First Basemen


RotoAuthority Unscripted: Replacing the Irreplaceable--Goldschmidt and McCutchen

Maybe someday, years from now, this will be remembered as the day Javier Baez made his debut. Maybe someday, while he’s giving his Hall of Fame induction speech after having led the Chicago Cubs to several World Championships, you’ll think back on this day with a tear of gratitude in your eye—grateful that you read this and remembered to scurry over to your fantasy baseball website and pick him up, that you got in on the ground floor of Baez’s career because you read this column.

Or maybe not. But if you haven’t checked it yet, go check your site just in case. Baez might still be there.

Okay, that’s done and you're back. Which is good, because this column isn’t about Baez; that was just a public service announcement.

In the last couple days, we’ve had several star players either hit the DL or get the bad news that they won’t be coming back from the DL this season. Or both. How do you replace Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Cliff Lee, or Matt Cain? Well…you don’t. But technically you have to try. And frankly, it might be tough to replace what you hoped to get from those “star” pitchers, even if it won’t be any trouble replacing what you actually got from them. And I know you didn’t draft Gonzo without his backup in mind, so I’m not going to worry too much about him or the hurlers. The big hits are Goldy and McCutch.

We’ll take a look at similar—albeit lesser—players that could be available via trade or the waiver wire to help you recoup some of your production. 

If you don’t have these guys you can skip today’s column…except that anyone who can stand in for Goldschmidt and McCutchen can probably play just fine on your team anyway. So don't touch that dial....

Replacing Paul Goldschmidt (broken hand: out at least 8 weeks)

“Realistically, he’s done for the year.” –Manager Kirk Gibson

19 HR/75 R/69 RBI/9 SB/ .300 AVG/.396 OBP/.542 SLG 

Good luck finding another slugging first baseman with some speed…though you could try swinging a trade for Todd Frazier (16 SB), but then he’s been arguably better than Goldy and plays third base, so good luck with that. Jose Bautista is another high-end possibility to replace Goldschmidt’s production (five surprising steals even).

Chris Carter is one of only four first basemen (Goldy included) with more than one steal in the last month, and he’s knocked eight homers in that span. As a plus, he’s only owned in about half of fantasy leagues, so he might be on your waiver wire.

Lucas Duda (68% owned in Yahoo! leagues) is still available in the shallowest leagues and may be easier to pry away from his owner than others. We’ve thrown the speed away at this point, though. Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira make decent trade targets as well; they’ve delivered some nice power, but don’t expect much out of the average category.

For waiver wire searchers, Juan Francisco (15% owned) and Mark Reynolds (17% owned) might be available, though you’re going to really be hurting in average if you go that route.

A final, unorthodox choice could be Daniel Murphy, who produces not in power but in speed (11 steals) and average (.296). Of course, he's currently manning someone’s second base slot, so that might make him more expensive than most single-digit-homer first basemen.

Full disclosure: CBS.Sports’s Scott White put out a whole column on this topic, but I promise I didn’t read it until I wrote the above. He’s got some ideas I didn’t think of, so go check it out. Subscription required…I think? 

Replacing Andrew McCutchen (oblique: perhaps 3-4 weeks)

17 HR/64 R/67 RBI/17 SB/.311 AVG/.411 OBP/.536 SLG

The bad news is that power/speed outfielders who hit for average don’t grow on trees. That’s why we picked this one in the early half of the first round. The good news is that there might be more such players in the outfield than at first. 

A pretty good comp is Hunter Pence, who’s going 15/10 in homers and steals and batting .289. Breakout All-Star Michael Brantley has maybe been even better than McCutch, with 16 homers, 12 steals and a .322 average, as has Charlie Blackmon—14 homers, 20 steals, and a .296 average. Okay, maybe not better. Quieter breakout player Brett Gardner has 15 homers, 18 steals and a .284 average, so similar-ish players aren’t quite as hard to find as I’d expected. Carlos Gomez 15 homers, 22 steals, and a .291 batting average is another star-level guy you could look to. Another  Hmm…Pence is looking easier and easier to trade for….

