Fantasy Baseball Rankings – First Base

Fantasy Baseball Rankings – First Base

By: Kyle Brown (@CavghtLooking)

The first base position is full of fading former All-Stars and up and coming mashers. If you can properly read the statistics on the wall then you can avoid the aging hitters who are more name than game.  Instead, you can pick up baseball’s next great slugger in the later rounds of the draft. Dedicating the early round picks to thinner positions such as shortstop and third base can leave a manager primed to pick up a burgeoning hitter like Anthony Rizzo or Freddie Freeman while other managers are scrambling to fill top-heavy positions with mediocre talent. However, guess wrong on the hitter and you might get stuck with a dud where you were counting on a stud. Just ask any manager who drafted Eric Hosmer last year about that and you are likely to get punched. With those warnings in mind I present my first basemen rankings for the 2013 season.

Tier 1 – Business as Usual?

Prince Fielder, Detroit (.313/.412/.528)
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles of Anaheim (.285/.343/.516)
Joey Votto, Cincinnati (.337/.474/.567)

Prince Felder’s home run totals since 2006 are as follows: 28, 50, 34, 46, 32, 38, and 30 (notice a trend?). After he moved from Milwaukee to Detroit in 2012 many people felt that his home run total would drop. The 30 home runs that he hit last year do mark his lowest total since 2006, but that doesn’t mean that Fielder took a step back as a hitter. On the contrary, Fielder posted his highest average, his lowest K% (12.2), and his highest LD% (25.4). The drop in K% is a three-year trend and I think it shows that Fielder is maturing as a hitter and can be counted on to produce extremely valuable and consistent seasons for years to come. Let’s throw in the fact that Fielder has missed a grand total of twelve games over the past seven years and you have the most reliable and productive first baseman in baseball for the 2013 season. You should feel comfortable drafting Prince in the middle of the first round, and if for some reason you see him there in the second round you are a fool if you don’t snatch him up. His home run totals have gone up and down like clockwork and if you favor unscientific predictions based on random trends you can “count” on Fielder’s home run total to be between 34-40 in 2013.

Pujols is still in my top tier of first basemen because of his reputation and his solid 2012 production, but there are some disturbing trends that are worth noting. Here is a list of Pujols’ statistics that are in a four-year decline: home runs, BB%, average, OBP, SLG, stolen bases and runs scored. On top of that, his K% (11.3) was highest it has been since his rookie season. Put simply, his first season in Anaheim was his worst season ever. Some Pujols owners will try to explain away his 2012 season by referencing his absolutely abysmal April numbers (.570 OPS). I can sometimes be convinced to forgive an early season swoon by a player, but giving the season a deeper look reveals that his May and September production was also very pedestrian. Pujols has a career OPS of 1.019 in April and 1.024 in September. As such, I see the drop in April and September production as a symptom of age and not just the result of a random bad luck. Albert did mash the ball in typical Pujolsian (trademark pending) fashion during the middle months of the season, so 2012 should not be considered a total loss. Despite those midseason numbers I think that you should avoid taking Pujols with a top six pick in 2013. The declining numbers are just too alarming. Pujols is going to be good for several more years, but I think we could be witnessing the beginning of the end.

The only reason that I am putting Pujols above Votto here is that I am a little bit concerned about the power outage Votto experienced after returning from his knee injury. After being out for some of July and all of August, Votto returned to the lineup and hit exactly zero home runs. That’s right, zero. However, Votto’s hitting ability did not vanish with his home runs as he was able to post a whopping .527 OBP in 22 September games. If you think that an offseason of rest can solve Votto’s power problems then he should be considered first round material. I would still take Fielder ahead of him for all the reasons stated above, but Votto remains a top flight hitter for 2013.

Tier 2 – The Breakout Club

Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto (.280/.384/.557)
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona (.286/.359/.490)
Billy Butler, Kansas City (.313/.373/.510)

If you were lucky enough to draft Edwin Encarnacion last year then you were treated to the most productive surprise of 2012. E5 will lose his 3B position eligibility in 2013, but that should not deter you from making him a member of your lineup. Ever since the beginning of June 2011, Encarnacion has been absolutely destroying the ball. It’s hard not to notice the similarities between E5 and his teammate Jose Bautista. Both struggled to demonstrate their talents for the clubs they came up with and both have found their power strokes and plate discipline in Toronto. Encarnacion is not as good as Bautista, but I do think that he can be relied upon for 35 homers and very good runs scored and RBI totals. His plate discipline was fantastic in 2013, racking up 84 walks against 94 strikeouts. If he can keep his average at around .280 and steal 10 or more bags again then he will be one of the best 5×5 hitters in the game. Keeping his average at .280 could be an issue for the upcoming season but seeing as how his BABIP was only .266 in 2012 I think there are reasons to be optimistic.

