“Precision Tayloring” First Based: Top 25 Fantasy First Basemen, 2014
The position of first base is going to have some new names at the top of the list for this upcoming season. Two notables, Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Davis really established new career baselines for themselves and are both widely considered 1st round talent by the fantasy community. (Oh and by the way Miguel Cabrera is coming back to 1st but we will save ranking him until the third basemen).
- 1(A). Paul Goldschmidt- Goldschmidt, a Texas State alum, established himself as one of the best hitters in the NL last season leading the league in HRs and RBI while cutting is K% down to 20.4% and raising his BB% up to 13.9% both career bests. He also led all of first basemen in steals with 15 (although he did get caught stealing 7 times) so he is a true 5 category contributor who will give you annual .300 or better batting averages while fueling your counting stats from hitting in the middle of what should be a potent Diamondbacks lineup in hitter friendly Chase Field. He is bound to be taken early in the 1st round in nearly all fantasy drafts this spring as he is one of the safest bets to return 1st round value when it is all said and done at the end of the year. He will make building a team around him fairly easy because he hits all of the categories and is an elite contributor in all of them relative to the output from his position.
- 1(B). Chris Davis- “Hulk” Davis literally crushed his way into fantasy stardom last year by just absolutely blowing every preseason projection to fucking hell and back. I mean the man had 37 home runs in the first half alone. To put that into perspective that’s more than any other 1st baseman had ALL SEASON. In the post steroid era where power is something that is becoming harder to come by, Davis has power in spades backed last season by his career highs in both FB% and HR/FB at 45.7% and 29.6%.
Essentially this tells us what the jump in HR total already told us, he was hitting more fly balls than ever and more of them were leaving the park than ever before. Davis has true 80 power to all fields that will play in-game as we saw him take plenty of mistake pitches the other way last season and just crush them over left field walls. He still strikes out at an abnormally large rate (nearly 30%) although he has gotten a lot better at learning to take his walk and wait for a pitch that he can put a charge into. The reason I have Davis and Goldschmidt listed the way I do is because I believe this season they are pretty interchangeable with the bigger factor for determining which one to draft being where in the 1st round you draft and your preference on roster construction as drafting Goldschmidt would give you a solid contributor across the board while if you draft Davis you have the power category on lock down while still getting solid counting stats and an above average batting average somewhere in the neighborhood of .275-.285
- 3. Joey Votto- There was a lot of talk last season about Votto being too passive and that he wasn’t driving in enough runs and wasn’t being the kind of hitter the Reds paid him to be. However, there wasn’t anything wrong with Votto last season. He couldn’t help the fact that Dusty Baker would bat guys like Zack Cosart and Ryan Ludwick 2nd all season. Votto can’t control who gets on base in front of him and he often was the one who had to set the table for guys like Brandon Phillips. Votto is still an elite batting average hitter who is going to give you an average north of .300 every year. With new management in town hopefully he will have guys who can get on base in front of him so he can start being more aggressive and looking for a pitch to drive instead of having to play the role as table setter. Should he see more pitches to drive look for a slight increase in his home run total as well as he still plays in home run friendly Great American Ballpark.
- 4. Edwin Encarnacion- Last season was the 2nd of increased production from Encarnacion and I believe he proved he was for real continuing to hit for plus power while dramatically lowering his K% (down to an even 10% last season). It has helped him keep his batting average in the .270-.280 range which makes him a solid 4 category contributor. He gets elite counting stats playing in Toronto and hitting in the middle of their lineup, as their problems haven’t been scoring runs but preventing them. Encarnacion underwent wrist surgery at the end of last season, but is expected to be 100% healthy for spring training.
- 5. Freddie Freeman- Freeman continued to emerge last season as one of the premier young hitters in the league. He is an elite 4 category hitter that is going to provide .300 averages with plenty of HRs and counting stats as the Braves look to be set to score a lot of runs next season as well. Like every other Braves hitter he can be prone to the strikeout though not quite as much as some of the other hitters on the team (looking at you Dan Uggla). Freeman knows how to turn it on when it really matters though as he is a career .311 hitter with men on base and a .302 with runners in scoring position.
- 6. Prince Fielder- The big move from Detroit to Texas should certainly help Fielder out who had a well documented down season last year. For the price you paid for him last season he didn’t bring back the kind of value you expected. He hit a career low in home runs which still turned out to be 25 which is remarkable when you look at the kind of power output he has had in previous seasons. Fielder’s drop in home runs can be explained by an abnormally low HR/FB rate at which only 13.5% of his fly balls left the ball park last season. To put that into perspective his career average is around 19% so it is safe to assume that he did get a little unlucky in that department. Look for that to get corrected though as fly balls just soar out to right field in Arlington on hot summer nights which plays very well into Fielders pull heavy power swing.