I tried to look for a true power/speed threat without the corresponding good batting average to keep the trade price down—kind of what B.J. Upton used to be—and the closest I could come was Desmond Jennings (9 homers, 13 steals, .240 average). Actually, Curtis Granderson (13 homers, eight steals, .220 average) was closer…no, he’s been pretty much the same, but with his number dragged down by a worse April. This position isn’t what it used to be…year ago. 

How about some cheaper options? McCutchen’s teammate Josh Harrison has five homers and five steals this month and has flashed good skills in both categories. If you want a buy-low candidate, Jay Bruce has 10 each of steals and homers…but the average isn’t there on good years. Shin-Soo Choo is another buy-low guy who profiled as a McCutchen-lite last year…and has thus far been a bench outfielder…lite.

Drew Stubbs is having a resurgent year that just won’t seem to quit (five homers, four steals, a .363 average this month) and is available in most leagues (just 17% owned). If Gonzalez misses time, Stubbs’s play should be even safer. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara (14%) has shown some power/speed ability and is still on plenty of waiver wires. Those in very deep leagues might want to consider Grady Sizemore (6%), who’s smacking the ball well for his new Phillies squad.

To all of us that just lost McCutchen or Goldschmidt there isn’t much to say…other than at least you probably couldn’t have lost both first-rounders, right?



RotoAuthority Unscripted: What to Do with Albert Pujols?

Last week, I got into a comments debate about Albert Pujols with a reader known only as “Tom.” We went back and forth on Pujols’ value, his outlook for the rest of the season, and whether or not a particular trade involving a number of high profile players makes sense. At one point I--harried with the huge demands of being a big-time fantasy expert (or was it my day job?)--promised to put off finishing my analysis of Albert Pujols. 

Well, Tom, here’s your answer. Since this is RotoAuthority Unscripted, I promise to go into this article and my investigation without cherry-picking the evidence to fit my original recommendation—I’ll go where the facts lead me. As best as I can understand them. Also, I promise not to make this a particularly well-organized article. I take the “unscripted” label very seriously.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Albert Pujols was once among the greatest players to ever live, spending 10 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, with lows of 32 homers, .299 batting average, 99 RBI, 99 Runs Scored, and 143 Games Played. Seriously, those are the worst numbers he put up in the decade from 2001-2011. So…you could say that things have changed somewhat, as Pujols has only exceeded those career lows in one stat since moving to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (Is that even still their name? Can’t we just go back to California Angels?) He drove in 105 RBI in 2012. It’s been a story of ageing, huge paydays, dropping BABIP’s, bad defence, the inability to run, and plantar fasciitis. Maybe LA isn’t for everyone.

So, that’s the past, but it’s an important backdrop to what’s going on with Pujols now, because your fantasy team isn’t locked into a hundred ten-year contract with him, and his play this year hasn’t been unambiguously good or bad. So, is he someone to trade for or someone to trade away? And what can we really expect to see from him for the next four months?

 Here’s the Pujolsian line thus far in 2014.

Runs

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

35

15

35

2

.245

.304

.486

 And here are some of his slightly-farther-under-the-hood numbers.

BB%

SO%

ISO

BABIP

7.0%

12.6%

.241

.226

So his production has been pretty ambiguous: the power is there (15 homers ties him for 8th in MLB) but he’s killing you in average and probably worse in OBP. His ISO is pretty good for the “New Albert” (starting 2011), and actually fits into the lower range of the earlier, better part of his career. His BABIP, however is by far the worst of his career and marks the third year in a row of decline.

Nice! We can chalk Albert’s struggles up to some bad luck, assume that his average will bounce back and be happy that it hasn’t hurt his power in the meantime. Right?

With a mid-career player, or one who hasn’t been hobbled by injuries that line of thinking would work just fine. But that’s not what we have. There are two other serious possible explanations for Pujols’ BABIP troubles, neither of which recommend him very well at all: one or more important skills has permanently regressed due to age; he remains injured, perhaps chronically so, impacting one of those “important skills.” In the bad-luck scenario, Pujols is an easy trade for candidate. In the other scenarios, he may well be someone you should be shipping off your team…or maybe still trading for, if the price and your expectations are low enough.

Let’s take a look at some of Pujols’ batted ball data, and see how this is happening.

