2014 Fantasy Baseball: 5×5 First Baseman Rankings
Last Wednesday my catcher rankings were posted, and today we move on to first base. The position is, obviously, substantially deeper than catcher and Fantasy Fix colleague Landon Jones made the case for waiting to draft one last Thursday. I’m not here to discuss strategy, though, but I do intend on highlighting some of the players I have ranked significantly higher or lower than my fantasy expert peers’ rankings found at Fantasy Pros and explaining the rationale behind my ranking. For the sake of comparing apples to apples, I will not be highlighting any catcher eligible players since they should almost never be used at first base anyways. Rankings are with a standard 5×5 rotisserie format in mind, and players that played in 15 games, the mid-point between Yahoo! and ESPN’s positional eligibility requirement, at first base were eligible for inclusion.
*Expert Consensus Rankings are as of March 6.
1- Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013: 602 AB, 103 R, 36 HR, 125 RBI, 15 SB, .302 AVG, .401 OBP
2- Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 530 AB, 90 R, 36 HR, 104 RBI, 7 SB, .272 AVG, .370 OBP
3- Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
2013: 584 AB, 103 R, 53 HR, 138 RBI, 4 SB, .286 AVG, .370 OBP
4- Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
2013: 581 AB, 101 R, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 6 SB, .305 AVG, .435 OBP
5- Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
2013: 551 AB, 89 R, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 1 SB, .319 AVG, .396 OBP
6- Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
2013: 624 AB, 82 R, 25 HR, 106 RBI, 1 SB, .279 AVG, .362 OBP
7- Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
2013: 623 AB, 86 R, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 11 SB, .302 AVG, .353 OBP
8- Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
2013: 391 AB, 49 R, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 1 SB, .258 AVG, .330 OBP
9- Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2013: (World Baseball Classic) 25 AB, 6 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB, .360 AVG, .385 OBP
10- Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013: 583 AB, 69 R, 22 HR, 100 RBI, 1 SB, .293 AVG, .342 OBP
11- Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2013: 520 AB, 61 R, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 2 SB, .294 AVG, .371 OBP
12- Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies
2013: 489 AB, 74 R, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 10 SB, .331 AVG, .389 OBP
13- Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals
2013: 508 AB, 71 R, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 2 SB, .315 AVG, .373 OBP
14- Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
2013: 509 AB, 76 R, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 5 SB, .289 AVG, .360 OBP
15- Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
2013: 445 AB, 62 R, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 0 SB, .324 AVG, .404 OBP
16- Brandon Moss, Oakland Athletics
2013: 446 AB, 73 R, 30 HR, 87 RBI, 4 SB, .256 AVG, .337 OBP
17- Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
2013: 606 AB, 71 R, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 6 SB, .233 AVG, .323 OBP
18- Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
2013: 541 AB, 75 R, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 3 SB, .268 AVG, .377 OBP
19- Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox
2013: 498 AB, 79 R, 23 HR, 92 RBI, 1 SB, .259 AVG, .360 OBP
20- Mark Trumbo, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013: 620 AB, 85 R, 34 HR, 100 RBI, 5 SB, .234 AVG, .294 OBP
21- Matt Adams, St. Louis Cardinals
2013: 296 AB, 46 R, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 0 SB, .284 AVG, .335 OBP
22- Chris Carter, Houston Astros
2013: 506 AB, 64 R, 29 HR, 82 RBI, 2 SB, .223 AVG, .320 OBP
23- Justin Morneau, Colorado Rockies
2013: 572 AB, 62 R, 17 HR, 77 RBI, 0 SB, .259 AVG, .323 OBP
24- Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians
2013: 549 AB, 74 R, 22 HR, 63 RBI, 1 SB, .246 AVG, .341 OBP
25- Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 465 AB, 67 R, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 1 SB, .288 AVG, .357 OBP
26- Kendrys Morales, Free Agent
2013: 602 AB, 64 R, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 0 SB, .277 AVG, .336 OBP
