Check the Position: First Base

Over the offseason we’ll take a look at each position on the diamond and see how the past season affected the positional rankings and where there might be some potential bounceback value picks going into next year’s drafts. (See shortstops, catchers, and second basemen.)

Rankings are the height of subjectivity, of course. Drafts are the expression of the subjective opinions of the different draftees, though, so lets see what we can learn by putting these players in their (subjective, fantasy-oriented) place. Oh, another note: these rankings are for 5×5 rotisserie fantasy baseball. Eligibility was determined by where the player had the most at-bats last year.


It’s probable that Albert Pujols is a tier of his own. He is a true stud in every category when compared to his peers. But without the 15 or so steals, he might belong right along side the other two metronomes in Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera, two young studs at the position who are virtual locks for a plus batting average 35+ home runs, and gobs of runs and RBI. There’s not much to say here other than, since this is a deep position, it’s worth considering comparable middle infielders over these guys – just look how long and balanced this list is.

The third tier has three players that could, in the right year, outperform guys in the second tier. Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Adrian Gonzalez have all had years with power production that has eclipsed that of the two players above them. But they also have their issues. Fielder alternates medium-power years with high-power years, Howard won’t ever put in a plus batting average with his high strikeout rates, and Gonzalez would be more exciting if only he could get his batting average out of the ‘neutral’ territory and into ‘plus’ like the guys in tier two. Maybe, when he walks fewer times with his next team as Dave Cameron seems to have predicted, his BABIP will also regress to his career levels and his batting average will rise, though it’s hard to predict anything more than a .280 number there.

The middle tier provides some real opportunity for value. Each and every member of this tier could easily hit .300 with 30 home runs and good run production next year. Justin Morneau, Lance Berkman and Kendry Morales have all done it before, and Kevin Youkilis has gotten about as close as you can get. Joey Votto seems poised to join their ranks with a full year of strong play. It’s also a well balanced tier – the aging sluggers on their way down sit in front of Youkilis, who seems to have found his niche with a good batting average and modest power for a first baseman. Votto and Morales sit behind him until they prove they can consistently provide more power.

The next tier is called the ‘Dan Uggla‘ tier. These guys will give you power, but in rotisserie baseball you’ll also need to work hard to over come Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena‘s poor batting averages. In head-to-head competition, their value increases because of the option of punting batting average, but in rotisserie you really need to try and compete in every category and their big minus signs are a dark cloud over the rest of their positive contributions.

The last tier could produce some tier-jumpers if the stars align. Should Derrek Lee continue to hit 45% of his balls in the air, he may jut hit another 30 home runs, which would put him in tier four. Billy Butler is still hitting too many worm-burners (47.7% groundballs career), but if can get a little lift into those balls, he’s shown that he’s a strong producer in batting average. At 30 years old, it seems that Adam LaRoche is a strong bet to continue producing at the same mediocre level going forward. He’ll probably drop off the list when a young guy steps forward next year and joins the crowd, but with the strikeout rates that Chris Davis (34.7% career) and Russell Branyan (38.9% career) sport, it’s hard to rely on them to even keep their jobs all year in 2010.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

46 Responses to “Check the Position: First Base”

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  1. Brewer Fan says:

    Pretty funny that Prince is not in the 2nd tier of players

    Lock to hit 35+ homers?

    Mark Teixeira in his 7 years has had 2 seasons over 35 homers.
    Miguel Cabrera in 6 1/2 seasons has had 1.
    Prince Fielder in 4 season’s has had 2.

    162 game avg for all 3.


    MT – .290
    PF – .284
    MC – .311


    MT – 37
    PF – 38
    MC – 33

    RBI’s (Which are impossible to really projected considering you have to have teammates on base)

    MT – 122
    PF – 109
    MC – 117


    MT – 102
    PF – 92
    MC – 98


    MT – 2
    PF – 3
    MC – 4

    Basically all 3 are as even as you can get. And I understand that you put “could outproduce the other 2″. But the reason you give to not include Fielder? Because he has medium-power years? Prince has hit 34+ homers every year but his rookie year. Prince is simply the better player. In real life and in fantasy.

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    • Richie Abernathy says:

      Game. Set. Match.

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    • Aaron says:

      Can you count? Teixeira has had three seasons with 35 or more home runs and 5 seasons of 33 or more home runs. Also Fielder isn’t a good defensive first baseman either. Cabrera has had 5 seasons where he’s hit more than 33 home runs, a mere 2 less than 35.