 

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

2014

1.14

15.9

44.9

39.3

20.2

17.9

Career

1.02

18.9

41.0

40.1

13.1

18.7

 Once again, we’ve got a seriously mixed bag here. I’ve bolded the three most interesting numbers. The first is his line drive percentage—it’s way down from his career numbers—so that’s actually pretty easy to see as the cause of his BABIP troubles…but it leaves the answer unknown: is it down due to skill diminution or bad luck? Where have those line drives been going?

Straight up in the air it turns out: his popups (IFFB’s) are far above his career norms, and even far above his more recent, less illustrious years. So that’ll kill your BABIP right there, hitting a bunch of popups instead of liners. I’ve always heard that popups are just a hair off of flyballs, so maybe the increased infield flies are the result of Pujols trying for more power on every swing…just a guess, so don’t bank on that one. It is worth noting, though, that his previous highest IFFB rates came much earlier in his career, in higher-power years.

The last number to stand out significantly is that HR/FB rate that’s actually pretty close to his career norm. That’s a big deal because this rate is by far the highest that he’s posted as an Angel. If he has changed his approach to get more power, it’s working. 

In our comment debate, Tom mentioned that Pujols’ flyball distance is about ten feet less than his career norm. I assume that rate is counting infield flies among the flyballs—so I think we’ve found our culprit for the statistical oddity of shorter flies and more homers at the same time. All those popups. We may be back to the drawing board if the flyball distance doesn’t count IFFB’s though. I honestly couldn’t find that information, so if you know, I’ll be happy to be shown the light, either way. 

Pujols has been hot and cold this season: he was a fantasy monster to start the season, putting up huge numbers in March/April, and he’s cooled a fair bit since then. In particular, Pujols’ strikeout rate shot up and his homers went way down. It’s too early to say if the strikeouts are a one-month aberration or a trend. Nine homers in a month, however, is probably just something to be happy about and not expect every time out. Most of his other indicators were pretty similar, however, including his BABIP: .237 in March/April and .241 in May. (Things aren’t off to such a good start in June, either, but we’ll let that go for now).

The elephant in the room is still that BABIP, with it’s thinly veiled suggestion of debilitating injury. Pujols certainly doesn’t look so great running, and his defence isn’t exactly what it used to be, but he’s played in 61 of the Angels’ 62 games, 47 of them at first base. It’s entirely possible that his foot is still bothering him…but less possible to prove. As far as placing odds on his health for the rest of the season…well, I wish I could, because I’d be a lot better at fantasy baseball if I had that kind of clairvoyance.

Pujols has had one killer month and one less-than-awesome month, and—by the looks of it—he’s done a bit of self-reinvention. If he doesn’t still have the skills to be baseball’s best all-around hitter, he’s concentrating on power, even at the cost of more whiffs, more popups, and a lower batting average. The results are there in the home runs, and with a good lineup around him, you can expect them to be there in RBI and Runs Scored as well. 

After taking another look at Pujols, I feel less confident that he’ll be doing much to drag his average up into levels that help you out. I do suspect that he’s lost something when it comes to his hit tool. That said, I also suspect that he’s run into some good, old-fashioned small sample luck: a .226 BABIP is really low, and I think it will go up a bit, brining his .245 average in to a more palatable level. 

I also think his power is pretty real: the homers are serious, and they’re not just the most important part left in his game, they’re also the most important fantasy category. Now, before you have me down as predicting that he'll keep up with his early homer pace and have 45 homers under his belt by the season's end, I'll admit that his HR/FB rate has probably also gotten some small sample luck--just the good kind. 

But even if Pujols only manages five homers per month for the rest of the season (his low end this year), he'll still end up with about 35 bombs--that's pretty good. I honestly wouldn't be shocked if it were even a little better than that. Given the leaguewide diminishing levels of power, getting a serious homer source should be a high priority for just about everybody. Pujols may have just one thing left, but he’s got the one thing we all need the most. That, combined with getting a good deal based on his recent slumping, seems to make him a strong trade for candidate. I’d pull the trigger on a Pujols deal. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t deal him away for the right price either….

