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March 1, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Tier Rankings: First Basemen
We’ve got a lot of positions to cover over the next couple of weeks, so let’s dive right in. At bat: first basemen.
As a reminder, five-star players are generally going to be your star-level producers that will be selected within the first couple of rounds, usually worth upward of $30. Four-star players are the next step down, worth more than $20. Three stars are worth more than $10, two stars will be in the single digits, and one star will be roster-filler and late-round fliers. Of course, this is just a general guideline. While the rankings will generally follow PECOTA, I will deviate when I feel strongly that a player will over or underperform his PECOTA projection.
I’ve also decided to give my choice for a value pick in each tier—a guy who I think will be worth more than your leaguemates do, or a guy who I believe stands a good chance of beating his PECOTA projection.
For reference, the dollar values were created by our PFM using a league format of 12 teams, 5x5 scoring, and 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (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. We’ll be providing values for both mixed leagues and AL-only/NL-only leagues. While this is the industry standard format, your own league structure may differ, in which case you can customize the PFM to your own needs.
Also, please note that for players who are eligible at multiple positions, the dollar values listed are representative of their most valuable position. So for a guy like Mike Napoli, who qualifies at catcher, his dollar values aren’t directly comparable to Eric Hosmer if you’re drafting him as a first baseman. His ranking, however, is indicative of where he would fall as a first baseman.
This tier is pretty predictable. These five are the cream of the crop, and there shouldn’t be any surprises. You can’t go wrong with any of these guys anchoring your fantasy squad. Moving on.
Five-Star Value Pick: Pujols. The guy has been the most consistent (and best) player in baseball for years, yet he’s being taken third on average, and as low as seventh, in mock drafts. If I have the number-one pick in a draft, I’m probably grabbing Pujols.
Now things get interesting. You could make a case for Teixeira in the first tier, but his batting average troubles over the past couple years place him out of it. Mike Morse might surprise a bit as my sixth most-valuable first baseman, but I really like him. I talked about how I was buying into Morse early in the 2011 season, and he continued to rake the rest of the way. Great power, hits the ball hard, multi-position-eligible. This guy’s legit.
I’m sure some of you would like to see Hosmer higher up on the list, and he’s certainly a great talent, but he also has little major-league experience. He has good raw power and hits the ball to all fields, but at this point I’ll still take guys like Morse and Napoli, for whom we can be a little more certain about what to expect.
We also see two catchers in this tier. I would highly recommend against drafting them as first basemen because you’re going to have a hard time getting them for proper value, but it’s interesting to note just how good their bats are; they’d still be Four Stars even if they weren’t backstops.
Four-Star Value Pick: You’ll surely rather play him at third, but even as a first baseman Mark Reynolds is valuable. He’s a guy who always seems to wind up on my team, perpetually undervalued in my eyes, and he’s in a good ballpark for his power. He even has a decent lineup around him, considering he plays for the Orioles. I’ll take the over on his PECOTA home-run projection; 40-plus is a very real possibility. He’s being taken in just the 10th round, on average, in Mock Draft Central drafts, so Reynolds is my value pick here.
While PECOTA seems to disagree a bit, I see Michael Cuddyer as the class of the Three Stars. Between moving to the National League and the ballpark swing from Target to Coors Field, I don’t see how Cuddyer hits fewer than 25 home runs in the middle of a solid lineup. Of course, I’m not the only one who is onto him, as he’s generally been going in the seventh round of Mock Draft Central drafts.
I’ve already explained why I like Ike this year, so I won’t rehash my feelings.
Edwin Encarnacion and Mitch Moreland both made the cut for my CBS AL-only team, and I’ll tell you now that it was by design. I love these two for the 2012 season and could easily see 25 home run seasons out of both. Both have some risk, but both also have very good raw power and play half their games in favorable ballparks, E5 especially. Moreland’s offseason wrist surgery worries me a bit and causes me to temper expectations of him, but it’s still likely he exceeds his round 20 ADP as long as he gets close to full-time at-bats. The second caveat goes for Edwin too, as the Jays have a crowded outfield/DH picture. But between his ability to play first, third, DH, and apparently left field, the team should find a way to keep him in the lineup as long as he hits.
