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Last week, I introduced a few different splits fantasy owners can use in both seasonal and daily leagues, and focused on catchers. For more detail on those splits, see the link above. We transition to first base this week.

First base is the most productive offensive position in baseball. League average park adjusted OPS+ for a first baseman in 2016 was 114, well above the MLB average of 100, and four percentage points higher than the next highest position, third base.

Brandon Belt is good example of a first baseman who has splits that I like to take advantage of in certain situations and matchups. First, Belt’s home park is very pitcher-friendly, and it’s particularly rough on his home-run totals. Belt has 80 career HR, with 54 on the road and only 26 at home. Some 15% of his flyballs go over the wall for a home run on the road, and only 7.5% do at home. When Belt goes on the road to get a park upgrade, like at division rival Chase Field, he’s a guy that is in the forefront of my mind as having a better chance to hit for power that day than perhaps his price might indicate in daily leagues.

An under-the-radar split I talked about last week was pitch locations. The nature of the swing paths of some hitters makes their swings more tailored to hit certain pitch locations than others. Belt has been a better low-pitch hitter than a high-pitch hitter. In his career, Belt has slugged .445 on low pitches and .368 on high pitches, with low pitches defined as pitches in the bottom third of the strike zone or below the strike zone and high pitches defined as pitches in the top third of the strike zone or above the strike zone. In 2016, this split was more pronounced. Belt slugged .552 on low pitches and .333 on high pitches. League average high pitch slugging and low pitch slugging were both around .370 in 2016.

Belt doesn’t have career platoon splits, but since most right-handed pitchers are less effective against left handed batters, using Belt against RHP is usually the best way to go. My ideal match up for Belt in daily leagues based on his splits is on the road, in a hitter friendly park, against a below average pitcher who pitches down in the zone and has a repertoire fit to pitch down in the zone, and is preferably right handed. I think using hitters in this manner generally puts fantasy owners in the best position for success.

Here are some left/right splits for first baseman over the last 2 seasons.

Table 1: vs. RHP (min 200 PA). League average 1B OPS vs. RHP: .788.

Player

OPS

ISO

BB%

K%

Joey Votto

1.015

.245

19.4%

17.9%

Miguel Cabrera

.966

.226

11.5%

16.5%

Freddie Freeman

.962

.266

12.8%

20.5%

Anthony Rizzo

.937

.264

11.4%

15.7%

Paul Goldschmidt

.917

.214

15.8%

21.4%

Edwin Encarnacion

.914

.278

11.4%

17.1%

Chris Davis

.905

.307

14.4%

33.0%

Jose Abreu

.860

.198

5.7%

19.3%

Adrian Gonzalez

.854

.208

10.6%

18.3%

Brandon Belt

.853

.196

13.6%

24.1%

Justin Bour

.851

.240

10.0%

18.6%

Eric Hosmer

.847

.183

10.1%

17.6%

Carlos Santana

.838

.243

16.2%

17.7%

Pedro Alvarez

.821

.252

10.4%

26.1%

Adam Lind

.812

.207

9.7%

17.8%

Lucas Duda

.811

.225

12.8%

22.1%

John Jaso

.806

.162

10.4%

16.9%

C.J. Cron

.805

.202

4.9%

19.5%

Mark Canha

.788

.210

6.6%

22.4%

Mitch Moreland

.782

.208

6.8%

21.8%

Albert Pujols

.781

.202

7.9%

11.5%

Wil Myers

.780

.198

9.2%

22.9%

Steve Pearce

.779

.195

8.6%

19.6%

Chris Carter

.778

.255

11.4%

34.4%

Tommy Joseph

.774

.235

4.9%

22.7%

Brandon Moss

.767

.246

9.6%

29.8%

Hanley Ramirez

.766

.177

7.4%

17.7%

Joe Mauer

.755

.123

13.0%

16.2%

Matt Adams

.739

.195

7.1%

23.2%

Ryan Zimmerman

.649

.152

6.5%

22.5%

Table 2: vs. LHP (min 150 PA). League average 1B OPS vs. LHP: .763.