 

 

 



Go Bold or Go Home: Big Papi, Big Value

So, I was going over my personal rankings with my wife the other night (pause while it sinks in, just how lucky I am) when she noticed something (another pause to consider how lucky I am) that seemed off.

David Ortiz.

See, the guy is a beast and we—like almost everyone else—had him buried in our lists, off in his own little land of DH-ness, where his (spoiler alert) ADP of 60ish seemed pretty reasonable. But we were prepping for a Yahoo! league, and in such leagues Big Papi the DH is eligible at 1B, so we had to slot his name and statistics somewhere in between Paul Goldschmidt and Gaby Sanchez. Where he landed challenged everything we knew about fantasy baseball. (My wife’s good at that—she’s a bit of a roto iconoclast.)

Let’s look at some blind stats to overcome any potential bias:

2013 Numbers

Name

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player A

82

25

106

.279

.362

.457

Player B

89

23

109

.319

.396

.501

Player C

84

30

103

.309

.395

.564

Player D

49

17

64

.258

.330

.437

Player E

86

17

79

.302

.353

.448

2014 Projections (Oliver)

Name

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player A

72

21

79

.270

.354

.448

Player B

80

22

86

.305

.383

.496

Player C

84

29

97

.294

.388

.538

Player D

71

22

82

.265

.332

.448

Player E

77

16

74

.299

.354

.455

Okay, so we’ve got five very good, borderline-elite first basemen here, all well worth some draft day attention, though Player D has it a bit rough. What are their ADP’s? I’d assign them a mental guess before reading on. Go for it.

Okay, here are the numbers:

Player A: 14.2
Player B: 29.6
Player C: 60.6
Player D: 44.6
Player E: 56

Player A really stands out by ADP, but not by as much statistically. The player with the most homers has the lowest ADP. Which leads us to the unsurprising reveal:

Player A: Prince Fielder
Player B: Freddie Freeman
Player C: David Ortiz
Player D: Albert Pujols
Player E: Eric Hosmer

Something tells me that the fantasy community has our collective priorities a little mixed up. I mean, I get that DH-only eligibility can make it tough to fill out your roster late in the draft. It can create headaches when injuries hit. And I get that Ortiz will probably sit for half the interleague games. Okay, that’s probably worth a round or so of lowered draft value in leagues Ortiz can’t play first. Cool. In Yahoo! leagues, though, it should barely register, as he managed over 600 PA in four of the last five years.

I also get that Ortiz is old. So old that he had a 9-homer season when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’s record. So old that we all gave up on him as too old once before…five years ago. So there’s the worry that his age will catch up to him all at once and he’ll look like Ryan Howard or Jason Giambi. It’s a real enough worry, I get it.

But really—the best hitter of the bunch is the last one drafted? (And drafted after Allen Craig, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Trumbo too.) It’s like we’re collectively assuming that Ortiz will turn pumpkin, not just preparing for the possibility. Big Papi deserves a lot more love than this. And he’ll return it if he can do anything close to his Oliver projection (which pegs him for similar playing time to last year).

I’m on record against liking Prince in the first round, but I’ll grab him in the second, and I’ll understand if the DH playing time limitations or the age difference bumps him up your list and over Ortiz. It does for me, even.

As for Freeman, he’s got his age working for him, so that’s nice…but Ortiz really offers a lot more power than Freeman has ever shown. Those two actually seem like the closest players in this evaluation.

Pujols is at least as risky as Ortiz, what with having so much value to make up after last year. It’s certainly not a given that Hosmer develops into a high-power guy, either. In short, we aren’t talking about comparing Ortiz to a bunch of surefire impact players.

I’d draft Ortiz as early as the third, right around the time that Freeman goes. I almost did yesterday, in fact…but I thought he would last just one round longer and someone else jumped on him. In fact, I’d leave Freeman on the board to take Big Papi, but I think it’s a matter of preference and projection system between the two—it’s that close a call.

What isn’t a close call is the difference between Ortiz and the crowd after him and Freeman: the Pujols/Hosmer/Gonzalez/Craig/Trumbo section. By the numbers, Ortiz hits like a first round pick, and gets pushed down by the fact that he’s a DH and he’s 38. Is that really enough to make a first rounder a sixth rounder? I’m pretty sure it ain’t.

