I posted my very early 2015 closer rankings a couple of weeks ago. In continuing with the trend, I present to you my preliminary, but mostly complete, rankings for first basemen. The prices are based on a standard 5×5 rotisserie league with a budget of $260 per team. In this instance, I assume 60 percent of all teams’ budgets are spent on hitters, as is done in mine.
In a later version of this, I will enable the spreadsheet to be dynamic and allow users to input their own budget amounts and percentages spent. In the meantime, here is the static version.
Let me try to be as clear as possible about how I determine prices: I do not discount or add premiums based on positional scarcity or relativity. I like to know exactly what a home run, a steal, a run, etc. is worth, no matter who it comes from. It gives me a better idea of the depth at each position and how urgently I need to overspend at the so-called shallower positions, such as catcher and third base, as y’all will see in future installments of these rankings.
- The statistics, to my eye, are all scaled down slightly (except for maybe home runs). However, this effect happens to every player, so the changes are relative and, thus, the prices are theoretically unaffected.
- Jose Abreu is the #2 first baseman, and it’s not even that close of a call. I honestly thought Paul Goldschmidt‘s stock would be a bit higher — remember, my computer calls the shots here, not me — but the projections believe more in Goldy’s 2014 power (which paced out to 27 home runs in a full season) than his 2013 power, when he dropped 36 bombs. He’s also no lock to stay healthy. Which no one is, really. Still, I may take the over on all his stats, but not by a large margin.
- I will, however, take the over on Edwin Encarnacion‘s statistics, as he has bested all the projected numbers each of the past three seasons, and he does it all while battling injuries. I will take him at the price simply because of what I will call “health upside” — everyone assumes he will get hurt, but if he can play a full 162, he’s a monster — and because if his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) ever reaches a normal level, his batting average boost will send his stock through the roof.
- No surprise to see Anthony Rizzo at #5 after last season. I’m a believer, and he will be surrounded by a slew of talented youngsters next year.
- Freddie Freeman, hero of my hometown, is simply not where I expected him to be after his 2012 season. Granted, he’s an excellent player, but until he chooses to hit for power rather than spray line drives (again, not a problem in real, actual MLB baseball), and until the Braves stop sucking (which may not be any time soon), he may not be that great of a first base option.
- The two Chrises — Chris Davis and Chris Carter — round out the top 10 with almost identical profiles. Lots of power, lots of strikeouts, low batting averages. The shift may have suffocated Davis’ batting average, but it shouldn’t happen again, and I am considering investing in him if his stock has devalued enough after last year’s atrocity.
- Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Ryan Zimmerman are shells of their former selves.
- Lucas Duda is for real, but his batting average is a liability, as is a lot of the Mets’ lineup.
- The projections have what amounts to almost zero faith in Ryan Howard, Joe Mauer and Brandon Belt. Mauer may be the saddest tale of them all. He’s still good for a cheap batting average boost, but single-digit homers? I just feel bad for the guy. And the owner who banks on the rebound.
- Looking at Adam LaRoche‘s projection, I’m starting to really like that move by the White Sox. Part of me feels like he’s going to be undervalued or maybe even not considered on draft day, and that’s appealing to me.
- Steve Pearce at #16 is an upside play, given his 2014 looks all sorts of legit.
- Jon Singleton: the poor man’s Chris Carter.
- And just because Matt Adams is beating the shift instead of hitting home runs doesn’t render him without value. He’s not my cup of tea, but 19 home runs could be conservative for him.
If you’re familiar with the ESPN player rater (or any website’s player rater, for that matter), you have probably seen the last-7 and last-15 functions, aka the king and queen of small sample sizes. Looking at small sample sizes in fantasy baseball is especially interesting because virtually every player has the opportunity to be the best player in a given week — such is the nature of baseball. Better, seeing unfamiliar or long-irrelevant names making a splash is a good enough reason to figure out what this guy is all about, and whether his performance looks like sustainable or if it’s a flash in the pan.
I’ll start this feature with catchers, currently led by the red-hot Devin Mesoraco. I won’t highlight every catcher, but the ones who are doing especially good or bad will earn my attention.
Devin Mesoraco, CIN | #1 C
Has anything really changed with this 15-homer, low-average catcher? In short: no, not really. His strikeout and walk rates are about normal, although he is hitting a few more fly balls and more of those are leaving the park. Somehow, it always comes down to batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — and that’s exactly what’s happening here, as Mesoraco’s .477 batting average is being buoyed by a BABIP above .500. This is a sinking ship you will have to abandon eventually. However, no reason to drop the player as long as he’s hot.
