Miranda may end up with more at-bats at first base than this, but that's not clear at present—personally, I'm rooting for Micah Owings to come away with most of the playing time there. (Note: I wrote that sentence before I saw that the Diamondbacks signed Russell Branyan to play first. While we don't have his dollar values just yet--this is hot off the presses, you know—he's very similar to Carlos Pena. Hitter-friendly home park, susceptible to left-handed pitchers, but just loads of precious, precious power.) Todd Helton might help in batting average, but I'm not convinced he will see this much playing time, due to either injuries, an upgrade, or the sheer volume of corner guys the Rox amassed this winter.

Remember, the second base rankings will be up later today, so be sure to check back for them.

38 comments have been left for this article.

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