January 21, 2014
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
This series began last week with a look at the catchers. Today, our positional tier rankings series continues with a look at first base.
Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that 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 at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are 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 in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2014.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from last year’s 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 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.
Players with multi-position eligibility are listed at the position where it is most likely they would start in a standard fantasy league. Buster Posey and Carlos Santana both have eligibility at catcher and first base but are not included in this part of the series for this reason. While there are unique situations where a fantasy owner might start Posey or Santana at first, these situations are the exception and not the rule.
Last year turned out to be a transitional year at the position, with Goldschmidt and Davis replacing Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder as the studs at first base. This change should hold in 2014. Even if Davis slips off of his 53-home-run clip from 2013, a 35-40-HR season should still put him at the top of a pack at a position that doesn’t offer quite as much power as it used to.
Goldschmidt is the real deal: an all around five-category monster who plays in a very good hitters’ park and has youth on his side. Those steals are gravy; Goldy was one of only two players who put up double-digit steals at first base in 2013.
Five-Star Value Pick: Joey Votto
This year’s four-star players offer a mix of up-and-comers on the rise with older hitters looking to bounce back or maintain. Freeman might have the most upside of any of the players in this category given his youth and the potential for some moderate power growth. His .371 BABIP does speak to a slip in batting average, and a .290 batting average might be a more realistic expectation in 2014. Freeman might crack the elite barrier this year, but 2015 is a more realistic bet.
Fielder had a down year 2013 yet still was a top 40 hitter in mixed leagues in 2013. The switch to Texas won’t have a dramatic impact on Fielder’s power that some might be expecting, but even if Fielder simply maintains at this “down” level of performance he’s still a near-elite hitter. It’s better to anticipate the new normal instead of overpaying for a bounce back that might or might not come.
Pujols is even more of an enigma than Fielder. He says he’s 100 percent after surgery, but even if he is healthy, Pujols wasn’t a fantasy monster in his last healthy season for the Angels and at his age shouldn’t be expected to dominate in 2014 either. There is some obvious bounce back potential, but a return to Pujols’ monster form with St. Louis is an unrealistic expectation.
Four-Star Value Pick: Eric Hosmer
A common theme in the three-star category is hitters with questionable batting averages. Morneau, Rizzo, Napoli, and Trumbo all provide some degree of risk in the category and—with the exception of Trumbo—don’t provide the kind of power to make the poor BA contributions forgivable. Morneau should benefit from the Coors bump this year, while Rizzo is still young enough to anticipate some all-around improvement.
Craig is a terrific all around hitter, but his 22 home runs in 2012 might represent his ceiling. If there is a hitter in the three-tier group who might be underrated and break through into the four-star category, it is Craig.
Your guess is as good as mine or anyone else’s when it comes to what Abreu might do. This tier is a placeholder of sorts for Abreu. Spring training might give us some idea of what Abreu is capable of…or it might mislead us into drawing false conclusions that won’t hold up once the season starts.
Three-Star Value Pick: Justin Morneau
Some would argue that Moss belongs in the three-star tier, as he was pretty similar to Trumbo and in fact better than Rizzo and Morneau in 2013. While this is true, Moss’s limitations against lefties and his disadvantage playing half his games in Oakland put a cap on his ceiling. Moss is a fine player if you’re looking for power and nothing else, but I prefer the upside with three-star hitters to the known knowns that Moss offers.
If you’re looking for a consistent, under-the-radar performer in standard leagues, Swisher is your guy. He has hit 20 home runs or more nine years running, and provides solid counting stats across the board. The batting average is a drag in some seasons and is highly unlikely to ever be an asset but depending on your squad, Swisher can offer some reliable production if some of the other first sackers go for too much earlier in your draft or auction.
There is a lot of upward mobility in Teixeira’s ranking if he is completely healthy and can bounce back from a lost season due to a wrist injury. However, reports in late December indicated that Tex was still feeling some tightness and discomfort in his wrist. Wrist injuries are tricky in terms of figuring out when a full recovery will occur. Spring training might merit bumping Teixeira up a tier, but if you are drafting early it makes no sense to pay for past performance at such a thick position.
Two-Star Value Pick: Adam LaRoche
Many of the hitters listed in the one-star category are included here due to uncertainty. If Morales signs somewhere as a starter, he’s at least a two-star player based on prior performance; he gets lumped in here for now simply because there is always a chance he winds up in a platoon or as a part time 1B/DH. Dunn suffers for similar reasons. With the Abreu/Paul Konerko/Dunn logjam at 1B/DH in Chicago, Dunn might see fewer at bats than he has in years. Carter has a high ceiling—and in OBP leagues he ranks higher than this—but the Astros are talking about opening up competition at 1B/DH in the spring. Jonathan Singleton will be knocking on the door by midseason, and while Carter seems like a great choice for the power, there is enough of a logjam in Houston to keep him among these deeper mixed/only league options.
One-Star Value Pick: Garrett Jones
-Only League Notes
National League: Lucas Duda and Josh Satin are the fallbacks for the Mets if Ike Davis falters again or gets traded. Satin is likely to get some at bats at first against left-handers even if Davis sticks. Darin Ruf will get some at bats against lefthanders in Philadelphia for Ryan Howard. Scouts and analysts alike are down on Ruf, but he could provide some cheap power at a third corner slot in NL-only. Howard is going to lose some at bats to left-handed pitchers if Ryne Sandberg has his way, and Ruf could be the biggest beneficiary. If Kyle Blanks manages to stay on the field and get some playing time he could be a dangerous weapon. These are always big ifs though, so it’s best to leave him for the endgame and be disappointed on the cheap if he doesn’t work out.
American League: Jeff Keppinger is projected to start the year on the bench, but with Gordon Beckham and Matt Davidson in front of him at second base and third base, could sneak in 350-400 at bats. Keppinger was overrated last year, but as a cheap $2-3 option could be a nice source of stats across the board. Mike Carp looks buried in Boston, but was extremely effective when he played last year and even in 150-200 at bats could do some damage in AL-only. He is a great guy to sneak in at the end on the cheap if your league will let you. Jesus Guzman won’t play full-time, but could sneak in enough at bats in Houston to do some damage in only leagues. Sean Rodriguez is only 1B/OF eligible at the moment. He is a better AL-only play in season once he picks up eligibility elsewhere on the diamond, but even in only Rodriguez is a pretty fringy way to use a roster spot.