The Giants first baseman hit for more power in 2014, but injuries held him back.
An unheralded fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, Belt emerged onto the prospect scene in 2010 after crushing High-A and Double-A pitching in his first professional season. He followed suit in 2011 in Triple-A, forcing his way to San Francisco by midseason. That's when the #FreeBelt movement started, as the Baby Giraffe received just 472 PA in 2012 despite hitting .275/.360/.421, hinting at promising power and boasting an 11.4 percent walk rate.
Belt was subsequently liberated in 2013, hitting .289/.360/.481 in 571 PA, finishing as fantasy's 16th-best first baseman. Given that Belt was entering his age-26 season this year, there was legitimate reason for optimism. His average draft position was no. 137 overall, according to fantasypros.com, and it wasn't totally unreasonable to project Belt for a top-12 finish at the position, if everything broke right.
In the debut edition of their new column, Ben and Craig start a tour of the best young players in each division.
There are plenty of reasons why people love dynasty leagues. To some, they do a better job of simulating the feeling of being a GM, as your decisions have ramifications beyond a single season. They foster closer connections between owners, given the sizeable time commitment, and add an element of reading your opponents, too. They require expansive knowledge of a wide group of MLB and MiLB players, and they require a relentless attention to detail throughout the season.
Yes, dynasty leagues are growing in popularity, and as they grow it becomes important for us to deliver content that caters specifically to dynasty league owners. And that’s why Craig and I will seek to put aside our differences once a week in order to impart the collective wisdom that we’ve siphoned off of others and would like to pass off as our own.
Our fantasy crew's favorite value picks at a spot where elite production is critical.
First base is a position that harbors many good fantasy players. These are some the aforementioned good players who we feel are comparatively more good than their peers.
Brandon Belt, Giants
Heading into 2013 there were legitimate concerns about Belt’s power and by extension his viability as an everyday major-league 1B. Belt answered those concerns with a strong season, complete with 60 extra-base hits, a solid walk percentage (9.1) and a pretty damn good 139 wRC+. Belt plays in extreme parks the majority of the season—AT&T and PETCO strongly favor pitchers, Coors and Chase Fields both favor hitters, and LA falls somewhere in the middle, depending on what time the game starts. He hit well on the road in 2013 and his production didn’t nosedive at home. Belt will be undervalued this year, and while he isn’t an elite-level 1B, he provides enough production to warrant being a starter in standard fantasy formats. —Mauricio Rubio
Paul Goldschmidt leads off this list of the best long-term assets at the position heading into 2014.
Because dynasty-league rankings are relatively league-dependent, I set up parameters for ranking the players below (and the ones who will follow at other positions). The list here presupposes a 16-team standard dynasty format, where there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever and owners have minor league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2014 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or only formats.
First base is the place you need to get offense these days if you want to compete, and after a strong first ten or so names, the rest of the options can get a little more dicey than you’d like to see. It’s not a particularly strong pipeline for prospects, but that’s not terribly uncommon for the position—the pipeline is often just as wide for players who have defensive deficiencies than it has been for strict first base prospects in the last decade or so. That won’t be any different in 2015, when Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer join the fold.
A fantasy-based look at how this position stacks up through 2016.
Everyone in fantasy sports loves the look-ahead. Even in the throes of a pennant race, you can fire up a conversation about next year’s first round and it will go on for an hour. With that in mind, the BP fantasy team will be taking a long view look at every position this offseason with three-year rankings (composite value at the position over the next three seasons). We continue our way around the diamond with first basemen today! First base is the storage locker for bad defenders who can hit, especially in the NL where there is no DH. The position is almost always adding staff, but their value at the position is mitigated until they’re done qualifying elsewhere.
For example, you would be insane to use a primary-catcher first-base-eligible asset anywhere but catcher. In no circumstance are they worth more playing first base, and if you carry two such assets and put one at first base, you’re not only robbing the value of this asset, but you’re also putting yourself behind in the counting categories of first base to teams who have full-time first basemen in their lineup. At any other position (though predominantly 3B and OF), they are never more valuable at first base. You could use them there in a pinch, but just like with the catcher, you’re sapping the value of the asset.
Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Davis lead the way, but there are plenty of power bats in the middle and lower tiers.
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.
Craig examines the strategies you should employ when filling this premium offensive position, and what it might look like down the road.
First base is always an interesting position, especially for those of us who are in dynasty leagues (or just into prospects) because it lacks the high-end prospects in the minors but manages to maintain a huge portion of value in fantasy. Because of the depth that the position picks up at the major-league level, thanks mainly to position changes, the strategy it sees can actually be similar to the one Bret mentioned in the State of the Position: Catchers writeup, in that many people will go into a draft planning on passing until the later rounds. With catchers, this can be because at some point, all that’s left are similarly (but poorly) skilled players, so it just doesn’t matter who you end up with. It’s different at first base in that, while there are elite talents at the top, the depth of the position provides some cushion for those who choose to draft/spend elsewhere early on.
That depth is the defining aspect to the position. While outfield may rival first base for its depth, it also has between 3-5 positions to fill, depending on the league, while first base only has the one (though CI is also filled by 1B-eligible players). The top of the depth chart at first base appears more muddled than ever, with Chris Davis the reigning king thanks to his power explosion in 2014. Still, Paul Goldschmidt might be the better investment thanks to a steadier track record and impressive versatility (he led all first baseman with 15 stolen bases). We’ve seen Eric Hosmer and Brandon Belt finally, hopefully, solidify themselves reliable first-base options with upside, adding talent to what has become a very robust middle tier.
A visual representation of the rankings in the tiered first-base list with a breakdown of the statistical contributions each player is projected to make.
For a primer on the graphical rankings, click here.
First base was an extremely fun position to break down this year. The top offensive producers will come from the cold corner. Miguel Cabrera will move there from third, Joe Mauer and perhaps Buster Posey will enter into transitional phases in their careers at first, and there’s still a host of highly talented incumbents that crowd the rankings quite a bit. Again, these are made to mirror Mike Gianella’s tiered system and aren’t necessarily in a hard order. With that in mind, let’s address some questions about the graphs.
The pitchers are the headliners on Bruce Bochy's club, but there are several valuable bats in the lineup, too.
It was an odd-numbered year, so it only stands to reason that the San Francisco Giants didn’t win the World Series (like they did in 2010 and 2012). Instead, the Giants put up an underwhelming 76-86 record, good for a third-place tie in the NL West with the San Diego Padres. Michael Morse and Tim Hudson were brought in via free agency, but for the most part San Francisco is relying on a return to form and good health by a cast of steady and reliable veterans.
These players excelled from July through the end of the regular season, but does that mean great things are in store in 2014?
It’s relatively easy to tell when a player has a full-on breakout. Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt both had easily the strongest seasons of their respective careers in 2013—it doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure that out. However, every pre-season, there is always be a lot of talk about how a player had a “breakout second half,” leading to talk that they will be able to build off that experience in the following season. At face value, that makes sense. But at face value, we’re also clearly dealing with sample size issues. For every Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, who hinted at their offensive explosions towards the end of the prior season, there are many more who never capitalize on said promise.
For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to be looking at hitters with a .900+ OPS during the second half of the previous season in at least 100 plate appearances. But before we dig into the 2013 members of this group, we’re going to take it one step further and look back at the last couple of seasons to see exactly how this control group fared.