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First Basemen on the Rise: Gonzo, Dunn, Ike

Posted By Mike Axisa On February 18, 2011 @ 4:15 pm In First Base | 6 Comments

We debuted our first base rankings yesterday and have been breaking down the position a bit more thoroughly since. Today we’ll take a look at three first sackers on their way up the rankings, but unfortunately it’s impossible to have Albert Pujols any higher. Contract year Pujols is an exciting proposition. Here’s three guys climbing the rankings…

Free From Petco Park: Adrian Gonzalez

It’s very difficult for a player of Gonzalez’s caliber to move even further up the rankings, but he got some help from the trade that took him out of the hitting hell hole known as Petco Park and put him into a cozy confines of Fenway Park. StatCorner has a 59 HR and 90 wOBA park factor for left-handed batters in Petco, but 84 and 104 for Fenway, respectively. Furthermore, Gonzalez is a huge opposite field hitter; his 48 homers the other way are the most in baseball over the last three years, and his .535 oppo wOBA is second only to Ryan Howard. Petco is 367-402 feet away in left-center, but Fenway has a gigantic wall that’s just 379 feet away at it’s deepest point in left-center. Adrian will be able to flick his wrists and watch routine fly balls turn into doubles, which will result in a ton of runs scores and RBI with the lineup around him.

There are a few concerns, namely the offseason shoulder surgery and a division loaded with quality left-handed pitching (CC Sabathia, David Price, Ricky Romero, Brian Matusz), but it shouldn’t be enough to scare fantasy owners away. Gonzalez is on the outside of elite fantasy first basemen only temporarily. He’ll almost certainly jump into that group this summer.

Hello U.S. Cellular Field: Adam Dunn

The three-true outcomes poster boy, Dunn has the kind of power that plays in any park but will still assuredly benefit from the move to The Cell. Nationals Park is essentially neutral for left-handed batters (94 HR, 104 wOBA park factors), but the ChiSox’s home turf treats then very well (111 HR, 103 wOBA park factors). Dunn’s hit exactly 38 homers in each of the last two years, so the move should help him get back over 40. There’s not much of an argument to be made there.

It’s definitely worth noting that Dunn posted the lowest walk rate of his career in 2010, just 11.9%, leading to his worst OBP (.356) in seven years. That comes after years of being north of 16 and 17%. Dunn swing at more than 28% of the pitches he saw that were out of the strike zone, by far the highest mark of his career. Was he pressing in a contract year? Yeah maybe. Is it a sign of decline at age 31? Yeah, maybe that too. There’s no reason to fret just yet, and although Dunn won’t give you a batting average worth writing home about (.250-.265ish), the counting stats will be hard to top.

The Sophomore: Ike Davis

The Mets’ first baseman had himself a fine big league debut in 2010, though he was miscast as a cleanup hitter for much of the summer. Although he hit just .264 (.321 BABIP), he walked in 12% of his plate appearances and clubbed 19 homers, 11 of which came away from CitiField. The projection systems have the soon-to-be 24-year-old taking his game up the notch in 2011, with his average climbing into the .270′s and his homer output entering the mid-20′s. The Mets aren’t expected to win much but their offense isn’t bad by any means, with David Wright and Jose Reyes and a rebound from Jason Bay and whatever’s left of Carlos Beltran, so Ike will have plenty of chances to drive in runs and could approach the century mark in RBI.

The only area where Davis really outperformed expectations last season was against left-handed pitching. He had struggled against southpaws in the minors and in college, but he tagged them to the tune of a .354 wOBA (.343 vs. RHP) last year, though he took them deep just thrice. It’s more of a sample size issue (just 138 PA) than real improvement. Cliff Lee and Tom Gorzelanny joined the division this offseason, and as the only lefty power threat in the lineup (not counting switch-hitters), he’ll be the guy getting LOOGY’d to death in the late innings. That said, Davis has legit power and could climb the rankings in a major way this season.

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