I am in love with Paul Goldschmidt (EDITOR’S NOTE: Fantasy Judgment disclaims all liability for stalking). Despite never posting a minor league slugging percentage under .600 many scouts were not sold on his bat. The biggest knock on him was that he struck out too much to find success in the major leagues. Well, Paul “Bunyan” Goldschmidt got that memo loud and clear and was able to cut his K% down to 22.1% in 2012. Goldy hit 20 home runs in his first full major league season and also managed to kick in 18 stolen bases. I would not be surprised if Goldschmidt hit 30 home runs and stole 15 bases in 2013 with an average around .280. Something tells me that if Goldschmidt keeps hanging out with Babe the Blue Ox and maintains a healthy diet of flapjacks and fastballs that he will replace Pujols in the top tier of first basemen for 2014.

Every fantasy baseball manager in the universe has been waiting for Billy Butler to breakout for several years now. The managers who were able to keep the faith in 2012 were rewarded with Butler’s best season yet. Still just 27 years old, Country Breakfast should have no problem putting up a similar season in 2013. He might not hit quite as many home runs this year as he did in 2012 but a baseline of 25 seems reasonable. Butler remains one of the most reliable mid-level first basemen in baseball for 2013 and beyond.

Tier 3 – Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

Allen Craig, St. Louis (.307/.354/.522)
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta (.259/.340/.456)
Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles (.299/.344/.463)

If you are looking for pure upside in the middle rounds of the draft then Craig and Freeman should be on your watch list. Over the last two years Craig has been one of the best hitters around when he has been able to stay healthy. I’m not so sure that the move to first base will keep Craig in one piece, but if you are willing to weather a DL stint or two during the season you should feel comfortable taking him pretty early on in your draft.

Freeman’s season was derailed by vision issues last year, but given his age and his improved BB% and ISO numbers he is a decent bet to breakout in 2013. If his BABIP rebounds and his power increases just a little bit more Freddie could turn steady in a hurry.

Gonzalez is another formerly dominant slugger who has seen his power evaporate over the last few years. His ISO has fallen in each of the last four seasons and I don’t think a return to the NL will alter that trend. He can still be counted on for reliable numbers across the board but his 30 homer days are far behind him.

Tier 4 – Hope Floats

Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (.285/.342/.463)
David Ortiz, Boston (.318/.415/.611)
Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles of Anaheim (.268/.317/.491)
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (.251/.332/.475)
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City (.232/.304/.359)

Of the three young guns in this tier, I am most excited about Rizzo. His numbers in AAA last year were out of this world (1.101 OPS in 70 games) and his 368 at bats in Wrigley were very encouraging for his first real crack at big league pitching. Rizzo didn’t fade out at the end of the year like Trumbo and he didn’t fall on his face like Hosmer. If you are terrified of the risk inherent in drafting young players then fall back on the old and boring options provided by Ortiz and Teixeira. Age has been kinder to Ortiz than Tex, but keep in mind that Big Papi will enter spring training with a bum Achilles tendon and anyone who drafts him should be aware of his growing frailty.

Tier 5 – Thrift Store Sale

Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox (.298/.371/.486)
Adam LaRoche, Washington (.271/.343/.510)
Nick Swisher, Cleveland (.272/.364/.473)
Corey Hart, Milwaukee (.270/.334/.507)
Ike Davis, New York Mets (.227/.308/.462)
Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox (.204/.333/.468)
Chris Davis, Baltimore (.270/.326/.501)

Not too much to say about this bunch. If Ike Davis can tweak his swing appropriately he might turn into something useful. As for the rest, Konerko, LaRoche, Swisher and Dunn are all good late round options depending on what your team needs. Hart has been respectable for three straight years but I would steer clear of him until he comes back healthy from his second knee surgery in the past year. Chris Davis really only made this list because it is hard to ignore a guy who hit 33 home runs. That said, I would not bank on a repeat performance in 2013.

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