After spending last week looking at fantasy catchers, a deep sadness came over me. The perfect antidote to that sadness was a week assessing first basemen. There’s no shortage of solid options at this position. However, as both Jeff and George mentioned earlier this week, there is a significant drop once you move past the elite level performers. Who you draft at first is an important decision for fantasy success, and if you find yourself in an OBP or points league, there are a few players worth giving extra attention.
First basemen were the gold standard in fantasy leagues last season. As a group, they hit .255/.334/.447. They led all positions in home runs (if you break down the outfield), and they finished second in RBI to left fielders. There are some elite fantasy performers here, and you’re likely to take a first basemen early in your draft. You want to get this pick right, and if you’re in an OBP league you’ll want to pay special attention to the following players.
Paul Goldschmidt, ARI and Joey Votto, CIN
I feel bad wasting your time telling you to draft Goldschmidt or Votto. However, it’s hard to overestimate their value in an OBP league. As hard as it might be to believe, these two had the most increased value by moving from a standard league to OBP format. With both you get plenty of counting stats, and elite level OBP. In this format, it just doesn’t get any better. Standard: Five Stars, OBP: All the stars you can find
Brandon Belt, SFG
Outside of the top tiers, here is where you can really find some additional value. Only Goldschmidt, Votto, and Freeman had a higher OBP than Belt last season. You pretty much know what you’re getting at this point if you draft him. He’s going to hit 15-20 home runs, accumulate 70-80 RBI, and score 70-80 runs. That’s not bad production to pair with a high-end OBP. Admittedly, his OBP was a little out of character in 2016, but it wasn’t due to a BABIP spike. His walk rate increased to 15.9 percent from 10.1 the previous year. That makes two straight seasons of increases to his walk rate. He’s definitely worth a longer look in this format. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Chris Davis, BAL
Last season, owners that drafted Davis were rewarded with plenty of home runs, but they were also saddled with a significant drop in his batting average (.221). An unusually low BABIP was part of the issue here, but even at his best Davis’ average is likely to hurt. Owners in OBP leagues take a smaller risk in drafting him. He’s kept his walk rate above 10 percent for four straight seasons at this point, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t continue. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Four Stars
Carlos Santana, CLE
Man, it’s a hot one. No, I’m not showing my age by referencing a song that came out before 2000. I’m talking about Carlos Santana’s 2016 fantasy season. His 34 home runs were a career high, and he also racked up career high totals in runs and RBI. Over six full seasons, Santana has never had an OBP below .350. Last season, his walk rate fell to 14.4 percent from 16.2 percent in 2015. His batting average will keep him from being elite in standard leagues, but in an OBP format there’s a lot to like. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Four Stars
Others: Edwin Encarnacion is steady as they come by HR, RBI, and R. His average won’t kill you, but he finished just outside the top 10 by OBP last season at the position. In an OBP league he’s contributing in four categories instead of three. There’s a lot of swing and miss in Mike Napoli’s game. However, an above average walk rate helps negate those concerns in an OBP league. Freddie Freeman was a top five first basemen last season, and he was even better in OBP leagues. There are reasons to wonder if he can accumulate another .400 OBP season, but his ability to get on base is probably the aspect of his game you have the fewest questions about at this point.
Jose Abreu, CHW
Abreu was able to shrug off a poor start to the season to give you the kind of production you were expecting from him. When the calendar turned to August, he really came on strong, and he hit .338/.402/.568 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI over his last 57 games. Abreu was a little less valuable in OBP formats last season, but the gap wasn’t that wide. Of all the names listed in this category, he’s the one you should be least worried about. A walk rate below 7 percent the past two seasons is out of step with the elite hitters at this position. Standard: Four Stars, OBP: Low-Four Stars/High-Three Stars
C.J. Cron, LAA
Of the players profiled in BP’s tiered rankings, Cron lost the most value by moving from a standard league to OBP format. A 5.4 percent walk rate was a career high if you can believe it, and there’s little reason to expect that to improve. He’s a decent source of counting stats for his tier, and his batting average isn’t terrible. However, if you need to factor in OBP, there are better options around his spot on the board. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: One Star
Tommy Joseph, PHI
The end of the Ryan Howard era in Philadelphia has ushered in the beginning of the Tommy Joseph era. There’s understandable buzz around the twenty-five-year-old for fantasy purposes. The power is clearly there, but his ability to get on base is less promising. His 6.3 percent walk rate wasn’t great, and if his minor-league results are any indication, don’t expect that to change. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars/High-One Star
Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
Let’s be honest, if you open your fantasy season with Ryan Zimmerman at first base something went wrong on draft night. The playing time is obviously an issue (he hasn’t played more than 115 games in the past three seasons). Shockingly, he only hit .218 last season and he was LESS value in OBP leagues. The walk rate has been in decline for four seasons at this point. He could see a BABIP bump from his abysmal .248 last season, but it’s not going to be enough to make him worth a pick.