I grabbed Adam Dunn for $11 in the CBS league as well, but I am a bit concerned about him, especially with Ozzie Guillen saying how out of whack his swing was last year. There’s a lot of upside if he comes cheap enough, though, and there are plenty of reasons why he could improve. New manager Robin Ventura thought he looked good during batting practice a couple days ago. Dunn says he hits better when he plays the field, so the Sox will work him in at first base a bit more this season. He also didn’t do any work in the batting cages last offseason, which he did do this winter. He’s now had a full year to start adjusting to American League competition. Plus, he has natural regression on his side.
Three-Star Value Pick: Encarnacion. He’s being selected in the 19th round of mocks, so you simply can’t pass him up.
There’s a lot of “bleh” going on in the Two-Star category, with several veterans who you more or less know what you’re getting from.
Chris Davis is intriguing if he can finally prove he can handle big-league pitching, but there’s big risk. He’s struggled in the past, causing some to pencil him into the Quad-A category. He had injury problems through the end of last season and decided to forgo hernia surgery (which often just means he’ll wind up getting it later on down the road). He also has a good deal of competition in Baltimore should he struggle (Wilson Betemit, Josh Bell, Ryan Flaherty, and Matt Antonelli). The risk may outweigh the potential reward here.
Lucas Duda is a great pick in this tier; he has good power, the Mets are moving the Citi Field fences in, and he will have little competition for his job as the starting right fielder. He’s a big guy, but he manages to keep his strikeouts in check, which is great.
Two-Star Value Pick: Mike Carp. The RBI and runs might leave a little to be desired with an offense like Seattle’s, but manager Eric Wedge has said Carp will be the primary left fielder, also getting starts at first and DH. He has very good power, and if he continues to bat cleanup, he should easily exceed his 22nd round ADP.
Morneau sticks out as the only One-Star player that PECOTA projects for a positive mixed-league contribution (outside of Daniel Murphy, who is valued as a second baseman). His post-concussion symptoms are still lingering, and when a guy talks about the ailment he’s dealing with potentially ending his career, it’s time to worry. Throw in Target Field’s effects on the healthy version of Morneau, and I’m staying away unless he’s dirt cheap. AL-only players, Chris Parmelee makes for a good $1 or reserve selection.
Ryan Howard experienced a setback yesterday, so he could move down this tier if it proves serious. If it doesn’t and you have DL spots, you could make the case that he’s the best One-Star Value Pick. Draft him, take somebody like Ty Wigginton at the very end, and find yourself with a very serviceable first-base tandem.
One-Star Value Pick: Let me tell you, though, I don’t want to find myself without a first baseman when these are the only guys left. However, Brandon Belt does have a lot of, and at the point of a mixed-league draft when you’re going to be faced with a decision like this, upside is more important than the consistency you’ll get from someone like Todd Helton. For this reason, Justin Smoak is also a compelling option, especially if the injury the Mariners are said to have covered up last season sapped his effectiveness.
With over 1,600 player comments in Baseball Prospectus 2012, you might find it difficult to read through them all before draft day arrives. To help you out, in each article of this series, I’ll point you toward some of the most insightful comments for the position. These are the guys that I’d highly recommend flipping to in your copy of the book and reading before you sit down at the draft able.
Be sure to read the BP2012 Comments for these first basemen: Brandon Allen, Adam Dunn, Edwin Encarnacion, Casey Kotchman, and Justin Smoak.
Finally, I’ll be flying out to Arizona this weekend to compete in LABR, the longest-running expert league in fantasy baseball history. I’m in the NL-only league that drafts Sunday night, which should prove a nice complement to the CBS AL-only league I drafted last week. If you’re interested in getting a sneak peek at my roster, check out DerekCarty.com late Sunday night, or check back here at BP on Tuesday for a more complete rundown. I’m always interested to get readers’ thoughts on my teams. I won’t have anything on Monday since I’ll be traveling, but we’ll have at least two or three more sets of position rankings throughout next week.