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  2. Eno Sarris says:

    How much is 30 points of batting worth? 2 home runs? 3 home runs? I don’t know, but it’s worth something.

    Also, between the two players over their entire careers, Prince has had the worst full year. So I feel his ceiling may be as high as tier two, but his basement is lower.

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    • verd14 says:

      I think a roto league that counts avg you’d take Tex & Miggy over Prince. Tier 2 is 4 category guys, where tier 3 are 3.5 category guys.

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  3. coreyjro says:

    I for one am excited to see Teixeira being overvalued. I hope Teixeira moves into the middle-late first round because of the hype. I’d rather have Prince, Miggy, and possibly Howard.

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  4. Eno Sarris says:

    I wouldn’t include Howard in that list in a roto league with that batting average, but I put Teixeira there and yet I would definitely be happy with Cabrera over Teix, especially if I got him after Teix.

    On the other hand, Teix has that team around him and REALLY enjoyed playing at home last year (.627 slugging). He seems so safe, even if he hits fewer homers next year he’ll have the batting average and the RBI…

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  5. R M says:

    I pretty much agree with these….especially Pujols being in his own tier. If you look at runs, nobody else comes close in the category, and nobody hits as consistently high for average as Pujols. And he has league-best homerun potential as well. It’s like all of the good qualities of Ichiro Suzuki and Ryan Howard in one player.

    But I think Fielder needs to be in the second tier. If he is not at least as good as Teixiera (barring injury) next year I will be surprised. If he is better I will not be surprised. Other than his rookie year, he has shown 34 homeruns to be his basement. Teixiera has hit fewer than that as recently as, well, 2006, 2007 and 2008 (remember, 2 of these seasons came at Arlington). As an above poster said slightly differently, Fielder has reached 45+ homeruns in 2 out of 4 seasons. Teixiera has never reached 45 homeruns, has reached 40+ once. So the chances for hitting 40 homers are 2/4 for Fielder and 1/7 for Teixiera, barring injury. Not sure how a few average points (that is if Fielder’s reverts back to the .280’s and doesn’t remain at .300) drops Fielder down a tier.

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  6. Eno Sarris says:

    I tip my cap to you guys, collectively. Prince Fielder belongs in the second tier. I guess seeing some batting averages in the .270s and that rookie year in terms of power (and 2008) just made me more nervous than I needed to be. Your arguments have convinced me in the end.

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  7. Adam Reynolds says:

    I agree that Fielder should be above Tex and Cabrera.

    Next year I’ll be targeting Votto, Butler, and probably Davis at 3B or CI in later rounds. I see Davis improving and not bouncing around like he did in 2009, and if he is entrenched then 30 ding dongs are almost a minimum expectation. But neither of the 3’s price probably jumped too high so I will be in on them again for sure.

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  8. Bobby says:

    What’s with the derrek lee hatin! He may not be quite as good as he was this year, but he’s no where near as terrible as he was in the last couple years (where his power was sapped by a wrist injury). I’d take lee over dunn/pena.

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    • joser says:

      Lee could be as bad as he was at the beginning of the ’09 season, or he could start out strong and end up there, if his wrist starts bothering him again. He has more potential upside than those guys, sure, but plenty of risk to go along with it.

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  9. mariano says:

    Prince is getting screwed ! lol

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  10. Eno Sarris says:

    On Lee, his HR/FB and his FB% were in full-on decline modes before this year, so if he returns to his customary 38% fly ball rate with a 12% HR/FB, I don’t see him hitting 30 home runs again. I think he and Butler have equal chances of hitting 25+ even, but since they were on opposite sides of their peak, I put Butler ahead of him.

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    • Bobby says:

      yes…steep declines following a major wrist injury, I chalk those 2 years up to the injury. I put him at a 15.7 HR/FB 39.72 HR/FB, and 28 homers (if he can manage 650 PA’s). Not 2009 derrek lee, but respectable, especially when you factor in his projected .291 BA (which dwarf’s dunn/pena). Butler is an interesting argument, but I don’t think he’ll quite match lee yet in 2010, particularly in the area of OBP.

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  11. JCA says:

    If you believe that Dunn were a .260+ hitter rather than a .250 hitter or worse, would he move up a tier?