Others: Albert Pujols put together a top 10 fantasy season at first base in 2016. You might try and ride that wave again on the cheap, but six straight seasons of a walk rate below 10 percent should give you a little pause if OBP is a concern. Adrian Gonzalez shows up here more because of his consistently high average as opposed to major OBP concerns. There’s just a little more value to be had from him in standard leagues. Victor Martinez shows up here for a similar reason. To be fair, Martinez had the smallest discrepancy in value of anyone in the thumbs down category.
There’s plenty of tantalizing first basemen in points formats, but there’s also considerable risk with several players providing way more strikeouts than you’d want. This position will likely be one of your greatest sources of points in 2017. However, it also has the potential to be a major drain on your total score. Who should retain as much positive value as possible?
Anthony Rizzo, CHC
Imagine you were sent into a lab to build the perfect points league first baseman. If you came out with something like Anthony Rizzo, you’d have done a good job. His 16 percent whiff rate was fifth best for the position, and none of the players who finished ahead of him produced extra bases hits at a higher clip. Sure, he was only eighth in home runs, but he tied for the first base lead in doubles with 43. At just 27 years old, he’s a points-league machine. Standard: Five Stars, Points: Maybe the best at the position
Carlos Santana, CLE
Santana already received plenty of praise in the OBP section, but he’s equally valuable in points leagues. His 14.4 percent strikeout rate was third best at the position, and he finished in the top half of players from our tiered rankings in extra base hit rate. If your league values getting on base or not striking out, Santana’s value jumps up. Standard: Three Stars, Points: Four Stars
Albert Pujols, LAA
Most aspects of Pujols’ game are clearly in decline. However, his ability to limit strikeouts has declined at a slower rate than his other abilities. Last season his 11.5 percent strikeout rate was the best at the position. An eight percent extra base hit rate isn’t great, but you can be secure in knowing that he isn’t going to give much of his value back. Standard: Two Stars, Points: Three Stars
Josh Bell, PIT
If you’re looking for a low-tier pick at first in a points league, Josh Bell isn’t a bad option. There’s only 45 games worth of MLB data to go on, but his track record validates his 12.5 percent whiff rate last season. He’s not going to give you the power production of other hitters in the first tier, but he’s a safe low-risk option for the tier. Standard: One Star, Points: High-One Star
Others: Victor Martinez was one of only four first basemen to have a strikeout rate below 15 percent last season. A top-20 finish in home runs and doubles adds to his value in a points league. C.J. Cron was basically Victor Martinez-lite last season in terms of his whiff and extra base hit rates. Miguel Cabrera put together another top five fantasy season at first in 2016. He’s valuable, and his ability to limit strikeouts makes him even more so in points formats.
Wil Myers, SDP
Wil Myers’ 2016 was one of the unexpected surprises of last season. Still, there are reasons to be hesitant about his 2017 output. There’s always the injury concern with Myers, and you should be careful about putting too much trust in one season of production. In a points format, he also brings a strikeout issue with him. Yes, he could provide plenty of extra base hits, but he doesn’t do it at the same rate of others who have a similar whiff rate. Standard: Four Stars, Points: Three Stars
Chris Davis, BAL
Other than Votto being given a thumbs-up in OBP formats, this is probably the least surprising appearance in this article. You’re going to get plenty of home runs from Davis, but you’re also going to get a position worst 32.9 percent strikeout rate. In formats that don’t penalize you for strikeouts you can live with Davis’ shortcomings. It’s a major issue in points formats. Standard: Three Stars, Points: Two Stars
Chris Carter, FA
Basically everything that was just written about Davis applies to Carter as well. Obviously, you’ll want to wait and see where Carter lands to make an assessment regarding his playing time. Even if he has an everyday job, you’re going to lose a ton of points with this selection. Davis and Carter were the only two hitters in baseball to accumulate more than 200 strikeouts last season. Standard: Two Stars, Points: One Star
Mike Napoli, FA
Like Carter, Napoli is still looking for a team. Several of Napoli’s counting stats were propped up by hitting in the middle of a potent Cleveland offense. It’s still unknown if he’ll land an everyday job in 2017. Even if he does, it’s unlikely he’ll be in as good of a position as he was in Cleveland. It’s tough to trust a player who posted career highs at age 35, especially when he’s striking out so much. Standard: One Star, Points: Low-One Star
Others: Ryan Zimmerman had the lowest extra-base-hit rate of any first basemen in our tiered rankings with a whiff rate over 20 percent. That’s not a recipe for points league success. That’s actually the exact opposite of what you want. Brandon Moss joins Carter, Davis, and Napoli as the four first basemen with whiff rates over 30 percent, and he doesn’t give you nearly the counting stats production that those other three do. Brandon Belt is a better option than pretty much anyone listed in the thumbs-down section, but he is going to give back some value with a 22.6 percent strikeout rate.