I targeted Ortiz yesterday and missed because I thought I could squeeze just a little more value out of drafting him. I ended up with Mark Trumbo at first. I like Trumbo well enough, but there are about a thousand points of batting average between the two guys. I’m not making the same mistake again. I’m targeting Ortiz, even if it takes a third round pick. I'll catch some mockery in the draft room, but I'm not gonna be listening as I slot Big Papi in at first base and his production carries my team as far as it's carried the Red Sox.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: First Base

There is depth at first, especially in power, but that doesn't mean you can afford to wait for the position: you'll be needing that depth. First base is where you turn for your cornerstone player, for your CI slot, and for Utility and bench depth. That is to say: a good fantasy team has more than one first baseman. Kind of like the Mariners, but you really don't have to care about defense.

Last Saturday, we ranked the catchers, and a week ago we did the outfield. Check out those rankings alongside first base, because there's a lot of overlap between first basemen and those two positions. So when catchers or outfielders show up in these rankings, remember that this is where they rank if you're drafting them for first base.

Rounds are given with tiers more to help you separate the values of players than tell you which round to target the player. In any given draft, values will show up at different times, and the whole league may be up or down on a position. Whether or not you should stick to your rankings or go with the flow depends on the situation, your strategy, and the effects your particular league settings have on position scarcity and the value of pitchers.

Tier 1: First Rounders

1. Paul Goldschmidt

2. Chris Davis

3. Edwin Encarnacion

4. Joey Votto

 Goldschmidt isn't really in this tier, he's in Zero-Tier by himself as the third overall pick. Davis offers more power than anyone else in the draft, and you can argue his upside as worth a top-five selection...or focus on his regression risk and argue for him in the second. Votto is nearly for batting average what Davis is for homers, and he's an extremely safe early pick. Encarnacion takes a sort of middle ground by offering overall production and a risk level between that of Davis and Votto. In Yahoo! leagues, he's 3B eligible, which is very awesome.

 Tier 2: Just Below Elite (2nd-3rd Rounds)

 5. Prince Fielder

6. Freddie Freeman

Park factors won't save Fielder from regression, but they might wash it out a little. He's distinctly less valuable than the four guys ahead of him, but still a solid lineup anchor. Freeman may not post such a high average next year, but he's young enough to expect some skill improvement and carries significantly fewer red flags than the next set of guys.

 Tier 3: The Safety's Off (4th-5th Rounds)

 7. Mark Trumbo

8. Albert Pujols

9. Eric Hosmer

10. Adrian Gonzalez

10.5 David Ortiz

Trumbo could be a three-category monster in Arizona with all that power. Watch Pujols carefully in Spring Training, especially anything to do with playing the field, running, or his feet. Warning signs should bury him on your lists, but successful play could bump him into Tier 2. Picking Hosmer here is betting that he'll compound his improvements from last year. Gonzalez is like the lite version of Votto: good average, low risk, so the opposite of his tier-mates. If David Ortiz is 1B-eligible in your format (read: Yahoo! leagues), he's worth taking with this tier.

 Tier 4: Risk and Reward (6th-7th Rounds)

 10.6 Buster Posey

11. Jose Abreu

12. Allen Craig

If your league hates catchers, here's where you should take Posey to play first. What will Abreu do? I have no idea--but the power potential makes it very intriguing to find out. He's even more interesting to me if you've already taken one first baseman. Craig is a bit overrated (maybe playing for the Cards will do that these days), has a lengthy injury history and rocked a massive BABIP last year. He'll produce, but don't reach for him. 

Tier 5: All About Upside (8th-9th Rounds)

13. Brandon Belt

13.5 Joe Mauer

14. Anthony Rizzo

14.5 Carlos Santana

15. Mike Napoli

16. Matt Adams

16.5 Billy Butler

16.6 Michael Cuddyer

Belt took significant steps forward last season, and could put together the last piece of the puzzle: homers. Even if he doesn't, he should offer fine production in a surprisingly good Giants lineup. Rizzo disappointed last year. If you think his struggles were mostly due to his low BABIP, bump him up a tier. If you think maybe that low BABIP was due to a skill he hasn't developed yet, drop him down a tier. If you aren't sure, this is a decent place to take a chance on his upside. Napoli isn't the healthiest guy in the world and needs a stratospheric BABIP to post an okay average...but he should provide plenty of homers and RBI.