    Last year, his contact rate, line drive rate, fly ball rate were above career averages and his GB/FB was below. His average was either a career high or near it (and well ahead of Pena). Washington’s hitting coach wanted Dunn to be more aggressive, and he seems to have made an adjustment. It is interesting how different his two best batting average years look – 2004 and 2009. Less discipline (O%) but better contact all the way across. With Dunn, he can still make good contact with an expanded strike zone. I’m not arguing that ’09 was a better year than ’04 (not by wOBA), but in terms of fantasy, he may have found a way to pick up his weak spot (average) while maintaining the production.

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  12. Bill Andrews says:

    Not only is Prince Fielder better than Teixeira, but so is Ryan Howard. He will far exceed Tex in HRs, RBIs- and also in SBs. (How much farther up would 8 SBs have gotten you?) Runs is pretty much a push. Look for BA elsewhere as you construct your team. Also for players in leagues such as CDM where you can rotate players in and out, Howard’s inevitable long “totally on fire” stretches of incredible weekly numbers are much more impactful than Tex. My own elite tier is thus
    1- Pujols
    2- Howard, Fielder
    3- Tex, Cabrera

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  13. Eno Sarris says:

    Lee: Bill James is known for wearing rose-colored glasses. I obviously don’t agree. I don’t believe that his wrist was responsible for the decline since it was over a period of three (and more) years. Look at his fly ball rate (steady decline since 2004). Some of it is just age (34).

    Howard: As this ranking was for traditional 5×5 roto leagues, Howard must be penalized for his batting average. In H2H or other types of leagues, his value skyrockets really. But if he hits .250 next year, he’s just a little better than Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena. In roto.

    JCA: That’s a whole ‘nother article. I assume we’ll get into it, and I promise I’ll do it sometime this offseason if it doesn’t happen sooner.

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  14. Nate says:

    Can’t speak for the other guys, but Ryan Howard is almost a platoon guy in dailey H2H leagues.

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    • Bob says:

      Dude, you’re on crack if you platoon Howard in any league.

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      • SleepNowInTheFire says:

        So if Howard is in a cold streak and facing a lefty and you have LaRoche or Branyan facing a mediocre or worse righty, you’re not going to take Howard out, put LaRoche in??? I am… I’m not saying you would platoon Howard all the time, because you obviously don’t. All I’m saying is that it’s not a bad idea sometimes…

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  15. jimbo says:

    Given Tex and Howard will be 30 next year, I would take Fielder over either. He’s shown some improvement as a hitter and at 26 next year, the chance of continued improvement is there.

    Tangent: Why would Bill James projections show a decline in BB/K is coming?? Not sure how you predict a decline in such a stat with a young, seemingly maturing hitter.

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    • R M says:

      It’s probably not a projected decline so much as the fact that it’s pretty tough to maintain a 15.7 BB% from season to season.

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  16. jimbo says:

    How do others feel about Morales? Seems to have good track record, solid peripherals, some positive trends. But from a fantasy perspective he’d require a relatively early pick.

    The difficulty is that he’s one of the last “plus” bats at a position that falls off with the next tier. If one misses out on a more proven stud, how much do you reach for an unproven potential stud?

    If I’m confident in a 26 year old as a solid avg/power guy, then early is okay. But is Butler less risky many rounds later?

    (Sorry if I ask too many fantasy-related questions…feel free to direct me to a more appropriate forum. The one here doesn’t seem very active.)

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  17. Andy S says:

    wtf where is Todd Helton???

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  18. Eno Sarris says:

    Where IS Todd Helton?! I had him in there, I promise. He was in the final tier, behind Adam LaRoche. IF he can stay healthy again, the batting average will be there of course, but not much else.

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    • Bluecaboose says:

      As much as I love Todd, he really does belong in that tier. His value for me was great last year (I picked him up in a very late round and slotted him in util on a team with Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla where his BA was quite welcome. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Helton is one of those players who just doesn’t project well in fantasy terms. While his good defense and .400+obp are great for the rockies, he is at best an average first baseman who ends up excelling in only one typical fantasy players, and even at that he’s no longer a batting title contender typically. .320/90/15/90/0 would be numbers worthy of consideration at 3rd/Catcher/middle infield, but he suffers from playing at an elite hitting position in an age of elite hitters.

      As for the Prince Fielder tier argument, these tiers are in name only. Albert Pujols is essentially in a tier of his own due to stability and because he is probably the #1 overall pick, but no name on this list until you start getting down to bottom is a real risk to your team. All of the top 3 tiers are capable of putting up .280/120/35/100 without really breaking a sweat (well aside from Ryan Howard, but he makes up for the probable lower average with more power, and an absolutely loaded lineup.)