27- Corey Hart, Seattle Mariners
28- Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
2013: 286 AB, 34 R, 11 HR, 43 RBI, 0 SB, .266 AVG, .319 OBP
29- Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
2013: 525 AB, 60 R, 34 HR, 86 RBI, 1 SB, .219 AVG, .320 OBP
30- Ike Davis, New York Mets
2013: 317 AB, 37 R, 9 HR, 33 RBI, 4 SB, .205 AVG, .326 OBP
31- Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
2013: 53 AB, 5 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB, .151 AVG, .270 OBP
32- James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
2013: 549 AB, 54 R, 13 HR, 75 RBI, 3 SB, .299 AVG, .348 OBP
33- Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers
2013: 462 AB, 60 R, 23 HR, 60 RBI, 0 SB, .232 AVG, .299 OBP
34- Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres
2013: 334 AB, 34 R, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 6 SB, .281 AVG, .341 OBP
35- Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
2013: 511 AB, 70 R, 20 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB, .237 AVG, .332 OBP
36- Logan Morrison, Seattle Mariners
2013: 293 AB, 32 R, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 0 SB, .242 AVG, .333 OBP
37- Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners
2013: 454 AB, 53 R, 20 HR, 50 RBI, 0 SB, .238 AVG, .334 OBP
38- Juan Francisco, Milwaukee Brewers
2013: 348 AB, 36 R, 18 HR, 48 RBI, 0 SB, .227 AVG, .296 OBP
39- Mark Reynolds, Milwaukee Brewers
2013: 445 AB, 55 R, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 3 SB, .220 AVG, .306 OBP
40- Jonathan Singleton, Houston Astros
2013: (AAA) 245 AB, 31 R, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB, .220 AVG, .340 OBP
41- Gaby Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013: 264 AB, 29 R, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 1 SB, .254 AVG, .361 OBP
42- Casey McGehee, Miami Marlins
2013: (NPB) 513 AB, 78 R, 28 HR, 93 RBI, 2 SB, .292 AVG, .376 OBP
43- Garrett Jones, Miami Marlins
2013: 403 AB, 41 R, 15 HR, 51 RBI, 2 SB, .233 AVG, .289 OBP
44- Darin Ruf, Philadelphia Phillies
2013: 251 AB, 36 R, 14 HR, 30 RBI, 0 SB, .247 AVG, .348 OBP
45- Lucas Duda, New York Mets
2013: 318 AB, 42 R, 15 HR, 33 RBI, 0 SB, .223 AVG, .352 OBP
46- Jesus Guzman, Houston Astros
2013: 288 AB, 33 R, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 3 SB, .226 AVG, .297 OBP
47- Lyle Overbay, Milwaukee Brewers
2013: 445 AB, 43 R, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 2 SB, .240 AVG, .295 OBP
48- Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
2013: 467 AB, 41 R, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 0 SB, .244 AVG, .313 OBP
49- Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres
2013: 280 AB, 31 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB, .243 AVG, .305 OBP
50- Tommy Medica, San Diego Padres
2013: 69 AB, 9 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .290 AVG, .380 OBP
* David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (He would rank fifth if eligible at the position)
2013: (5 Games played at first base) 518 AB, 84 R, 30 HR, 103 RBI, 4 SB, .309 AVG, .395 OBP
Ranked significantly higher than the expert consensus
Edwin Encarnacion- My Rank: 2, Expert Consensus: 5
It didn’t take long for us to run into my first ranking that went against the grain. My guess is that Encarnacion’s consensus’ rank is hurt a bit by concerns about minor wrist surgery, and I can’t fault caution when dealing with injuries. However, the surgery on his wrist took place all the way back in early September, and Encarnacion says his wrist is back to 100 percent. He also stated that he took part in his regular offseason program, and the power hitting first baseman is playing in spring training games and already has a homer to his credit.
Beyond the wrist concerns, which I don’t harbor, what is there not to like about Encarnacion? Seriously, though, the man contributes across the board. Last season the artist formerly known as E-5 walked more than he struck out, and went down by strikeout in just 10 percent of his plate appearances. That type of high contact approach is usually reserved for the slap singles hitters, not a guy that belted 36 homers and sported an ISO of .262. He has hit no worse than .272 in his last three seasons, stolen no fewer than seven bases during that time frame, and reached or exceeded the marks of 90 runs, 35 homers, and 100 RBIs the last two years.
