I asked you, and you told me what you wanted to see, and here it is: the first position in my revamped fantasy rankings. We will kick things off with first base soon enough, but I have some things I want to go over first.

  • Players are no longer ranked by number (the 1-20 system). Instead, I am implementing a tiered system using stars (five stars is the best, one is the lesser of your options). These stars are equal across positions to make comparisons between them easier-for example, there are three five-star first basemen, but there may be more or fewer than that at other positions-if it comes to it, the first player at a position may be a four-star option. You can derive positional scarcity from the number of four- and five-star players available and make decisions from there.
  • I am no longer just covering 20 players per position-each list may be a bit different in length, but this first list with hitters is 35 players long. This should let players in AL- or NL-only league be as prepared as those in mixed leagues. There are two things I did to make this happen. First, I used the depth charts as my guide (this is also where the projections listed come from) and picked the starting player for every team at the position, giving me a guaranteed 30 choices, minimum. Second, for players with multiple position eligibility, I included them in the list for each position. It is possible they will have different star ratings at different positions, though, so make sure you reference the correct set of rankings. Victor Martinez is a three-star first baseman-it’s a very crowded position, and his numbers are very average for it-but at catcher, where the talent pool is shallower, Martinez is worth more. This allows me to show you which position a player is most valuable.
  • If a player is ahead of another player within the same tier, it does not necessarily mean I like them more. It means I typed their name first. The point of the tiers is that the players within each one should all have similar production-if one of them performs significantly better or worse than expected, then we can re-evaluate at midseason or during the year, but think of the star rating as their true or expected talent level.

Using tiers and significantly increasing the number of players covered were the two requests I saw the most when I opened the floor to you. Though I didn’t see it mentioned nearly as often, including players at each available position seemed worthwhile. I will try to release a top-250 list eventually, but I hope these star ratings help you to construct your own in the meantime, given I’m producing them in a way that makes position-to-position comparisons easy. I think the rankings-and therefore our fantasy teams-will be that much better for these changes, so thank you for your input. We’re still early enough that comments and suggestions regarding the format are appreciated, so don’t be shy.

Five Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG   R HR RBI SB
Albert Pujols    686 .322/.443/.577 97 34 108  6
Prince Fielder   669 .287/.409/.586 87 41 107  3
Miguel Cabrera   686 .304/.390/.555 86 37 103  4

One thing before we get going-these runs scored totals look low to me across the board, so just make a mental note that the number should probably be higher, but also keep in mind how they fare relative to other players. So, don’t think “Pujols will score 97 runs,” think “Pujols is expected to score more runs than Prince Fielder.”

Pujols is still the top pick in the game in my mind-this projection seems low to me, and I wouldn’t be shocked by another season with over .600 slugging for the Cardinals star. Fielder is a monster, but he won’t have the batting average of Pujols or as many runs scored given fewer opportunities. He will, however, go smash pretty often, enough to lead the league most likely. He will contribute to every category except steals, and you can’t ask for much more given those numbers. Cabrera may not have third-base eligibility anymore after not appearing there in 2009, but his numbers hold up anywhere on the diamond. He may come close to leading this group in homers, but will do it with a better batting average than Fielder. You can’t go wrong with any of these three, but if there was a Five-Star-Plus-One rating, it would go to Pujols.

Four Stars
Player            PA    AVG/OBP/SLG   R HR RBI SB 
Adrian Gonzalez  686  .287/.393/.533 91 34 102  1
Justin Morneau   669  .288/.372/.518 86 30 107  1
Kevin Youkilis   648  .290/.393/.506 84 24  88  5
Mark Teixeira    648  .292/.395/.534 85 32 105  2
Joey Votto       648  .294/.386/.524 80 30  94  8
Lance Berkman    648  .285/.404/.514 89 29  90  9
Ryan Howard      632  .268/.370/.543 86 37 114  3
Kendry Morales   632  .294/.347/.513 74 29  82  1

If Gonzalez weren’t in Petco Park for half his games, he would be a five-star first baseman. Alas, he will be there for 81 games unless he is dealt, so he’s here in all of his unadjusted glory. Morneau and Votto are very similar in my mind-I feel that Votto is and will be the better player when all is said and done, but they are close enough that they both make the four-star section. I’m a bit more optimistic about Youkilis than PECOTA, at least on its weighted mean forecast. I’m thinking maybe a little bit more batting average and a slugging percentage-around 30 points loftier-which fits in nicely with the rest of this bunch.

Teixeira will absolutely score more than 85 runs in that Yankees lineup in that stadium, but the rest of the line seems right to me. I don’t think 100-plus runs pushes him into five-star territory, though-he’s another just-missed in my mind, given that honor applies to all positions, not just this one. For a player dealing with injuries, Berkman had a pretty great season in 2009, but he’s not top-tier at the position any longer. He’s still worth a look, just not a first-round one. Howard is the closest thing to a three-category player in the four-star range, but he destroys those three categories. Expect more runs scored than that out of Howard-if he can keep his batting average up, he may be the class of this group. Morales is here because I expect a higher slugging percentage as well as more runs and RBI from him, matching him up with the rest of this group.