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  19. Eno Sarris says:

    There are two problems with Morales. 1) He made his full-season debut this year at 27 (and owns a birth certificate from the Caribbean, which is often problematic). Debuting late usually means he’ll peak quickly and drop off quickly. 2) He didn’t show as much power in the minor leagues.

    I’ve seen arguments that he should be in the tier with Lee and Butler because of his risk, but I see him as the most likely of the three to hit 30 homers next year, so that’s why he’s in the middle tier. On the other hand, I’m not going to spend a pick on him if he goes ahead of Lance Berkman and Joey Votto because those guys have done it longer in the major leagues.

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  20. R M says:

    Well….the difference in stats between Morales and Butler may not be huge, and the difference in their draft positions may be. So I guess it depends on how early Morales goes vs. how late Butler goes. If the difference is significant it may be smart to pick up a very good player at another position when Morales is going off the board and pick up Butler much later….because Butler+player with similar ADP to Morales is probably going to be worth more than Morales+player with similar ADP to Butler, if you make reasonable picks for those slots.

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    • jimbo says:

      If I “knew” where Butler would go, I’d agree with the value aspect. Problem is waiting and taking the risk that Butler goes 2 picks before where I want him. That kind of stuff puts me on tilt. Then you’re talking G Jones as Plan B (which actually may not be so terrible).

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      • R M says:

        The draft isn’t the be-all end-all of acquiring players. If for some reason it does so happen that Butler gets taken 2 slots before you were going to take him, there’s no need to panic and take a guy like Jones above slot because you don’t have a 1b. If you draft well you will have players that you can trade for a 1b….I mean how much is a Billy Butler type going to cost you in a non-keeper league? Probably not a whole lot. How much is the player at a scarcer position that you didn’t get when you were safely drafting Kendry Morales going to cost? A lot more, that’s for sure.

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  21. Eno Sarris says:

    If agree with you about Butler and Morales and their draft positions, does that mean I should have dropped Morales into the final tier? I was considering doing that, but at least Morales has hit 30 before where Butler is still mostly projection.

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    • R M says:

      Are you talking to me? If so, I think you made the right decision keeping Morales a tier above….it is hard to say whether Butler will improve and Morales will regress and they will meet in the middle…there are definitely signs that Butler will improve, but if Morales’s power stays, then he belongs a tier above Butler in 2010.

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  22. joser says:

    One thing about Gonzales — HitTracker has him at the top of its list of lucky homers this year. Sure, Pujols is up there too, but he’s second on their list of “no doubters” as well — and Pujols can afford to have a handful of HRs taken off his total without affecting his value much. Can you say the same about AG?

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    • Bluecaboose says:

      Gonzalez plays in the most strenuous pitchers park in the league. If he gets traded away from petco, his homers will be normalizing the other direction.

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    • R M says:

      I hear a lot of people citing those homerun classifications, but I don’t get why it matters. Gonzalez’s power is obviously no fluke…there will always be some shorter and some longer homeruns….so what if he got lucky on a few more than usual?

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  23. Opie says:

    Morneau in an aging slugger on the decline? He’s two years younger than Youk…

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  24. Eno Sarris says:

    Good point, but he just seems to be one of those players that ages before their time. He’s only 28 but he’s already had two season where he’s missed 20+ games to injury, freak or not. Also, with the batting average difference and the fact that, despite seemingly having more power potential, he hasn’t really cashed in on it beyond 30ish home runs, I had a hard time placing Morneau. If you’re a fan, I don’t think you can really complain with his placement in the end.

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  25. Opie says:

    Oh I totally agree with the placement. That tier is spot on, and usually where I would be shooting for a first baseman in the draft. There’s less of a decline in talent at first in the middle rounds than other positions.

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  26. Let’s hope Agon gets traded this offseason. More information in the name link, but Petco depressed offense by 25.9% last season and a move from Petco to Fenway would have seen his HR total jump to the +50 range

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  27. Eric K says:

    Where Paul Konerko?

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  28. Josh Halley says:

    How did Chase Utley not make this list?

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  29. Davis can rake. Upon his return in the second half, he posted a .300+ BA and a handful of HR while cutting the k rate to the 25-26 percent range. If Davis has a 25-30% k clip, a 30 HR 285+ ba season (thanks to the sick LD rate) are entirely plausible. If its 40% like it was in the first half…well…

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  30. Doc Richie says:

    Can’t believe Konerko doesn’t show up at all. Branyan? Blalock? Overpay? Please.

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