Furthermore, there is reason to believe his batting average could climb this year. The 31-year old first baseman has a career .275 BABIP, so he regularly posts marks below .300. That said, his BABIP of .247 last year looks especially unluckly. FanGraphs credited him with a 21.6 percent line drive rate, his highest rate since 2005 when he received under 300 plate appearances as a third baseman with the Reds. Line drives are a very volatile batted ball type, but when paired with an infield flyball rate that dropped for the second straight year, and for the first time below 10 percent in his career, something just doesn’t smell right. If he can retain some of that luscious line drive contact and keep his popups to a minimum, some serious BABIP, and batting average, correction is in order. Take his 90-plus runs, 30-plus homers, 100-plus RBIs and six-to-eight stolen bases to the bank, and consider a .290-plus batting average more than a pipe dream.
Jose Abreu- My Rank: 9, Expert Consensus: 17
Abreu is the easily the biggest wild card at the position. Suffice to say, I believe in his raw power and ballpark. The biggest concern most seem to voice is how his hit tool will play, and the type of average that will come with his well above average muscle as a result. The projection systems such as OLIVER, Steamer and ZiPS forecast favorable numbers for the rookie Cuban. Ultimately I just couldn’t rank this high upside slugger outside the top 10 at the position, but the number of possible outcomes for him this year is wide ranging.
Michael Cuddyer- My Rank: 12, Expert Consensus: 21
This disparity in rankings shocks me. In Cuddyer I see a player who has an established track record of offensive performance, and a friendly home environment. There are risks with a soon to be 35-year old outfielder/first baseman that has missed time each of the last three years, but even in missing time he has been able to tally 540 or more plate appearances in two of those seasons. A DL stint this year is likely, but the production when he’s on the diamond will be well worth working around it.
A repeat of his 2013 batting average is almost certainly out of the question since it was fueled by a .382 BABIP, but he’s better than the .260 hitter that was saddled with a .287 BABIP (25 points below his career mark of .312) in 2012. The right-hander’s career batting average is .277, but with an increase in his HR/FB rate since joining the Rockies, which should have been expected, a strikeout rate that has been below 20 percent every year since 2006, and a somewhat consistent batted ball profile year-to-year, Cuddyer is a safe bet to hit around .290. The Virginian has been a sneaky good, and efficient, base stealer swiping 29 in 36 chances over the last three years, reaching double digits twice in that time frame. Another 8-to-10 stolen bases this year will help make up for a low-20s homer total, and play nicely with healthy run production totals.
Brandon Belt- My Rank: 14, Expert Consensus: 20
The light finally went on for Belt in 2013, and it shined especially bright during the second half of the year. Not coincidentally, he played in a career high number of games and totaled 571 plate appearances, and 600-plus plate appearances are a near foregone conclusion this year. His final season total of 17 homers, less than 80 runs, and less than 70 RBIs is likely the reason he’s ranked lower by other experts.
Belt is going to take another step forward this year, namely in fantasy baseball. AT&T park does his home run power no favors, but reaching 20 for the first time in a season in his career is an attainable projection. The sweet swinging lefty has a line drive stroke that fits his ballpark, though, and paired with a low infield flyball rate makes his consecutive seasons of posting a .351 BABIP not look quite so flukey. He made contact gains last season, and a further step forward this year could push his batting average north of .300. Like the last first baseman I highlighted, Cuddyer, Belt is a first baseman that chips in stealing bases, too. He stole just five last year, but swiped 12 the year before, and has 20 steals in 26 chances in his big league career. A guesstimate of a half-dozen steals feels right. Spinning things back to his second half in 2013 really cements his ranking on my first base list. In 247 plate appearances the then 25-year old ripped seven homers with a triple slash line of .326/.390/.525 with a strikeout rate just south of 20 percent. Perhaps equally important, his sizzling play earned him the third spot in the lineup all but two starts (when he batted cleanup) from August 7 through the end of last season. Manager Bruce Bochy gushed during MLB Networks coverage of the winter meetings about Belt’s ability to hit third in the order, and that will be a boon to his run production stats this year. This is my preferred “cheap” first baseman for 2014.
Brandon Moss- My Rank: 16, Expert Consensus: 23
Belt isn’t the only first baseman in the state of California that had a monster second half of last season. Moss crushed 14 homers and hit .296/.374/.615 in just 203 plate appearances. Power is Moss’s calling card, but another interesting development down the stretch was that Moss struck out in just 23.2 percent of his plate appearances, a far cry from his 28.7 percent strikeout rate over the last two years combined.
