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March 20, 2013
Fantasy Tier Rankings
Next up on the tier rankings is first base. Below you'll find the tier breakdown at the position.
For those just now stumbling upon the series, and for those who need a refresher, the tiers are broken down by stars. Five-star players are the studs at their respective positions. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs. They will also be early round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value. One-star players are late-round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from our PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
Dollar values for players reflect the position at which they are most valuable. Therefore, catchers who are first-base eligible, such as Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, will have higher dollar values than they would posting their projected numbers as exclusively first-base-eligible players.
This trio of first basemen won't make it out of the first round of many drafts, and they serve as excellent options to build a team around. An argument could be made for any of the three topping the list. PECOTA is willing to overlook Pujols' "down year" in 2012, and fantasy owners should be as well. A dreadful start couldn't prevent him from reaching 30 homers and surpassing 100 RBI.
For the first time in his career, thanks to reducing his strikeout rate yet again, Fielder walked more often than he struck out in a season. His top-shelf pop is now backed with a high average, and hitting behind reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera has its perks as well.
Five-Star Value Pick: In leagues that use OBP, either in addition to batting average or in place of it, Votto is the new top dog at first base. It's also possible that he's poised to surpass the great Pujols in standard leagues this year as well. On July 16, he went on the disabled list with torn meniscus. He had surgery and was activated from the disabled list in September. Prior to the injury, he was turning in a big season, slashing .342/.465/.604. He was also on pace for 25 homers, had he received 650 plate appearances and performed at his pre-injury rate. Basically, the career .316 hitter is Joe Mauer with much better power, and the addition of high on-base outfielder Shin-Soo Choo this offseason should provide him with the opportunity to increase his RBI output.
The four-star first basemen are an interesting mix of promising young players, guys who enjoyed 2012 breakouts, and a player who once was in the five-star tier. At his current draft cost, Goldschmidt is going to have to take another step forward to justify the pick. He has the raw power to top 30 homers, but an increase in power may only serve to offset some lost stolen bases from his position-leading total of 18 in 2012. He's a better target in long-term keeper leagues than yearly leagues, as people are overpaying for an offensive explosion that would essentially result in breaking even on his draft day cost.
Encarnacion drilled 42 homers last year, and fantasy players are taking notice. He was one of just six players to pass the 40-homer plateau last season, and while projecting a repeat is ambitious, his flyball approach and steady playing time should yield 30-plus home runs again this year. In fact, among batters who received over 400 plate appearances last year, Encarnacion ranked sixth in flyball rate at 37.8 percent. The lineup additions the Blue Jays made this offseason, in addition to a returning Jose Bautista, should help bolster Encarnacion's counting stats.
Gonzalez isn't likely to return to five-star tier production this season. Anyone banking on a full-scale bounce back to peak years for Gonzalez will probably be disappointed, but those in the other extreme camp of avoiding him altogether are taking things too far. He’s a different player now, but that doesn't make him a bad one. It just means that if he's going to see his power bounce back, he'll need to hit the ball in the air more often. Gonzalez has a fly-ball rate under 30 percent over the past two seasons, and not coincidentally, he has failed to hit 30-plus homers in those years. And his batted-ball data isn't all that has changed: he's also traded some of his power for contact. His contact rate has been on the rise each season since 2008, and Gonzalez is making the most of his bat-to-ball skills by swinging at more pitches. PECOTA's projection is reassuring. Should Gonzalez exceed his projected homer total, it will likely come at the expense of his batting average, and should he hit for a higher average, it will likely cost him a few taters.
Four-Star Value Pick: For a guy with a longer track record than all but Gonzalez in this tier, it's a bit surprising to see Butler getting picked behind the rest of the four-star first basemen in many drafts. Butler began building his impressive big-league resume at the young age of 21, and while he's been in the bigs since 2007, he’ll turn just 27 this April. His homer total exploded to 29 last season, eight more than his previous single-season best of 21, set in 2009. Another year brought Butler closer to his peak power period, but little changed in his batted-ball profile. His fly-ball rate last season was actually at its lowest since 2008, and a few more flies could help offset regression in his HR/FB rate in 2013. Butler’s profile looks a lot like Gonzalez', at a lower draft-day cost in most cases. He's also a better pick than Craig, who is almost two years older than Butler.
