Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Maybe all those years of the Cincinnati front office and local media riding him for walking too much has seeped into the general fantasy-playing population at large after all, because Votto continues to be an underrated mixed-league target at the top of his position. In 2015, granted at 31 and coming off an injury season, he was taken 71st overall on average – around 12th among first basemen depending on who you count out of the position-eligible pool. He produced $30 in standard mixed-league value, good for the second-best return at the position. Last year he went off the board seventh among first basemen, 36th overall on average; he earned $29 mixed-league dollars, again the second-most of any first baseman. We’ve got him ranked second at the position this season in acknowledgement of recent evidence, and yet… he’s currently going off the board sixth among first basemen, around the 28th overall pick. Huh?
At 33 there are certainly age-related concerns to be peddled, particularly given the history with his legs. But he was thoroughly destructive in the second half last season, the ballpark remains a perfect fit for his batted ball distribution, and he managed a tick under 200 R+RBI last year in spite of a bottom-third supporting cast. And while his value increases exponentially in OBP leagues, he’s a career .313 hitter (.320 over the last two seasons). A whopping six first basemen managed to crack .290 last year, so the advantage of a locked-in asset in AVG shouldn’t be understated, either. At 28 overall, Votto has the look of an absolutely lethal snake-draft target for the turn in 14- to 16-team redrafts, or a lethal second pick for anyone stuck navigating the late first-round muddle in a straight draft. —Wilson Karaman
My argument here is nuanced. Per NFBC ADP, Davis is being drafted three to four rounds later than Giancarlo Stanton during the early, critical rounds. Stanton, rather inarguably, has been the better hitter the last five years, with a 15-point edge in wRC+. Yet Davis, also rather inarguably, has been a more valuable fantasy commodity, all because he's averaged more than 130 additional plate appearances per year. Stanton, for all his prodigious power, has never topped 40 home runs; Davis has done it twice. Not that Stanton can't—he just hasn't been well enough.
The fantasy community overrates Stanton's marginal value, though. His isolated power (ISO) the last half decade exceeds Davis' by a mere nine points. Slightly superior batted ball skills and plate discipline net him a 20-point edge in batting average and on-base percentage (OBP). Davis' counting stats, however, compensate for his triple-slash deficiencies. To attest: he has averaged nine home runs, 23 runs and 20 RBI more than Stanton the last five years—margins that have barely budged. (Last three years? Seven home runs, 24 runs, nine RBI. Last two years? Sixteen home runs, 48 runs, 30 RBI—with identical wOBA composites.) Even prorated, Davis has scored more runs and as many RBI. Baltimore's offense simply is, and has been, better than Miami's.
You can talk about Stanton's "upside" all you want; I'm willing to argue it's less than you think, marginally speaking—almost nonexistent—and his perpetual injury woes only further diminish his stock. If you plan to target Stanton, there's little reason you shouldn't target Davis (and his odd-year devil magic) instead. —Alex Chamberlain
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
When putting together my fantasy roster each year I try to find a nice balance between upside and reliability, though I lean more towards the former. However, at first base I’m most intrigued by Albert Pujols despite the utter lack of upside he possesses. Obviously long past his prime, he know what the Angels first baseman is going to bring us on a yearly basis. He’s not going to be a huge help in AVG anymore, though his contact skills help mask what his lack of speed has done to his BABIP in recent years. He’s obviously not going to help in stolen bases, either, and he doesn’t have the on-base skills to put up gaudy runs scored numbers.
What he will do, though, is provide reliable power and big RBI totals. After hitting 31 homers in 2016, he still only has two seasons in his entire 16-year career in which he failed to reach the 30 home run mark. One of them was an injury-riddled 2013 in which he only appeared in 99 games. Speaking of injuries, Pujols is entering his age-37 season, so health is always a concern. However, he has missed just 18 games over the last three seasons, and has been a picture of health throughout his career. The power, though, is the biggest key. I’m worried about whether or not the power jump the league witnessed last season will stay around, so I’ll be trying to find as much reliable power as possible. Pujols has that, and with Mike Trout hitting in front of him he has a huge built-in RBI advantage. For all the talk about decline that’s surrounded Pujols in recent years, he was still a top-10 1B in 2016. With a decent AVG and reliable power, I’m fairly confident he can get there again in 2017. —Matt Collins
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (DH only)
While Martinez will not be first-base-eligible in many leagues, we do not have a DH week, and I am thus using this as an opportunity to advise targeting utility-only player heading into his age 38 season. Why? I am doing so because he is a bargain at his current average NFBC ADP of 230.5. For reference, 230.5 is 54 picks after Kendrys Morales, who Martinez out-earned by $2 in mixed leagues. The two first basemen who finished just ahead of Martinez’s $16 of mixed-league value last season, Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana, currently hold average NFBC ADPs of 102.7 and 119.4, respectively. Martinez is old and DH-only, but he also roto-slashed .289/27/65/86/0 last year while also being old, which is to say that while there is certainly risk, the market is currently overreacting to that risk (likely because of his age and because people do not like having their options limited by a DH). As result of all this, Martinez is a bargain and should be targeted accordingly. —Jeff Quinton
Lucas Duda, New York Mets
Duda missed most of last year due to a stress fracture in his lower back, which might make him a nice player to target if you are looking for average-to-good production at first base at a fraction of the cost of the big(ger) boys. Simply put, Duda hits bombs. He tallied 57 homers between 2014 and 2015 with nearly identical slashes: .253/.349/.481 in 2014 and .244/.352/.486, both eminently useful. Last year’s .229/.302/.412 in a quarter-season is some rotten eggs indeed, but the argument here is that the Duda who played through the pain last year isn’t the Duda who has morphed into a pretty good, consistent baseball player over the life of his career and, at age 30, should still have plenty of pop left in his bat.