This brings me to an interesting point about fantasy baseball, though. Owners are inclined to pick up someone amid an uncharacteristic and pronounced hot streak. I haven’t done the research, but the odds are, by the time you’ve noticed the hot streak, it’s already ending. (Ones that last so long, such as Charlie Blackmon‘s of Colorado, are the exception rather than the norm.) If you pick him up, you’re likely to experience more negative effects as the player in question regresses back to a normalized stat line. The problem is the bad performance is blinded by his inflated stats, and when he falls back down to .300, it doesn’t feel so bad.
But what happens is if Mesoraco is batting .477 through 44 at-bats, which he is, and then falls to .307 after 88 at-bats, that means he batted a lowly .159 over those next 44 at-bats. And that’s horrible, frankly.
What’s worse is Mesoraco, a career .246 batter, should expect even more regression than what I just stated. If he’s batting a normal .250 after, say, 160 at-bats, he will have batted .164 during the 116 at-bats that followed his hot streak.
Anyway. That ends a mini-rant. Sell-high on Mesoraco. Don’t be afraid to drop him at his peak. When you’ve reached the top of the mountain, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Matt Wieters, BAL | #2 C
I’ll pose another question just so I can immediately answer it: Is Wieters back? Not really, no. It depends on how you value him; if you’re willing to take a hit in batting average, he’s worth your attention. Again, he’s benefiting from a high BABIP, but mostly, he’s hitting an extreme number of fly balls right now — about 17 percent more often than his career rate. So the home runs are going to slow down as well. Wieters suffered from a pretty bad BABIP last year, and I think Wieters circa 2011 and 2012 (.255 BA, 70 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI) is a reasonable expectation at this point. (For the record, I projected him for .256 BA, 60 R, 23 HR, 73 RBI.)
Evan Gattis, ATL | #4 C
Didn’t Gattis start last year equally hot? He was the talk of the town. His peripherals all look pretty identical to last year. His batting average will come down a bit, although the people who think he’s a .240-.250 hitter could be sorely mistaken. I took the under on his batting average when I projected .264, but he could hit as high as .285 or so if he maintains a league-average .300 BABIP. Otherwise, the strikeout, walk and fly-ball rates all trend similarly to last year, except for the ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB), which is a tad inflated. Dude’s legit, but be wary of the inevitable slump. Career OPS by month:
April: .901 (.936 in 2014)
Carlos Santana, CLE | #49 C
You read correctly: the No. 49 catcher, slotting comfortably between — you guessed it — Wil Nieves and Jeff Mathis. Wow. The strikeouts are up a tick, but so are the walks. The RBI are nonexistent, but that’s also not his fault, beyond the fact that his batting average is well below the Mendoza line. But his BABIP is equally miserable, sitting at .160, and as aforementioned, the lack of RBI aren’t his fault, as they number of runners on base are out of Santana’s control. I think this is a prime example of a player on whom to buy low. His one RBI per 23 at-bats is unsustainable — the worst single-season RBI rate is one per 7.3 at-bats, in 2013. This guy has a lot of positive regression coming his way, contributing not only a wealth of batting average but also RBI.
It’s worth noting he is hitting 10-percent fewer fly balls than usual; it’s the first time in a season he is hitting more ground balls than fly balls. But, again, this is a small sample size. I would buy Santana for pennies on the dollar or, if you’re fortunate enough, add him from free agency.
Rankings based on standard 5×5 rotisserie league.
Name – R / RBI / HR / SB / BA
- Buster Posey – 69 / 85 / 20 / 2 / .299
- Wilin Rosario – 67 / 78 / 27 / 4 / .267
- Jonathan Lucroy – 60 / 78 / 17 / 6 / .293
- Yadier Molina – 59 / 78 / 16 / 4 / .296
- Brian McCann – 58 / 82 / 20 / 3 / .281
- Joe Mauer – 72 / 66 / 10 / 5 / .297
- Wilson Ramos – 54 / 73 / 26 / 0 / .283
- Carlos Santana – 76 / 75 / 20 / 5 / .253
- Matt Wieters – 60 / 73 / 23 / 2 / .256
- Evan Gattis – 52 / 76 / 24 / 0 / .264
- Miguel Montero – 65 / 75 / 15 / 0 / .260
- A.J. Pierzynski – 58 / 64 / 15 / 1 / .277
- Jason Castro – 74 / 58 / 17 / 1 / .245
- Salvador Perez – 54 / 71 / 12 / 0 / .270
- Yan Gomes – 56 / 53 / 16 / 1 / .278
- McCann? At Yankee Stadium? Yes, please.
