We usually reboot the rankings every year when the Baseball Prospectus Annual comes out. It’s a good time for any number of reasons. For one, player movement usually has begun to slow down (this year being a notable exception). Secondly, it allows us to shift our thinking from what has happened in the past to what might happen in the future. In many respects, this has come back to bite me this year. My rankings have taken a beating largely because they are based more on past performance than future projections.
I am borrowing the PECOTA projections in the six main categories (including walks) and also including the true average (TAV) to hedge our bets in case there is more movement. The other significant change is that I am including players at multiple positions. Before, I simply used their primary position. I hope these rankings make more sense, but they are simply one source’s opinions. I reserve the right to alter it one way or another based on our own observations.
1. Paul Goldschmidt— Arizona Diamondbacks
PECOTA: .288, 29 HR, 100 Runs, 97 RBI, 19 SB, 91 BB
With all deference to Goldschmidt, he is not the best offensive first basemen in the game. However, he does routinely steal bases. While that might not add a ton of value in real baseball, it is a huge deal in fantasy baseball. One of the problems number crunchers have is the need to turn off that side of the brain when it comes time to picking in the draft.
2. Joey Votto— Cincinnati Reds
PECOTA: .291, 25 HR, 98 Runs, 94 RBI, 6 SB, 115 BB
Simply put, stealing first base is more important than stealing second or third. Votto was likely the best player in the National League last season because he hits for high average AND walks a ton. The overwhelming on base percentage may not help you directly in five category formats, but it does produce numerous run scoring opportunities.
3. Anthony Rizzo— Chicago Cubs
PECOTA: .273, 30 HR, 97 Runs, 100 RBI, 8 SB, 77 BB
Geography matters. Rizzo plays for one of the best teams in baseball and the projections show this. He might not literally be better than a number of guys just below him, but he will benefit from having a ton of talent around him.
4. Rhys Hoskins— Philadelphia Phillies
PECOTA: .259, 36 HR, 92 Runs, 104 RBI, 3 SB, 70 BB
The addition of Carlos Santana pushes him to left field, but he will be eligible in left and at first next season. Multiple position flexibility always elevates you a little on draft day. It might have pushed him just above a couple of other guys.
5. Freddie Freeman— Atlanta Braves
PECOTA: .293, 25 HR, 87 Runs, 91 RBI, 6 SB, 72 BB
Some people are picking the Braves as a darkhorse wild card contender. That’s interesting, but it presupposes some moves they haven’t made yet. If they were to add someone like Mike Moustakas at third base then suddenly their offense would look more stout. As it stands, he just doesn’t quite have enough around him.
6. Edwin Encarnacion— Cleveland Indians
PECOTA: .262, 33 HR, 90 Runs, 100 RBI, 2 SB, 76
Encarnacion rolls out of bed driving in 100 runs every year. Somehow, he just feels like he is a cut below the others. Maybe that is because he never seems to have an awesome on base percentage. Maybe it is because he lacks the ability to swipe the occasional bag. Maybe it is because he is a butcher defensively. Who knows at this point.
7. Miguel Cabrera— Detroit Tigers
PECOTA: .300, 26 HR, 84 Runs, 92 RBI, 1 SB, 67 BB
I really wanted to put Bellinger here, but he was exposed some in the postseason and pitchers usually get a book on you after the first season. Cabrera might be close to the end, but here is betting that he will enjoy one more really good season before he fades away.
8. Cody Bellinger— Los Angeles Dodgers
PECOTA: .249, 37 HR, 93 Runs, 103 RBI, 10 SB, 64 BB
Bellinger will be eligible in left field this year and he might go a lot higher on that list. The lower average hurts him here and he really doesn’t project to walk enough to cover for that. Some people will pick him higher based on the decent speed production, but it just isn’t enough for me.
9. Jose Abreu— Chicago White Sox
PECOTA: .289, 29 HR, 86 Runs, 99 RBI, 2 SB, 42 BB
I love Spring Training. Positive news stories always point to players having career seasons because they’ve gotten themselves in the best shape of their lives. Abreu even says he wants to steal bases. He needs to take a few more pitches. His production has slipped because pitchers know he will chase. Eventually it will catch up to him.
10. Matt Olson— Oakland Athletics
PECOTA: .230, 31 HR, 82 Runs, 92 RBI, 0 SB, 76 BB
Rankings don’t always tell the whole story. Every position has gaps where there is a significant drop off. Here is the spot for first basemen. Olson flashed a ton of power last year, so this is a bet that the power will continue. You might have to swallow hard on batting average. If you play in a league that includes walks or an on base element then he is a good value here.
11. Josh Bell– Pittsburgh Pirates
PECOTA: .270, 21 HR, 79 Runs, 84 RBI, 3 SB, 68 BB
Growth is hardly ever linear and the Pirates have lost some of their luster after an offseason of selling off key pieces. However, Bell has been improving and that improvement should continue. It may not come in the numbers that matter to you, but at the end of the day he should be a top 12 first basemen.
12. Carlos Santana— Philadelphia Phillies
PECOTA: .242, 23 HR, 81 Runs, 82 RBI, 6 SB, 89 BB
This is a pick based purely on the on base element. That shows up in six category leagues and daily fantasy baseball formats. He gives you everything except batting average. Yes, he is leaving a productive team in Cleveland, but the Phillies will have a very underrated offense.
Top Bench Options
13. Chris Davis— Baltimore Orioles
PECOTA: .232, 33 HR, 83 Runs, 95 RBI, 1 SB, 68 BB
In two out of the last four seasons, Davis has put up huge numbers. He just isn’t consistent enough to put in a regular fantasy lineup. A number of articles have compared him to lesser players and there were tons of similarities. Of course, he gives you a volume of home runs that those other players don’t.
14. Eric Hosmer— San Diego Padres
PECOTA: .288, 21 HR, 76 Runs, 83 RBI, 5 SB, 58 BB
I’ll be honest. I’m not crazy about Eric Hosmer. I put him here because he plays and plays every day. Those counting numbers add up and make him look a little better than he actually is. Quite frankly, it is the one trait that helped him get above some others.
15. Justin Bour— Miami Marlins
PECOTA: .266, 25 HR, 74 Runs, 83 RBI, 1 SB, 53 BB
This is what I call hedging our bets. If he gets traded then these numbers will play up a bit. They say they don’t want to deal him, but this is the Marlins. They’ll barter off anyone for some magic beans. Depending on where he would go, these numbers could explode.
16. Joey Gallo— Texas Rangers
PECOTA: .215, 36 HR, 88 Runs, 97 RBI, 6 SB, 78 BB
Gallo is another multiple position player. He may not be quite good enough to start at first base or third base on your fantasy team, but he is good enough to be on a fantasy bench or possibly as a utility guy. The batting average is a bummer, but he gives you everything else.
17. Greg Bird— New York Yankees
PECOTA: .246, 28 HR, 77 Runs, 88 RBI, 0 SB, 61 BB
Bird showed up in time to be a force in the playoffs. I hate extrapolating playoff numbers, but he really wasn’t healthy for most of last season. He threw up a .250 average in his playoff appearances with three home runs and an impressive 12 walks. That gives him a career .921 OPS in playoff competition. He’s not going to produce those numbers over 600 plate appearances, but he will be better than many people realize.
18. Wil Myers— San Diego Padres
PECOTA: .245, 22 HR, 81 Runs, 78 RBI, 19 SB, 60 BB
These numbers were compiled under the assumption that he would be a first baseman. He’s actually going to play in right field. Yes, that makes him eligible in the outfield and at first base, but he has never had a healthy season in the outfield. So, take this under advisement.