There are plenty of things that I am thankful for this year. Adam Jones’ breakout and Melky Cabrera’s PEDs bust which proved his 2011 was indeed unsustainable without a little illegal assistance — two articles and a bold prediction (found here, here and here) I took a mess of heat for in the comments section that still have me smiling at the haters — are two such examples. But what I am most thankful for in the fantasy baseball world is the mess of young, raw talent I own in my primary keeper league that has no contracts and a keeper structure that has a minimal inflation rate. Mike Trout, Brett Lawrie, Jason Kipnis, Jason Heyward, just to name a few. But I can’t keep them all and at first base I am left with a tough choice that I will turn to you for some thoughts: Would you rather keep Paul Goldschmidt or Anthony Rizzo?
Keeping guys at first base is always a tough call given the immense depth we have at the position. It seems like every year you can always find relatively cheap help that still provides you with some nice offensive punch. Last year I picked up Goldschmidt in my draft at a bargain rate and used a free agent claim on Rizzo later on in the year. To hold one would be both inexpensive and wise, given who I expect my league mates to protect. To hold both would be overkill.
In looking at Jeff Zimmerman’s work with the Bill James projections again, the instinct is to keep Goldschmidt and not look back. Both of them have great projections and Rizzo’s even look a little prettier. But as you scale to 600 PA and/or normalize runs and RBI, it would appear that Goldy has the edge. Not to mention, it was Goldy who played the full season and, more or less, exceeded expectations.
Prior to the 2012 season, the expectations of Golschmidt were relatively the same from all around the interwebz. Great raw power, big home run potential, but high strikeouts and a low average were expected. When he began the season ice cold, the expectations and projections seemed like they were going to be pretty accurate. However, as I wrote back in mid-October, once manager Kirk Gibson stopped rotating in Lyle Overbay and just played Goldschmidt regularly, things started to take off. There was a major improvement in plate discipline and from there, the power slowly emerged. By the end of the season, he may have only hit 20 home runs, a slight downgrade from expectations, but he also finished with a .286/.359/.490 slash line and went from a 27.3-percent K-rate at the end of April to a 22.1-percent K-rate at the end of the year. Not to mention the 18 stolen bases he kicked in. Did the .340 BABIP help? Definitely, but in looking at his batted ball rates through the minors, a high BABIP is right in line with his usual numbers.
But Rizzo is certainly no slouch himself. He abused minor league pitching on a regular basis but looked completely over-matched when the Padres brought him up for a cup of coffee in 2011. Now I don’t know exactly how much that failed audition factored into them dealing him to the Cubs, but if it did, it was a blessing in disguise as it sent him to hitter-friendly Wrigley rather than keeping him at Petco which would have killed his left-handed power. When he was finally brought up to the North Side, he took a few games to adjust and then crushed the ball for the month of July, batting .330 with seven home runs and 17 RBI. He slowed down in August as pitchers made the necessary adjustments, but he made a few of his own and took off again in September. The ability to make strong in-season adjustments for a player of his age, in my opinion, is definitely a huge plus. By the end of the year, he was batting .285 with 15 home runs a nd 46 RBI over 368 plate appearances. Adjust that to a full season and you’ve got a year comparable to Goldschmidt but without the steals or as many strikeouts.
Both are in line for full-time duty this season, both will be hitting in prime spots in the batting order and both are expected to take their games to the next level. Do you bank on Goldschmidt maintaining his new level of plate discipline? And if so, will his power push through? Does Rizzo maintain or even improve on his .174 ISO with a full season of at-bats? And if so, will his strikeouts increase? I’m right on the fence here leaning towards Goldschmidt, but could be easily swayed in the opposite direction.