Thoughts on First Base Consensus Rankings

Esteemed full-time employee Eno Sarris has been rolling out our consensus position rankings over the last week or so, with first base being published one week ago today. Three of our four experts consider Albert Pujols to be the fantasy’s best option at the position, which is certainly a very reasonable and safe choice. Pujols has been so great for so long that it’s hard to bet against him, but I happen to be in the minority.

Miguel Cabrera is the best fantasy first baseman (and overall player, really) for me. It’s easy to forget that he’s still just 28 years old and right in the prime years of his career. He’s hit fewer than 30 HR just once in his eight full seasons and posted an average lower than .320 just once in the last six seasons. Miggy is also insanely durable (150+ games all eight years) and piles up the RBI and runs scored. I like his chances of remaining super productive in 2012 more than I do Albert’s, who battled some injuries and had his first bout with mortality last year (meaning a .385 wOBA after ten straight years of .400+). I don’t think park effects matter much with elite guys like this, and I do like Cabrera’s surrounding cast more than I like Pujols. There’s nothing wrong with ranking Albert as the best fantasy first baseman, I just happen to disagree.

The four players following Pujols and Cabrera in the consensus rankings — Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, and Mark Teixeira — are pretty much no-brainers as far as I’m concerned. All four are elite in multiple scoring categories, and frankly you could list them in any order from 3rd through 6th and it would be tough to argue. I love me some Eric Hosmer, but I think Paul Konerko is the safer play this year. Pablo Sandoval, Mike Morse, and Billy Butler are right there for me as well.

Lance Berkman at 12 and Kevin Youkilis at 19 struck me as a little off. I think they’re both just as likely to spend time on the DL this summer even though Puma made it through all of 2011 without a problem. Youkilis is a few years younger and significantly outperformed Berkman from 2008-2010. I would still rank Fat Elvis ahead of Youk, but I think the gap in their fantasy value is much smaller than our consensus rankings suggest.

A little further down the rankings comes the young trio of Freddie Freeman, Carlos Santana, and Ike Davis. Santana is obviously more valuable at catcher, but I still like his production at first more than Freeman’s given his big power. I think the gap in batting average will start to shrink in 2012 as well. I’m a bit of a Davis fanboy — hence my 7th bold prediction — and think he’ll outproduce his Atlanta Braves counterpart. I understand the injury concerns, so I’m not going to argue this point much.

Michael Cuddyer ahead of Mark Reynolds? I’m not so sure about that. Power is becoming harder to find and Reynolds is one of only seven players to hit 30 homers in each of the last three years. There’s not much difference between #18 and #20 in the rankings, but I would have them flip-flopped at the very least. I also think Carlos Pena is criminally underrated at #34 despite his utter lack of batting average. It’ll take a really great argument for me to believes he’s an inferior fantasy option to Adam Lind (#23), James Loney (#28), Kendrys Morales (#29), Brandon Belt (#31), and Justin Morneau (#33). Morales and Morneau have significant health concerns and the Giants just seem to have no interest in playing Belt.

I like Lucas Duda (#24), Edwin Encarnacion (#32), Mike Carp (#35), and Daniel Murphy (#39) as late-round bench player types, though I suppose Duda’s ranking suggests our experts see him as a little more than that. All four players are eligible at other positions as well. First base is probably fantasy’s deepest position, at least when it comes to impact talent. There are useful players throughout our rankings, but I’ve always felt getting an elite player at the position was a requirement for success.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

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Duda is an intriguing guy because he’s huge (6’4″/250), yet he makes excellent contact (almost exactly 80% total career) – those two traits don’t usually go hand-in-hand. If he can recapture some of the incredible power he showed in AAA in ’10 and ’11, slugging .597+ at both stops, and still maintain the contact and plate discipline, he’ll be a hell of a hitter.