- Gomes is Cleveland’s starting catcher; my projection doesn’t account for that. Give him a full year of at-bats and he’s easily a top-10 catcher who threatens the top 5.
- Perez is “due” for a breakout, as everyone says. Try him for a bargain pick, but I think there are adequate substitutes you can still get for cheap without risking the lack of counting stats.
- Castro may be safer than Gattis, but even an underwhelming Gattis may still rival Castro’s numbers fueled by an anemic team and spacious ballpark.
- I love Lucroy but, like yesterday’s shortstops, he’s not definitively better than Molina. Just look at their projections — they’re almost identical. Go with your gut.
Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann doesn’t show up on any leaderboards because he’s a handful of plate appearances short of qualification — off-season shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum sidelined him for the first couple of months of the season — but that doesn’t mean he a) doesn’t exist, and b) isn’t playing extremely well.
This is my very scholarly presentation titled “Brian McCann is having a monster year and I think he’s really great”. During my presentation I will say nothing. Zero words. I will instead let McCann’s statistics do the talking and prove my point for me.
Well, not quite. But here goes.
Statistics presented are current through August 3. All comparisons involve catchers who are relevant in standard-format fantasy leagues. Sorry, John Jaso. Your .387 OBP is not welcome here.
BA (batting average):
- Yadier Molina, .330
- Joe Mauer, .320
- Buster Posey, .308
- Brian McCann, .286
McCann is already in good company among his catching brethren, and his .285 BAbip suggests he’s back to form. Mauer and Poser hit for average perennially, so it’s no knock on McCann to be behind those guys. (Side note: Mauer’s batting average is just under his career mark while his wild .384 BAbip is 46 points higher than his career mark. It’s not insane for Mauer to bat .320, but that BAbip is crazy.)
OBP (on-base percentage):
- Joe Mauer, .402
- Buster Posey, .378
- Yadier Molina, .374
Carlos Santana, .374
- Brian McCann, .372
The Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer and the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey will lead this category perennially, and that’s part of what makes them so valuable. But McCann has kept pace with them and other touted catchers.
ISO (isolated power):
- Brian McCann, .256
- Evan Gattis, .249
- Jonathan Lucroy, .218
With the exception of El Oso Blanco (Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis), who is probably not even human (because he’s a bear, right?), nobody else comes close to McCann’s isolated power. His power numbers are through the roof, albeit unsustainable, but he likely won’t fall off as severely as teammate Justin Upton did. McCann has hit 18 to 24 home runs in each year since 2006, though, including his dismal 2012 season, so the power is consistent and certainly not a fluke. He also sports a 25-percent line drive rate. Frankly, he’s crushing the ball.
(Let us take a moment to acknowledge the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy. He didn’t get any preseason love from the so-called experts despite hitting .284 with 16 home runs in about half a season’s worth of at-bats last year.)
PA/HR (plate appearances per home run), where a smaller ratio is better:
- Brian McCann, 16.3 (read “one home run per 16.3 plate appearances”)
- Evan Gattis, 16.7
- J.P. Arencibia, 21.6
I sort of alluded to this, but again, it’s the Braves’ catchers leading the pack. Except did you really think McCann was hitting home runs more frequently than Gattis? Me neither. The Blue Jays’ J.P. Arencibia has pop and leads all MLB catchers with 17 home runs but comes at the steep price of a .214 batting average. Speaking of which…
- J.P. Arencibia, 17
- Brian McCann, 16
Jonathan Lucroy, 16
- Matt Wieters, 15
Evan Gattis, 15
Wilin Rosario, 15
McCann hit as many home runs as Lucroy in 106 fewer plate appearances. With all this talk about power, let’s take a look at OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and BRA (on-base percentage times slugging percentage, giving more weight to OBP). McCann leads in both categories (.914 and .202, respectively), meaning Mauer’s or Posey’s elevated OBP may not necessarily warrant the praise or favoritism it gets when valuing those players.