The late bloomer comes with his limitations. For starters, he is often gets days off against left-handed pitchers because he struggles against his same handed counterparts. He also hits a ton of flyballs, as in more than half of his batted balls last year were flyballs according to FanGraphs, which is good for maxing out his power and bad for his batting average since they have a lower average when they stay in the yard than line drives and groundballs. Despite his warts, Moss hits cleanup most of the time when the Athletics face a right-handed pitcher, and legitimate 30 home run power that comes with a palatable average is a dandy of a combination.
Chris Carter- My Rank: 22, Expert Consensus: 34
Carter’s profile is one that I have historically turned my nose up to in the past, but no longer. He’s a low average slugger that is more valuable in leagues that use OBP. However, as my ranking suggests, it’s not as if the massive man lacks value in standard leagues. His 29 round-trippers ranked tied for 15th in the majors last year, and his power and patience allowed him to take most of his hacks hitting anywhere from fourth-through-sixth in the Astros lineup. The team gets a shot in the arm at the top of the lineup with the addition of Dexter Fowler, and his .365 career OBP means more ducks on the pond for the guys hitting behind him.
The 27-year old strikes out at an alarming rate, and that will always keep his batting average low, but there is some hope for him cutting back a smidge this season. For starters, his zone contact rate was up last season from 2012, and his overall contact rate dropped just 0.6 percent, yet his strikeout rate soared from 31.9 percent to 36.2 percent. The biggest culprit was chasing more pitches out of the strike zone, but if he can reduce the number of times he expands his zone to a rate closer to 2012, his batting average would benefit. Also, in his last two seasons he saw time in Triple-A (2011 and 2012) he struck out in less than 25 percent of his plate appearances. That’s not to suggest he’ll ever see a strikeout rate in that range in the Show, but his 31.9 percent strikeout rate from 2012 isn’t an outrageous hope. Toss in a little BABIP luck, and a deplorable batting average could be merely bad. At the worst you’re looking at a guy with steady playing time, top shelf pop, and 80-plus RBIs in his cross-hairs.
Ranked significantly lower than the expert consensus
Prince Fielder- My Rank: 6, Expert Consensus: 3
The Fielder bandwagon is overflowing, and I’m of the belief it is due in large part to an incorrect narrative making its rounds. Stop me if you’ve heard this, or some similar variation of this, statement a few hundred times since the Rangers acquired him. “Fielder is going to take full advantage of his new cozy confines, the short porch in right field, and the Texas heat, look out 40-plus dingers!” Here is the problem with that hardcore analytical analysis, it’s not supported by StatCorner’s ballpark data. The site’s park factors reflect a three year rolling average, and have homer ballpark factors for Detroit of 110 and 92 for left-handed and right-handed batters respectively, and Texas’ homer factor for lefties is 108 and 101. As a left-handed hitter, Fielder actually is moving to a park with a lower homer factor for his handedness. I think he can get back to the 30 homer plateau, but it’s not because he’s moving to a more favorable ballpark.
The burly first baseman has an enviable combination of above average power and a low strikeout rate, which is something that motivated my ranking of Encarnacion second at the position. It’s also a motivating factor for Fielder ranking sixth, which is a fairly good ranking, just lower than that of others. He’s once again hitting in an excellent lineup, but does it really get any better than hitting directly behind Miguel Cabrera, the 2013 leader in OBP (19 points higher than Shin-Soo Choo‘s OBP)? Besting 100 RBIs again is within reach, but those expecting a leap forward from his 106 and 108 totals in 2013 and 2012 may be left disappointed. Fielder is a poor baserunner, but hitting in front of Adrian Beltre portends well for an uptick in runs scored. Overall, he looks pretty similar to the guy we saw last year to me, and that’s just not quite good enough to crack my top five.
Anthony Rizzo- My Rank: 17, Expert Consensus: 13
And I thought my ranking showed faith in Rizzo making some gains this year, I guess I’m not as optimistic as others. Looking at the positives, Rizzo maintained most of the strikeout rate gains from 2011 to 2012 last season, he chased fewer pitches out of the strike zone last year, and he figures to slot third in the Cubs lineup again.
