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.
Rankings are based on a standard 5×5 rotisserie league.
Name – R / RBI / HR / SB / BA
- Paul Goldschmidt – 106 / 116 / 34 / 17 / .292
- Edwin Encarnacion – 101 / 109 / 41 / 6 / .294
- Chris Davis – 102 / 119 / 43 / 3 / .272
- Prince Fielder – 92 / 110 / 33 / 1 / .290
- Albert Pujols – 97 / 102 / 29 / 4 / .295
- Joey Votto – 90 / 90 / 26 / 7 / .310
- Freddie Freeman – 94 / 105 / 27 / 2 / .286
- Adrian Gonzalez – 89 / 102 / 24 / 1 / .297
- Allen Craig – 87 / 112 / 21 / 2 / .293
- Brandon Moss – 85 / 96 / 31 / 2 / .250
- Jose Abreu
- Mark Teixeira – 82 / 96 / 28 / 2 / .259
- Mark Trumbo – 76 / 99 / 34 / 4 / .242
- Eric Hosmer – 78 / 78 / 20 / 13 / .276
- Kendrys Morales – 68 / 83 / 27 / 0 / .283
- Just to be clear: these are my projections, so I’m very familiar with the system and most players’ outputs. Still, it doesn’t mean a few don’t surprise me now and then.
- Hosmer at No. 14 is certainly one of the aforementioned surprises. I’m not as bullish as most other projections, but other projections honestly aren’t too different, either. It’s mainly in the runs and RBI categories where you can find the biggest difference. It’s a toss-up.
- I can’t project Abreu, but I would project him to be almost an identical clone to Moss: 30-homer potential, a batting average that may drag along and modest counting stats (for a first baseman) while playing for a lackluster White Sox team.
- I’m big on Freeman — I think he’s due for a breakout of sorts — but I think being as bullish as ESPN is on his batting average is a mistake. Count on Freeman to provide everywhere else, but I’m expecting more modest numbers, and anything better will be gravy.
- I’ have my doubts about Teixeira, as does everyone else, I’m sure.
- Matt Adams barely missed the cut at No. 16.
- Lastly, yes, Encarnacion is better than Davis, even with injury risk. But as I’ve confessed before I have a huge man-crush on Edwin. Regardless, whether you pick one or the other won’t make a huge difference, barring an unpredictable injury to either one.
Sort FanGraphs’ 2013 hitting statistics by line drive percentage (LD%) and you’ll see an eclectic, albeit very talented, group of hitters. Weirdly enough, Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney tops the list, and the increasingly mystical (perhaps mythical) Chris Johnson of the Atlanta Braves rounds out the top three. Two other names in there are of particular interest to me: the St. Louis Cardinals’ Allen Craig and Johnson’s teammate Freddie Freeman.
One could argue both were poised to break out this year. Craig, in a span of 119 games last year, notched 22 home runs and 92 RBI with a .307 batting average. That’s incredible. It’s hard to fathom would he could do in 162 games.
Well, you’re seeing it, folks: he’s on pace for 16 home runs, 17 tops. He’s hitting .321 (his BAbip is inflated, so treat his average as the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself) and will easily crack 100 RBI barring injury. But where’s the power? He’s already a top-30 player overall, but he potentially be top-15 material.
Bringing it full circle to the line drive rate. It’s 27 percent this year, up from 22.7 percent last year, which had been the highest of his career (Craig debuted in 2010). Elsewhere, his HR/FB rate is 11 percent, down from 17.1 percent last year, aka about two-thirds as many of Craig’s fly balls are turning into home runs as last year. (His career HR/FB rate before this year was above 15 percent.)
The verdict: gap power for days. And I don’t think that’s a permanent change. This year will be the anomaly, not the norm.
Normalizing Craig’s line drive rate to his career mark would net him about 14 fewer line drives. One can argue some of those would be ground balls, but given the nature of a line drive (as in, it’s elevated), I think it’s safe to assume they turn into balls in play characterized as fly balls. So, with 114 fly balls instead of 100 (quick note: 11% HR/FB * 100 FB = 11 HR), let’s normalize his HR/FB rate to something closer to his career norm — it’s about 15 percent now, which is modest, but let’s do it anyway. 15% HR/FB * 114 FB = 17 HR.
SEVENTEEN HOME RUNS. That’s a huge difference. With the season about 70 percent complete, Craig would be on pace for 24 or 25 home runs rather than 16 or 17. And that is the type of hitter I think Allen Craig is.
Sprinkle in a .300 batting average (it’s totally real) and a filthy Cardinals lineup and I think you’re looking at a top-20 overall fantasy contributor, not just top-30. It may not seem like much, but that’s second-round production from a third-round player in a head-to-head snake-style draft or $5 in extra value in a rotisserie auction. And if there’s value to be extracted, by the beard of Zeus I’ll do it.
Freddie, on the other hand, is a bit different. after an impressive rookie campaign — he was in the mix for Rookie of the Year honors but lost out to teammate Craig Kimbrel — has had two weird years since. His batting average tanked to .259 in 2012 only to vault way up to .311 this year. Contrarily, he is on pace to fall short of 20 home runs for the first time in his career during arguably his best hitting year.
So is it? Is it Freddie’s break-out year — batting .311, but on pace to hit his fewest home runs in any season — or will next year be his break-out year? (Sheesh, we have such strict criteria for “break outs”.)
Owners who think this is the type of hitter Freddie is are, I think, sorely mistaken. He’s not a .300 hitter — his BAbip is through the roof this year (his 2011 batting average and BAbip are much more indicative of the type of hitter he will likely be as far as batting average is concerned). And, although he has somewhat disappointed this year, he will certainly hit for power. His LD% and HR/FB rate have fluctuated similarly to Craig’s (they’re the highest and lowest, respectively, of Freddie’s career), although not as severely.
Ultimately, Freddie will probably hit in the neighborhood of 18 home runs this year, which isn’t that many fewer than last year’s total. But I think as Freddie develops as a hitter (and physically as a human being), he will start to elevate those line drives and turn his gap power into 30-homer power. Entering his age-24 year next season, I wouldn’t bet against it. As former manager Bobby Cox once (allegedly) said when Freddie first took batting practice with the Braves, “That’s one of the sweetest left-handed swings I’ve ever seen.”
I’ll bring it back in early 2014, but count on it: Craig and Freddie have true break-out seasons in 2014.
(Note: I called Freddie “Freddie” throughout this post instead of “Freeman.” That’s because I played ball with Freddie — we went to high school together — and it’s weird to call him anything else. Yes, this was a shameless brag. Carry on.)