(R+RBI)/PA), or how many runs and RBI a player record per plate appearance, where a larger number is better:
- Evan Gattis, 0.299
- Brian McCann, 0.280
- Wilin Rosario, 0.274
- Yadier Molina, 0.256
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 0.256
This isn’t a fancy metric, just a simpler way to measure production frequency instead of breaking it up for each category (R and RBI). The number associated with each player may be difficult for some readers to process without a picture painted for them, so I’ll paint one. If McCann and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina each recorded exactly 500 plate appearances, McCann would produce 140 runs and RBI (think 70 R, 70 RBI) to Molina’s 128 (64 R, 64 RBI).
BB% (BB/PA, or walk percentage):
- Joe Mauer, 12.2%
- Russell Martin, 11.8%
- Brian McCann, 11.1%
- Miguel Montero, 10.9%
On top of this…
K/BB (ratio of strikeouts to walks), where a smaller number is better:
- Buster Posey, 1.26
- Carlos Santana, 1.34
- Brian McCann, 1.41
- Victor Martinez, 1.43
… McCann is third best in his strikeout rate relative to his walk rate.
Lastly — and perhaps most importantly — is WAR. Here’s how the WAR leaderboard for catchers looks according to FanGraphs:
- Yadier Molina, 4.3
- Joe Mauer, 4.2
- Buster Posey, 3.9
- Russell Martin, 3.6
- Jonathan Lucroy, 3.1
- Buster McCann, 2.9
… which aggregates not only offensive and but also defensive performance. Remember that McCann has about 60 percent of the plate appearances as other “full-time” catchers (and he’s already sixth in WAR — wow!). If I normalize each player’s WAR to, say, WAR per 100 plate appearances, the list now looks like this:
- Brian McCann, 1.11
- Yadier Molina, 1.10
- Russell Martin, 1.03
- Joe Mauer, 0.95
- Buster Posey, 0.93
- Jonathan Lucroy, 0.84
That’s right, folks. McCann has the best WAR relative to his playing time.
This concludes the bulk of my presentation. Brian McCann is indeed having a monster year. But is he a top-3 catcher?
I respect Tristan H. Cockcroft’s opinions on matters such as these, especially because he’s a genius. In his most recent Hit Parade column, he ranked McCann as the seventh-best catcher. There are a lot of factors at play, including Mauer’s and Posey’s high BAs and OBPs but offensively miserable lineups in which they are entrenched, Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario‘s poor plate discipline and Lucroy’s OBP that leaves something to be desired.
Since McCann’s first game (May 6)
Victor Martinez: .289 BA, .770 OPS, 8 HR, 39 R, 46 RBI, 26 XBH
Joe Mauer: .333 BA, .901 OPS, 6 HR, 40 R, 29 RBI, 31 XBH
Buster Posey: .314 BA, .869 OPS, 10 HR, 32 R, 40 RBI, 31 XBH
Brian McCann: .286 BA, .913 OPS, 16 HR, 29 R, 44 RBI, 26 XBH
Jonathan Lucroy: .307 BA, .916 OPS, 13 HR, 24 R, 42 RBI, 31 XBH
Wilin Rosario: .262 BA, .722 OPS, 8 HR, 29 R, 33 RBI, 21 XBH
Carlos Santana: .238 BA, .720 OPS, 6 HR, 31 R, 35 RBI, 25 XBH
Performance-wise, McCann is probably fourth-best of the list, although it’s very close. Are six home runs worth more than 28 points of batting average? Possibly. Ultimately, it’s a small sample size, and it’s not going to tell us a whole lot. But McCann has clearly outperformed Rosario or Santana, and all three of their career numbers indicate the trend will likely continue. I like McCann a lot going forward, based pretty heavily on the fact that he’s a part of a good offensive lineup. Mauer, Posey and Lucroy, not so much. And if McCann just steals even a couple of bases like he has done in the past, it will boost his value greatly relative to everyone else.
So yes, I will be bold and declare it: Brian McCann is a top-4 catcher! At least for the rest of the season. Or until Molina comes back. Geez, so many conditions. But if McCann can steal even just three bags, which Martinez has barely done cumulatively in 11 professional years, it will elevate McCann to the top 3. I love Lucroy, but I’m having a hard time not being a little bit skeptical. He rounds out the top 5.
One last bonus stat to bolster McCann’s case…
AB/HR, all MLB players (not limited to catchers):
- Chris Davis, 10.0
- Miguel Cabrera, 11.9
- Pedro Alvarez, 13.6
- Raul Ibanez, 13.8
- Edwin Encarnacion, 14.0
- Brian McCann, 14.2
Oh, and for anyone who dismissed McCann’s .230 batting average and decline in production last year as his demise: sorry.