- 7. Eric Hosmer- It’s gonna happen one of these seasons. We here in the fantasy community have been waiting around for the past couple of years wanting it to happen and I believe we are close to seeing Hosmer have that monster season that we have all been expecting out of him. He is an elite hitter with his one bad year of batting average being tied to an extremely low BABIP, so expect around a .300 average from him. He currently displays average power from a 1st baseman though he is still young so expect to see a rise in his home run totals in the next coming years while still being the next best (behind Goldschmidt) and quite frankly only other threat to get double-digit steals from the 1st base position. He is the kind of player that can really turn the tide for your team if he can be had for the right price on draft day although the name allure tends to drive up his price on draft day.
- 8. Adrian Gonzalez- Although he may not be the same kind of hitter he was back in 09 when he hit 40 home runs for the padres, he is still an elite hitter in an elite lineup that is going to put runs on the board. He has had at least 100 RBI for the previous 4 seasons and although Dodger stadium can be hard to drive a baseball out of sometimes (unless you are Puig) he still provides an above average source of power, just don’t expect the San Diego Adrian.
- 9. Mike Napoli- Another hitter set to hit in a lineup that is bound to score a lot of runs. While Napoli strikes out a lot and could be a drain on your batting average at this point in his career he still provides plus power and an above average source of runs and RBI.
- 10. Anthony Rizzo- Much like Hosmer the woes of the batting average during Rizzo’s sophomore season can be attributed to an abnormally low .258 BABIP. You could see the bad luck get to his game too as he tried to press the issue more leading to a slight uptick in K% up to 18.4% last season. Also like Hosmer though Rizzo is still very young and still has more power to come and could eventually be a 35+ HR hitter annually in the prime of his career while being solid average to above average in batting average and counting stats.
- 11. Nick Swisher- Had a shoulder issue that plagued him for much of the 2013 season. Look for him to go back to giving you above average contributions to batting average, home runs, runs, and RBI hitting in the middle of the order for a potent Indians lineup.
- 12. Brandon Moss- Continued to be a solid contributor to the A’s offense. Power threat is for real and he worked on hitting more balls in the air last season (career high 51.8% fly ball rate).
- 13. Albert Pujols- Pujols just isn’t the same hitter he was when he was considered the best in the league when he was hitting for the Cardinals and we all just have to deal with that and move on. What is more concerning yet is that he is already not aging well and has looked more injury prone over the past couple of seasons. When he is on he is still a dangerous hitter, but you won’t see me own him this spring unless his stock REALLY falls off.
- 14. Jose Abreu- If the 13 names above his were gone off of the list in the draft pool and I was currently still looking to fill the 1st base or corner infield slot on my team then this is the time when I would pull the trigger to take a shot on Abreu. We don’t know what really to expect until we are able to get an extended look at him during spring training but all the scouting reports out there hint at plus power that should play well in homer friendly US Cellular. There will be adjustment periods to big league pitching probably much in the line as fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes.
- 15. James Loney- Thanks to an above average BABIP Loney kept his average hovering into the .300s until the last waning moments of the season when he finished up with a .299 average. He is more of a .280 hitter though and while that won’t kill you he is a below average power hitter from the 1st baseman position and his ability to get counting stats may get hindered playing for the not always offensive rays.
- 16. Matt Adams- Slated to begin the season as the Cardinals starting 1st baseman Adams did an admirable job last season hitting .284 in 319 PA to go along with 17 home runs. While he may only give you an average contribution to batting average (think around .260) he is gonna hit for some serious power and rack up counting stats doing it in the Cardinals lineup
- 17. Brandon Belt- Another guy showing some power surge. Has shown that he won’t kill you in batting average anymore think around .275 with 20 home runs and average counting stats.
- 18. Justin Morneau- Moving to the thin Air in Colorado could show a slight uptick in home runs as he still shows above average power with playable contact rates.
- 19. Adam LaRoche- Plus power threat, but at batting average cost. Can’t hit lefties so probably used best on the strong side of a platoon situation.
- 20. Chris Carter- Sneaky deep play if you are chasing power late and can give back some batting average (and by some I mean a bit because carter strikes out a shit ton). Good AL-only play if you decided to just punt average and try to get power and counting stats.
- 21. Yonder Alonso- Above average hitter when healthy, low power output playing in Petco. If he can stay healthy and play the whole season he could get average counting stats.
- 22. Justin Smoak- Former highly touted prospect turned AL-only 1st baseman. Batting average drag comes with slightly above average power.
- 23. Ryan Howard- Because well Phillies fans were reminded he was still alive last year, and still making 25 million a year.
- 24. Ike Davis- He was still alive too, although less useful and somehow more hated by his fan base.
- 25. Jonathan Singleton- Stash this guy at the end of your draft if you have an extra roster slot to use. He is going to start the year in the minors, but has the kind of bat to immediately make an impact on his arrival to Houston. Which should be sooner rather than later for the Astros this season.
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