The batting average won’t do much for you, but while Duda was used mostly as a platoon player in his early years, he put up 596 and 554 PA in 2014 and 2015 — not quite a full season, but close enough for a 1B slot on an otherwise stacked fantasy squad or a CI or utility slot on pretty much any team. He’s got a great eye, and there’s nothing fluky about the power; the 57 doubles in 2014/2015 were matched by 60 doubles over the same period. He won’t steal you any bases, and the RBI chances on the Mets don’t figure to be plentiful, but if you paired Duda with a high-average, fast enough middle infielder, you could fill out the stat sheet pretty nicely without breaking the bank. On a $7.25 million, one-year deal with the Amazins, Duda has considerable incentive to hit his way into a nice new contract, which should be incentive for you to spend an extra dollar to grab him, and that's before all The Big Lebowski jokes. But seriously: He could really tie your team together. —Bryan Joiner
Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians
Those closest to me know I’m not much of a risk taker. I never go more than four mph over the speed limit. If there is a chance of rain in the forecast, I plan an indoor activity for that day. Once I find something at a restaurant I enjoy, I rarely order anything else. It’s not the most exciting way to live, but it’s a safe way to live.
There might not be a safer option for the price at first base than Edwin Encarnacion. His statistics over the past five seasons are a bastion of stability. Over his past five years he’s hit at least 34 home runs, driven in over 100 runs in four out of the five, and scored 90+ runs in four out of the five.
Over those five seasons only Chris Davis has out homered Encarnacion at the position, and only Miguel Cabrera has driven in more runs. Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera have scored more runs than Encarnacion, but that’s it. No, he’s not going to give you many stolen bases. His batting average was solid last season (12th at the position), but it’s not elite. Still, with Encarnacion you are almost guaranteed to have a player who finishes in the top five of his position in at least three categories.
It’s understandable that some might be concerned about his move to a new home ballpark. However, per Bill James’ 2014-2016 Ballpark Index Rankings, Progressive Field was just behind Rogers Centre (but still above average) at allowing home runs to right handed batters. If you only look at last season’s data, Progressive performed better than Rogers in this area.
Encarnacion is being inserted into a lineup that scored the fifth most runs in baseball last season (777). He’s going to be in a great position to provide fantasy owners with what he’s been providing them over the past half-decade. You’ll slot EE into your lineup every day, and get a player near the top of his position in HR, R, and RBI with a solid average. In fantasy that’s a pretty safe bet, and for most owners it’s a bet worth making. —Eric Roseberry
Justin Bour, Miami Marlins
People make mistakes. Sometimes, I am one of those people. Last year, Bour was my choice as the “player to avoid” among first basemen. I cited his hot September against inferior opponents and a high strikeout rate as reasons that Bour would fail in 2016. He did fail (I had him as the 370th best player among mixed league players in my retrospective player valuations) but only due to a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for two months. When he was on the field, Bour had an even better year than he did in 2015. His .307 TAv was eighth best among first basemen (minimum 300 plate appearances), putting Bour ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, Will Myers, Jose Abreu, Hanley Ramirez, Chris Davis, and Eric Hosmer. Unfortunately, this is offset to some degree by an awful home venue. His Batting Park Factor was 12 percent below league average, which was worst among first basemen. Even though Marlins Park is a drag on Bour’s raw stats, he still managed to hit 15 home runs in 321 plate appearances. A full season of Bour would have provided 29 home runs and 100 RBI in 550 plate appearances. Even accounting for an expected dip in batting average if Bour does play against lefties would still make Bour a bargain. He is currently being drafted about 85-95 picks after C.J. Cron, Tommy Joseph, and Chris Carter in NFBC drafts. Bour is legit, and could be a source of big time power without the big-time price. —Mike Gianella