2014 Fantasy Baseball: Gerard’s Rankings, First Basemen
Paul Goldschmidt tops the list of top ranked first basemen for your fantasy baseball draft. My rankings will give you the top four tiers of first sackers, along with strong plays in each 5×5 category.
Before you read on, read this.
Oh, and this:
A quick introduction on the layout of these rankings:
First, we’ll go through a few tiers of top players at the position. These are guys who either deliver above average all around production, or have one transcendent skill. These are your building blocks.
From there, we’ll divide up the remaining players based on specific category contributions. These guys are the puzzle pieces. Their contributions will be limited, so their specific value depends on the gaps that exist between the building blocks that you’ve already drafted.
One final thing: These are my rankings, but they’re guidance, not gospel. I feel pretty strongly about the dividers between the tiers, but once you get into a tier, if you want to take Freddie Freeman over Prince Fielder, or Eric Hosmer over Anthony Rizzo, I’m cool with it. Every drafter should draft to his own instincts; I’m just giving you some tools to sharpen your senses.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Goldschmidt; I’m happy to invite the rest of the world to join me in reveling in his awesomeness. Last season, he met and beat every measure of elite first base production, cranking more than 35 home runs, driving in more than 120 runs, scoring more than 100 runs, and hitting .300. Oh, and he chipped in 15 stolen bases, a mark that not only led all first basemen, but would have tied him for fifth among second basemen.
Goldschmidt’s 2013 numbers are eye-popping and there’s no reason at all to think 2014 will be any different. His BABIP last year was right in line with career norms, his plate discipline improved (as it has in each of his big league seasons), and his power continues to grow.
Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are still head-and-shoulders above every other player in fantasy, but Goldschmidt’s position head-and-shoulders above every other first baseman makes him the clear #3 pick for me.
Chris Davis is a bit of a mystery. His Hobbsian power is undeniable, but his bouts of Cerrano-equse plate discipline are worrying. In the second half of last season, he was the only player in baseball to swing at more than half of the pitches he saw, but make contact less than 68% of the time. It’s no wonder his ISO dropped by more than 130 points, more than a full Jacoby Ellsbury worth of power, from the first half to the second. Davis has proven that he’s the best pure power hitter in baseball, but the rest of his skill set is too unproven for me to justify spending a first round pick on him.
In fact, I’d rather have Edwin Encarnacion. His power isn’t quite as prodigious as Davis’, but it’s still elite for the position, and his surrounding skill set is significantly better. After a 2012 season in which he dramatically improved his walk rate, Encarnacion used his 2013 campaign to add an almost as drastic decrease in his strikeout rate. Both will help his run scoring and run production, and his uptick in line drive rate bodes well for an improvement in batting average.
Three players with similar short term fantasy value; three players heading in different directions.
Fielder is hoping for a flatline, to stem the tide of him slowly devolving into the player the Tigers feared he’d be when they ate millions of dollars to take his contract off their books. He has a chance for a renaissance in a new, hitter-friendly city, and I think he’ll take advantage.
It’s not dissimilar to the situation that Albert Pujols was in a couple of years ago, though let’s hope that Fielder doesn’t suffer a similar decline. In 2014, Pujols will shake off last year’s foot injury and prove that he still has a little bit of Pujols left in him, but just a little bit. At this point in his career, he’s a pilot pulling up furiously on his steering wheel, trying fruitlessly to delay an inevitable crash. In a dynasty or keeper format, I’m not touching him with a ten-foot pole.
Freeman is a poor man’s Joey Votto. He’s middle management. He’ll never have elite power for his position, but he’ll provide consistent, balanced production across the board.
All of the elite options are off the board; it’s just a matter of personal preference. I personally prefer the power and upside of Rizzo, but if you wanted to reach for his South side counterpart first, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
I really wish I had Matt Adams ranked higher, but there are still too many question marks. Allen Craig’s necessary days out of the outfield will cut into Adams’ playing time a bit, which might actually help, since Adams is damn near helpless against left-handed pitching. He hits for power regardless of who’s pitching, but last season, he managed only a .231 batting average against southpaws. He struck out nearly 40% of the time and didn’t manage to draw a single walk from a lefty.
Matt Adams is a worthwhile risk for many fantasy teams, just keep in mind that high variance can cut both ways.
On the opposite side, Michael Cuddyer is an excellent, underrated, low variance option. Coors Field does him a lot of good – he won’t hit a ton of home runs, but his gap power will play into a solid batting average, as well as strong run scoring and run production numbers.
If You Need Home Runs…
There’s no shortage of power available at first base. Which player on this list fits your team best depends on your specific needs, even more specifically, it depends on what level of terrible batting average you can tolerate. If you’ve already built a solid base in that category, Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, or even Ike Davis will provide big time power on the cheap. If you can bite the bullet on average, Carter is the best draft day value on this list and Moss has a great chance to vault up into the top ten at the position. If you can’t quite stomach that risk, maybe Adam Lind, Kendrys Morales, or Mitch Moreland are more your speed.
If You Need Runs…
For a first baseman, scoring runs isn’t about going first to third, stealing a bag, or tagging up on a shallow fly. It’s about getting in the way. It’s about getting on base so often that your teammates can’t help but drive you in.
Mike Napoli, Nick Swisher, and Billy Butler all have career OBPs above .350. Corey Hart the Seattle Mariner is a bit of an unknown quantity, but we know he can get on base and even in Safeco Field, he’ll put himself in scoring position with regularity; Hart has ripped at least 50 extra base hits in every season in which he’s registered 450 plate appearances or more.
If You Need RBI…
Even for lesser hitters, manning the right corner of the infield is generally enough to earn a cushy spot in the order. Even for lesser hitters, holding a cushy spot in the batting order is generally enough to finish with an above average RBI total.
There are plenty of solid options on this list, but the two that stand out to me are Victor Martinez and Butler. Both are projected to hit cleanup in lineups that should be very good. Martinez gets to hit behind newly acquired Ian Kinsler and the best hitter on the planet. Butler follows Hosmer, along with an improved top two in Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante.
If You Need Batting Average…
Somewhat surprisingly, the pickings are a bit slim here. First base is loaded with great hitters, but with such a focus on power, there aren’t many options for batting average production that didn’t already make one of the top tiers. Butler and James Loney are steady options to balance out the category if you’ve spent a high draft pick on a guy like Carlos Gomez, but Martinez is the real gem here.
He hit .301 last season, the fourth consecutive season in which he’s posted a .300-plus batting average (excluding 2012, when he didn’t play due to injury), but as impressive as that is, it doesn’t do Martinez’ 2013 justice. A year’s worth of rust and a .269 BABIP knee-capped his first half production, but Victor was not discouraged. In the second half, he rode a blistering 27.2% line drive rate to a .361 batting average.
I’m not saying he’ll hit .360 for a full season, but Martinez has just as good of a shot at the batting title as anyone.
If You Need Stolen Bases…
You’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy. Aside from Goldschmidt and Hosmer, there’s not another first baseman with a chance to swipe more than ten bags.
Thanks, But No Thanks
There are circumstances under which you might draft these guys, but in anything shallowish mixed league, they shouldn’t be anywhere near your roster. These guys are below average in just about every statistical category; if you have to draft one, just look for the player who’ll hurt you least.
So, What Do You Think?
This is a different way to do rankings. It’s fun and interesting for me, but my ultimate goal is to give you all something that’ll help you have a more successful draft day.
If you want to take a closer look, I dropped the ranks into a Google Doc here.
Do you like the format? Do you agree or disagree with the rankings? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.