Last week, we kicked off our Players to Target/Avoid series with a look at fantasy backstops. This week, we march on by taking a deep dive on first basemen who could either make or break your auctions and drafts. Today: six hitters who members of our staff think could be overvalued this year, relative where they will be selected in drafts later this spring.
Justin Bour, Marlins
Beware of overemphasizing September stats. This is particularly true where non-contenders are concerned, as a number of teams are often running for the bus (if you’ll pardon an old cliché). After a dismal stretch from June through August where Bour slashed 225/301/394, it seemed that he had turned a corner in September, mashing nine home runs in 120 plate appearances and appearing that he “figured it out.” In reality, Bour had the benefit of feasting off of a number of weak Braves and Phillies pitching, hitting some of those home runs off of the likes of Ryan Kelly, Ryan Weber, David Buchanan, and Daniel Winkler. Granted, Bour does get the advantage of an imbalanced, NL East schedule again in 2016, but given a full year of Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Aaron Nola, that isn’t necessarily a blessing. I have a healthy skepticism when it comes to late bloomers, and while Bour will probably survive in the Marlins lineup, it is better to bet conservatively than to simply extrapolate last year’s numbers expecting a repeat performance. There is also the very real danger that pitchers continue to pound him with offspeed stuff until he shows he can either hit breaking balls or lay off of them entirely. Bour’s 38 percent swing-and-miss rate makes the formula for opposing pitchers fairly evident in the early going next year. —Mike Gianella
Lucas Duda, Mets
As he enters his age-30 season, Duda is coming off a year in which he returned $11 of standard 5×5 value, good for 19th among first basemen. He is currently going 13th among first basemen, according to NFBC ADP numbers. His topline production last year was not particularly out of line with his prior year’s effort, when he returned $20 and cracked the positional top 10, and given the power baseline I can understand the desire to assume positive regression here.
There were two main differences between his 2015 and his 2014, however. The first is that in 2014 he had an astronomically out-of-character year of success w/ runners in scoring position to boost his RBI totals, and that counting stat production was essentially the entirety of the value gap between his two seasons. The second difference was split-driven: His value was was propped up last year by a significantly out-of-line reverse split. While he does tend to run higher BABIPs lefty-on-lefty (on account of weak contact finding holes more than anything else), last year's .378 BABIP against southpaws masked significant decline against righties. If you were a right-handed pitcher last year and Lucas Duda didn't hit your fastball, you got him out.
Duda’s extreme flyball profile puts a low ceiling on his AVG, and barring either another bonkers outburst with runners in scoring position or some fluky jump in his HR:FB rate or something to that effect, the odds are he doesn't get past returning mid-teen dollars. To put that in context, if we call 2014 his absolute best-case season, he'd have to hit roughly his 85th percentile projection to return the kind of value that he’d need to return in order to justify his current draft position. If you draft Duda, you're effectively pricing yourself out of any reasonable hope for surplus value creation, and you're paying a premium for what will in all likelihood be relatively modest first base production, for which you can find a reasonably facsimile from guys like Teixeira, Zimmerman, Bour, and Lind anywhere from two to six rounds later. —Wilson Karaman
Freddie Freeman, Braves
By any objective measure, Freddie Freeman has been one of the better hitters in the game over the last three years. Any fan of any team would be happy to have him on the roster. Unfortunately, that success doesn’t translate well into fantasy, as his name value drives up his price. The most valuable part of his game at this point is his batting average, as he’s a career .285 hitter and has a .296 AVG over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he’s someone who relies on a high BABIP and has watched it dip each year in that span. He’s still a helper there, but it doesn’t put him over the top as it did before.
When you’re looking at a first baseman, what you’re likely really looking for is power. Freeman isn’t Ben Revere or anything, but he’s not the typically powerful 1B, either. He’s never hit more than 23 in a single season, and has hit 18 in each of the last two years. Of course, he battled injuries in 2015, so that number is slightly misleading. On top of that relative lack of power, he also plays on a bad Braves team, destroying his contextual stats. I mean, the second best hitter on that team is probably Nick Markakis.