The three-star first basemen understandably come with more questions than the guys ranked above them, but a few have the upside to outperform their four-star peers. Most of the power at the position, such as that provided by Ike Davis, Trumbo, Chris Davis, and Howard, comes with the risk of a low batting average.
Freeman and Hosmer are higher-upside alternatives than the slugging first basemen mentioned in the paragraph above. Freeman doesn't offer as great a potential payoff as Hosmer does, but he's coming off a better season in 2012, and the safer bet. Hosmer disappointed owners tremendously last season, failing to build on his rookie campaign. The 2012 numbers themselves don't provide much reason for optimism, but his previous success and youth are reason enough to take a chance at a depressed draft-day cost.
Three-Star Value Pick: A retooled swing helped Rizzo fare better against big-league pitching last year than he did in his debut in 2011. He slashed his strikeout rate substantially, whiffing in under 17 percent of his plate appearances, and the increased contact didn't cost him any power. If these tiers weren't a reflection of our Pre-Season Positional Rankings, and were my own, Rizzo would rank with the four-star first basemen. Perhaps I'm being too ambitious, but I expect Rizzo to hit north of .275 with around 30 homers. He struggled with southpaws last year, but he didn't demonstrate the same struggles in Triple-A in the past two years. Don't write him off as a player who can't handle lefties just yet.
Questions about when Ortiz will be healthy enough to play for the Red Sox knock him down from the three-star tier. If reports are more positive and concrete on your draft day, nudge him up a tier.
Morneau was able to stay on the diamond last year, and he tallied over 500 plate appearances for the first time since 2009. His final stat line wasn't eye catching, but he ripped righties to the tune of .290/.371/.531 and slugged 17 of his 19 homers against them. Of course, that means he struggled mightily with southpaws. Prior to his concussion problems, Morneau hit better than .275 against lefties in each season from 2008-2010. If he's able to find some semblance of his previous success against lefties, he’ll have a chance to provide excellent value to his owners.
Lost in the hubbub of Dunn's rebound from a putrid 2011 season was how badly he faded after a hot start. Prior to June, Dunn looked like his old self, slashing .230/.378/.556 and launching 16 homers in 222 plate appearances. From the beginning of June until the end of the season, Dunn tallied 427 plate appearances, hitting a ghastly .191/.309/.424 with 25 round-trippers. Buyer beware.
Two-Star Value Pick: Carter began to shed his Quad-A label last season for the A's, and now he'll look to further distance himself from it with the Astros. Strikeouts will drag down his average, but he has the type of light-tower power necessary to crush more than 30 homers this year. An added bonus to Carter's value is that he's expected to see time in the outfield, and he should pick up that eligibility at some point this season. Carter should be ranked higher in leagues that count OBP.
At a certain point, gambling on Teixeira makes sense, but his revelation that his wrist injury is more serious than initially reported means that it's a higher-risk gamble than it was a few days ago. Jones and Lind are draftable platoon options in leagues that allow daily roster changes. Colvin's inclusion at the bottom of the tier awards me the chance to remind drafters that he's just one year removed from hitting a pitiful .150 with six homers in 222 plate appearances for the Cubs. Coors Field likely aided his breakout last year, but so did his .364 BABIP. He’s still playing for the Rockies, but last season's stats offer a best-case scenario, and I'm not buying that there will be an encore performance.
One-Star Value Pick: As I mentioned in my appearance with Ian Miller to preview the Giants on the Effectively Wild podcast, I'm still on the Belt bandwagon. Belt has the power to hit the ball out of any park, but the swing he used last year isn't conducive to tapping into his raw power. Much was made about his mechanics last year, and Scott Willis discussed an early-season change to close a hole in his swing here. It remains to be seen where his development path will wind up, but Belt is one of the few first-base options in this tier with upside.