Beyond that, Rizzo is a man with serious questions to answer. The first and loudest question is how much can he close his platoon gap? His walk rate is strong against southpaws, and his strikeout rate and batted ball data further point to him being much better against lefties than he was last season, but he’s still just a .194/.270/.347 hitter against them in 356 plate appearances in the bigs. Furthermore, he has a minor league track record of mediocrity against lefties, too. The second big question is just how great is Rizzo’s power potential? Entering his fourth season in the bigs, and with roughly two full season’s worth of plate appearances under his belt, Rizzo has hit 39 homers and has a .174 ISO. Further parsing the data, he has slugged a paltry .439 with a .182 ISO and hit 27 homers in 855 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Those are the guys he’s supposed to be making hay against, and those are not the numbers of a burgeoning star slugger. Rizzo is moving closer to his power peak years, and he was a good enough prospect that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer didn’t acquire him just once, he swung deals for him twice (and that’s not to mention being part of the brain trust in Boston that drafted him) doing so with the Padres and the Cubs. There is upside here, for sure, but pump the breaks a bit.
Mark Trumbo- My Rank: 20, Expert Consensus: 12
While the bluster of Fielder moving to a more homer friendly environment for him isn’t substantiated, all of the same chatter related to Trumbo is supported by ballpark data. StatCorner gives Angels Stadium of Anaheim a right-handed batter homer ballpark factor of 86 using their rolling three year data, and Chase Field has a right-handed batter homer ballpark factor of 108. That’s a big jump for a guy that smoked 29 homers in 2011, 32 in 2012, and set a career high with 34 last year. That’s big boy power, and it is taking many folks’ attention away from some scary trends.
Trumbo’s strikeout rate has risen from 20.9 percent in 2011, to 26.1 percent in 2012, and reached a new high of 27.1 percent last year. The 28 year old has another alarming trend going, and that’s a sliding contact rate on balls in the strike zone per FanGraphs. He’s gone on a free fall from 85.6 percent in 2011, to 82.3 percent in 2012, to below 80 percent at 78.8 percent last year. That’s no bueno. Breaking things down to a sample that is too small is often a mistake, but Trumbo’s first and second half of last year were like night and day. In the first half he walked in nine percent of his plate appearances and struck out 24.6 percent of the time he went to the dish, and those rates eroded to 6.4 percent and 30.7 percent in the second half. Another reason he barely cracks my top 20 is the fact he is a very average hitter against right-handed pitchers. In 1317 plate appearances against righties Trumbo is a .244/.297/.451 hitter. The final nail in Trumbo’s coffin, which while it is minor, shouldn’t be completely discounted, is that he’ll be relegated to outfield duty this year. He’s not a natural outfielder, there won’t be the option of using him at designated hitter when the Diamondbacks play in an National League ballpark, and Kirk Gibson would be a fool not to lift him for a defensive replacement with regularity late in games. I see a lot of heartache for those willing to pay the price to own Trumbo, give me low average power hitter Chris Carter at a fraction of the cost.
Mark Teixeira- My Rank: 31, Expert Consensus: 25
Teixeira isn’t as fortunate as Encarnacion since his wrist surgery was not a minor procedure. The Yankees first baseman had surgery in July to repair a tendon sheath tear. Teixeira has already stated that he expects to deal with tightness in his wrist until at least June if not the entire season. That’s not what I like to hear. Although tightness is less concerning than pain, wrist injuries are notorious for sapping power. Tanya Bondurant, the author of the linked article a few sentences before, notes the diminished power of Jose Bautista and David Ortiz upon their return from the same injury. The biggest difference between Teixeira and his American League East compadres that underwent the same surgery is that his production was dwarfed by theirs prior to the procedure. In his last extended playing time which came back in 2012 Teixeira hit only 24 homers with a .251 batting average in 524 plate appearances. The fruit just doesn’t appear to be worth the squeeze here, look elsewhere on draft day.
I’ll continue posting this until people start looking:
yes, it’s a shameless plug but no one has delved into Rizzo’s splits adequately.
The in-depth look is nice, but as you note, you’re breaking a small sample size down into a smaller sample size. As I’ve stated,though, he demonstrated struggles against lefties in the minors as well. He’s certainly not THIS bad against southpaws, and I’m not advocating platooning him this early in his career (that would be a huge mistake), but it’s clearly a huge weakness in his profile at the moment.