In a vacuum, Freeman obviously isn’t a bad fantasy option. He’ll give you something close to a .280 AVG with 20 homers. Unfortunately, his price doesn’t match that production. According to the latest NFBC ADP data, he’s being selected around the 80th pick as the number 10 1B. Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Hosmer are both within 12 picks in front of him, while Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are both within 12 picks after him. Any of them is a better option than Freeman. —Matt Collins
Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
This was a tough one. Matt Collins and J.J. Jansons scooped me on Freddie Freeman and Adam Lind, respectively. Kids, man (Note: I have now given myself the opportunity to be wrong on three players.)Anyhow, I do not really have an issue with where any of the other first basemen are currently being drafted. Given current ADP, however, I am probably not going to be drafting Adrian Gonzalez too often.
I, like the population that makes up the current ADP, like Gonzalez about the same as Prince Fielder and Eric Hosmer and slightly more than David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. That said, I will happily wait to take any of these four players—all four of which were more prolific fantasy baseball players in 2015 than was Gonzalez—instead of grabbing Gonzalez while all are on the board. Outside of a huge BABIP or RBI year (which could be said for any of these players), I do not anticipate anything more from Gonzalez than what he did (serviceably, honorably) last season; and thus, I will most likely pass. —Jeff Quinton
Adam Lind, Mariners
Members of the #AdamLindAppreciationSociety are falling by the wayside this winter, as the former Blue Jay-turned-Brewer is taking his righty-mashing act to the Pacific Northwest. Non-members were skeptical of Lind’s ability to avoid becoming waiver-wire fodder in shallower, non-OBP leagues after moving out of the Rogers Centre after the 2014 season, but he not only stayed healthy enough to receive 572 plate appearances (third most of his career), but his career-best walk rate of 11.5 percent led to a .360 OBP, which was the third-highest full-season mark of his career. After starting off hot in Milwaukee, hitting 15 home runs before the All-Star break, Lind cooled off over the second half, hitting five home runs the rest of the way, which put his home-run total 16th among first basemen. Lind’s .277 AVG put him tied for 14th among first-sackers, putting into question his viability as a starter in standard mixed leagues heading into 2016, even if he remained in Miller Park, which was the fourth-friendliest park to call home for left-handed hitters in 2015. The move to Safeco—the sixth-worst—may be the deathknell of Lind’s (non-OBP league) fantasy career, outside of deep leagues. Lind finished 17th among first basemen in standard ESPN leagues, and the combination of his inability to both hit left-handed pitching (.575 OPS in 2015, career .586 OPS) and the possibility that his chronic disc issue could seemingly once again flare up at a moment’s notice makes me comfortable with starting the #AdamLindDepreciationSociety. Really rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? —J.J. Jansons
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
This is not a campaign against Rizzo the hitter, Rizzo the player, or Rizzo the person. This is, in fact, not a campaign at all. At most, this is a public service announcement that the star Cubs' first baseman should not be a first-round pick in fantasy leagues this year.
It would be petty of me to single out Rizzo as an avoid here just because I'd rather take the player being drafted behind him (Miguel Cabrera) first. It's slightly more telling to say that, for me, Rizzo is much closer to Jose Abreu and Joey Votto than to Cabrera. Instead, let's take a look at the players being selected between Rizzo and Abreu right now:
Of that group, the only two I'd take Rizzo over are Arrieta and Posey (in a one-catcher league)—and that leads into what expectations should be for the 26-year-old.
Rizzo blazed through the first two months of 2015, hitting .316/.438/.571 with nine homers and nine steals in 214 plate appearances. And while the power kept pace throughout the rest of the season, the batting average (.262) and steals (8) did not. If you're selecting a first baseman with a top-20 pick in drafts this year, they need to be either elite somewhere or above-average everywhere. If Rizzo is a .270 hitter with 30 homers and strong counting stats, he needs to steal upwards of 15 bases to warrant being taken over non-1B studs like Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, or Mookie Betts and given that his second-highest career stolen base total is six, that's not a wager I'm looking to make.
As a mid-second-round pick, Anthony Rizzo is completely fine, defensible, and even attractive. But a first-round pick demands more—more than the 23rd-best fantasy player from 2015 can bring to the table. —Bret Sayre
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