Player

OPS

ISO

BB%

K%

Paul Goldschmidt

1.076

.240

17.9%

21.8%

Miguel Cabrera

.958

.223

16.8%

17.2%

Joey Votto

.938

.182

15.6%

20.4%

Hanley Ramirez

.916

.271

8.6%

19.5%

Mike Napoli

.883

.235

14.7%

28.4%

Ryan Zimmerman

.875

.278

9.5%

17.5%

Edwin Encarnacion

.872

.250

16.1%

20.6%

Anthony Rizzo

.856

.192

10.2%

14.9%

Brandon Belt

.850

.205

12.3%

24.9%

Wil Myers

.811

.181

13.5%

23.9%

Freddie Freeman

.811

.169

11.3%

28.3%

Chris Carter

.800

.259

13.4%

28.0%

Steve Pearce

.798

.222

10.0%

19.6%

Lucas Duda

.795

.235

5.5%

30.5%

Albert Pujols

.792

.246

6.6%

10.3%

Sean Rodriguez

.789

.181

10.0%

29.5%

Marwin Gonzalez

.778

.188

5.4%

20.9%

Dae Ho Lee

.775

.185

7.5%

22.0%

Travis Shaw

.761

.228

4.0%

25.0%

Chris Davis

.761

.191

9.5%

29.8%

Carlos Santana

.750

.116

13.2%

13.2%

Jose Abreu

.744

.175

8.3%

19.9%

Eric Hosmer

.697

.132

6.6%

18.6%

Adrian Gonzalez

.691

.103

5.6%

15.6%

Joe Mauer

.678

.114

8.3%

17.3%

C.J. Cron

.670

.136

4.7%

15.7%

Some thoughts on a few first basemen other than Belt:

Paul Goldschmidt is a lefty destroyer that I love using in daily leagues against below average lefties in Chase Field. Goldschmidt’s performance against lefties the last two years is the best all across baseball by OPS, and second only to Nelson Cruz by wRC+. It’s even better than notorious lefty crusher Josh Donaldson. However, there were some declines in Goldschmidt’s overall production last year that I want to shed light on. In a year where power was up across baseball, possibly because of a juiced ball, Goldschmidt had a noticeable drop in power. His .192 ISO was exactly league average for a first baseman, and was down about 50 ISO points from where it was the prior 3 seasons, where it was .247. He slugged under .500 for the first time since 2012 and ranked 10th among qualified 1B in slugging, down from ranking second from 2013-2015, when he slugged .556. His park and league adjusted OPS+ fell from 162 from 2013-15 to 134 in 2016, a drop of almost 30 percentage points. Goldschmidt’s Statcast-derived contact quality wasn’t as strong, either, with a drop in expected slugging of about 80 points based on the exit velocities and angles of his batted balls (via xStats.org). Is this just a one-year blip or could this be a sign of decline? Goldschmidt kept destroying lefties last year despite his overall production drop, so he remains one of my very best daily fantasy options when facing average to below average LHPs, especially when he’s at home in hitter-friendly Chase Field.

Hanley Ramirez has hit left handed pitching at a high level in his career, but his production suffered in 2015 after playing through a bad shoulder, which he injured after crashing into the left field wall at Fenway while playing the outfield. Ramirez bounced back in 2016, producing an OPS just under 1.100 vs. LHP and an ISO of .331. Ramirez also made an adjustment with his hand placement at the plate in late June, which may have contributed to a second half surge. Ramirez hit .300/.379/.608 with 22 HR and a .308 ISO in 300 PA after July 1. Ramirez looks like he will be the full time DH against RHP next season while playing 1B against LHP, which might help him stay healthier while keeping 1B/IF eligibility in seasonal leagues. I am personally buying Ramirez as a player who will have a stronger season in 2017 than his 2016 full-season slash line indicates, and using him at Fenway against below average lefties is something I expect to be doing frequently in daily leagues.

Joey Votto is the undisputed king among first basemen against right-handed pitchers. He got off to a slow start last April, hitting just .229/.327/.313, but had a ridiculous second half where he hit .408 with a .490 OBP and .668 slugging. Fantasy owners who bought low on Votto last spring were rewarded in a huge way. The one major question with Votto for 2017 is how many RBI chances he’ll get.

Edwin Encarnacion’s home run total is probably going to drop a little with the change from Toronto to Cleveland. Our BP park factors have Progressive Field in Cleveland being tougher on RHB for home runs than Rogers Centre, which certainly passes the eye test. Cleveland has been around an average park for right-handed home runs over the last five years, while Rogers Centre has been a top-10 park for right handed home runs in that time. AL East divisional road games are also generally more hitter-friendly than AL Central divisional road games.

Lucas Duda is a first baseman I loved playing in daily fantasy leagues against below average right handed pitchers back in 2015, largely because his price was usually pretty low. I felt the pricing systems undervalued him in a lot of situations. Last year was a different story, as Duda badly underperformed while playing with a back issue that eventually shut him down in May. Duda’s back injury probably had some impact on his poor performance last year, but if he’s healthy in 2017, I expect him bounce back to being an above-average hitter vs. RHP.

Thank you for reading

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