Now that we’ve moved on from fantasy’s super-elite producers, it’s time to look at the guys who are a little closer to human. The five players that make up Tier Two of the first base rankings all had incredibly productive seasons in 2011, but they’re all somewhat flawed. That’s okay though, most players are, and these five are still very solid bets for top shelf production in 2012 and are worth one of your keeper spots.
Zach Sanders’ end of season player rankings were included for reference, though they were not the sole criteria used to create these rankings.
Mark Teixeira – $20
The 2011 season was another productive one for Teixeira, who hit the third most homers (39) and drove in the fourth most runs (111) in all of baseball. The problem is that his batting average sunk to .248, down from .256 in 2010 and .290+ from 2007-2009. Teixeira acknowledged that he’s gotten pull happy thanks to Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch late in the year, which is something I looked at back in August. He made some changes to his swing late in the season and intends to continue working on them during the offseason in an effort to get back to being the all-fields monster he was just two years ago. Until we see some actual improvement in the batting average though, count on him for the homers and RBI only.
Paul Konerko – $18
It’s pretty amazing that Konerko went from being a 110 wRC+ guy from age 31-33 before jumping into 148 wRC+ territory the last two seasons. He threatens 30 and 100 regularly, and he’s hit .300 in each of the last two years. If you’re looking for a reason to be skeptical, it’s that his power production declined as the season wore on in 2011. Not a huge red flag though. Konerko is the oldest player in the top three tiers of these rankings at 35 (36 in March), but he’s also the last player you’ll see with a long track record and no injury concerns.
Eric Hosmer – $12
An aggressive ranking? Maybe, but you’re not going to find anyone that doesn’t love Hosmer or expect great things. He provided some very good value as waiver fodder in early-May, hitting .293/.334/.465 with 19 homers and 75 RBI in 128 games. Hosmer even stole eleven bases (in 16 chances), the most among 1B eligible players with at least 250 PA in 2011. His wOBA just kept going up as the season progressed. About the only thing Hosmer doesn’t do right now is draw walks (6.0%), but his minor league track record suggest he will down the line. Bill James projects big things next season (.311/.362/.494 with 23 homers), an after the top seven fantasy first baseman, Hosmer gives you the best chance at true greatness.
Michael Morse – $18
The sample just keeps on getting bigger, and Morse just keeps on producing. He hit a whopping .303/.360/.550 with 31 homers and 95 RBI in 2011, and dating back to the start of 2010 it’s a .298/.357/.539 batting line with 46 homers in 868 plate appearances. Morse’s batted ball profile has changed rather significantly over these last two seasons, as he’s done a much better job of hitting the ball in the air. That sure would explain the spike in homerun rate and overall production. Morse is still in his prime (30 in March) and should have a few more seasons of high-end production left in him. As an added bonus, he’ll be outfield eligible as well.
Freddie Freeman – $10
Freeman shook off a slow start (.227/.319/.355 through the team’s first 45 games) to provide some big value the rest of the way. During his final 114 games of the season (472 plate appearances), he hit .300/.356/.479 with 17 homers. Freeman seems like a safe bet for .280/20/80, but I do have some concerns about his production against left-handed pitchers. He held his own against them in 2011 (.247/.303/.403*), but they did a pretty nice job of keeping him in check in the minors. It’s not a huge red flag, but it is something to keep an eye on because it could have very real impact on his fantasy value in that division.