Three Stars
Player            PA    AVG/OBP/SLG   R HR RBI SB 
Adam LaRoche     616  .280/.358/.477 69 21  79  1
Nick Swisher     602  .249/.376/.465 76 26  73  2
Carlos Pena      595  .237/.381/.518 75 35  89  1
Billy Butler     632  .299/.371/.497 70 24  85  1
Michael Cuddyer  566  .275/.354/.462 70 19  67  6
Victor Martinez  560  .290/.367/.471 60 19  78  1
Chris Davis      480  .279/.336/.535 64 27  73  2
Derrek Lee       648  .287/.376/.472 80 21  78  5
Adam Dunn        632  .250/.387/.493 75 31  87  3

Did you expect to see LaRoche listed anywhere besides what would be considered the spot for average choices? You know what you’re getting if you have LaRoche on your team, and it’s very similar to every other player in this tier. Swisher is not a first baseman, but he is eligible in many leagues-the low batting average hurts him, but being in the Yankees lineup with that OBP makes him valuable. ena’s batting average hurts his fantasy value significantly, but he’s not a bad option at the right pick or price, given he has titanic power and will drive in plenty of Rays despite the lack of contact.

Butler has a better batting average than most of these guys, but his power isn’t quite there yet, so he’s still in the three-star section for now. Being in Kansas City’s lineup also doesn’t help him. Cuddyer is eligible at first despite being an outfielder-PECOTA doesn’t expect him to hit as well as last year, but his line still works at the position if you miss out on better players or just want more flexibility on your roster. Martinez is, as stated, a better option at catcher, but if you want a more versatile version of LaRoche, then he’s your guy-especially with all of the average, runs and RBI benefits that playing in Fenway Park in the Red Sox lineup entails.

PECOTA likes Davis a bit more than I do for 2010-I think he’s capable of that kind of power, but let’s see if he can keep the batting average up consistently in order to pull it off. I’m not sold on Lee’s 2009 output-I expect something more along the lines of 2006-08, as PECOTA does. He had 12 “just enough” homers last year, but he also hit a ton of bombs that kept his average homer distance up. Given his age and other recent performances, and the fact that his HR/FB percentage shot up to pre-2006 levels out of nowhere, I’m inclined to think fluke more than new level of performance. Dunn is closer to four stars than three if you could guarantee his batting average would stay up, but I wouldn’t put money on that.

Two Stars
Player            PA    AVG/OBP/SLG   R HR RBI SB 
James Loney      618  .295/.359/.444 61 14  81  5
Paul Konerko     595  .254/.363/.466 62 26  70  1
Todd Helton      557  .294/.412/.449 61 13  60  0
Aubrey Huff      557  .280/.345/.466 60 18  70  2
Daniel Murphy    543  .284/.345/.466 62 15  70  5
Nick Johnson     510  .283/.433/.431 60 11  59  1
Jeff Clement     471  .251/.341/.445 53 17  57  1
Matt LaPorta     409  .269/.353/.480 48 16  52  1
Garrett Atkins   367  .284/.351/.460 51 16  65  1
Jorge Cantu      353  .288/.353/.467 64 19  74  3
Troy Glaus       326  .255/.361/.439 44 14  50  1

Loney has the batting average and may have the RBI like he did last year, but he’s going to miss out on runs and power, which is why he’s here and not higher. Konerko is a good option for homers, but I don’t think he brings much to the table that you can’t get in a better form elsewhere. Helton will get on base and hit for average, but his power has all but disappeared. Huff and Murphy have very similar projections, neither of which is appealing for a first baseman. As long as he’s on the field, Johnson will pick up plenty of runs thanks to that OBP. The lack of power is a pain, but he’s capable of helping you in a few categories. The Pirates lineup won’t do Clement any favors, but he’s no worse than the rest of this group.

LaPorta has the best chance of this group to move into the three-star category, but PECOTA doesn’t feel like he’s there yet on his weighted mean, and the addition of Russell Branyan may cut into his playing time as well. Atkins’ projection seems a little optimistic to me. Even when his BABIP rebounds, the switch to the American League-the East, specifically, as well as moving out of Coors Field, makes me think this one is a little too promising. Cantu is set to split time with Gaby Sanchez according to the depth charts, and play at third base as well, but he’s still eligible. He’s a much better option at third than first. Glaus is somewhat of a question mark-he could rebound and be much better than this tier, but given the depth at the position, I did not feel moved to put him any higher.

One Stars
Player            PA    AVG/OBP/SLG   R HR RBI SB 
Lyle Overbay     543  .257/.353/.425 54 15  53  1
Daric Barton     533  .263/.365/.423 63 12  54  2
Casey Kotchman   457  .276/.354/.424 46 11  56  1
Gaby Sanchez     289  .279/.355/.439 32  8  34  3

If you are forced into drafting one of these players, chances are good you are in an auction league and spent all of your money elsewhere, or are in an AL- or NL-only league and somehow missed out on the massive number of first base-eligible players that are much more deserving. You can do without any of these guys, though Sanchez has the most potential to do better than his forecast given his minor-league production the past two seasons, but he’s still a bit of a question mark as well.