By rounds, this is a pretty aggressive Adams ranking, so wait on him if you think you can get away with it. He was a partial-season monster, though, and St. Louis seems intent on giving him the job (but watch their spring carefully just in case). Mauer and Santana's skills probably translate to this tier in first base--definitely take them after Posey is gone.

If Butler has 1B eligibility, he belongs in this tier, as does Cuddyer. Both are a big step ahead of Tier 6.

Tier 6: Hey, Nobody's Perfect (10th-15th Rounds)

17. Brandon Moss

18. Nick Swisher

19. Adam Lind

20. Adam LaRoche

21. Chris Carter

22. Kendrys Morales

22.5 Jonathan Lucroy

Moss and Lind are platooners, but their power rocks in daily leagues. Frankly, it's even good enough to cover for their off days in deep weekly leagues. Swisher and LaRoche used to be unexciting, dependable options until they disappointed last year. They both hit in quality lineups, however, and a little bit of bounceback could provide fine fantasy value. Carter can hit a ton of homers, but his batting average black hole will suck away a lot of their value. He can be particularly useful on teams that punt the category, use OBP, or can afford to balance him out with high-average players. Morales's value will depend a lot on where and if he gets a job. I can honestly see him opening the season unemployed, so I won't be taking him until he signs somewhere.

Tier 7: First Base Isn't as Deep as You Thought (15th-20th Rounds)

23. Justin Morneau

24. Adam Dunn

25. Yan Gomes

26. Corey Hart

26.5 Michael Morse

27. Todd Frazier

27.5 Victor Martinez

27.6 Chris Johnson

28. Yonder Alonso

29. James Loney

29.5 Daniel Murphy

29.6 Daniel Nava

Morneau has upside since he'll play in Coors Field. Dunn ought to still have some of that old power--but man, is the average bad. Gomes is an interesting sleeper...for a catcher, so you can see how rough things have gotten. Hart is one to watch in Spring Training. It was only two years ago that he was putting 30 homers out of the park. Morse could be interesting as well. If either is truly healthy, they might be worth bumping up a tier. Frazier could conceivably bounce back from a low-BABIP year. Martinez, Johnson Alonso, Loney, and Nava shouldn't hurt you in average, which is more than you can say for the players below this level.

Tier 8: No (After Round 20)

30. Mark Teixeira

31. Ryan Howard

32. Ike Davis

33. Mark Reynolds

34. Mitch Moreland

35. Justin Smoak

36. Paul Konerko

37. Garrett Jones

Teixeira and Howard may have a little power left--or they may not. Will Davis be able to hold up a decent batting average? Or even a bad one? If Reynolds has the power to be a usable bench option. Moreland could help with runs and RBI in that Texas lineup. Smoak may have one last chance to fulfill some promise. Konerko probably won't get too much playing time, with Abreu and Dunn looking much better. Oh, Garrett Jones. Oh, the Marlins.

If you're filling in your DH or Util slot, or if you're playing a Yahoo! league, the ranks of Tiers 7 and 8 swell with catchers, outfielders and DH's with a few games played at first. Don't forget about them, as many produce more than the real first basemen on the list.

The moral of first base: don't wait! Yes it's deep, but you need lots of them on your team. I love building my offense with a first-rounder and then locking up my CI or Util slot a few rounds later with two heavy hitters, but there are intriguing options all the way down to Tier 6. At a minimum, try to get two players above Tier 7--I really don't suggest trying to rely on anyone below that. As for Tier 8 guys, try your best to stay away. Far away.


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Draft Round Battles: Gonzalez Vs. Pujols

It's easy to form an attachment to one of your fantasy team's former stars, and since Albert Pujols has undoubtedly swung countless leagues over his 13-year career, this built-up affection might explain why Pujols is getting a lot of draft cred.  Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position reports are showing that Pujols is still going in the third round (35.17 ADP) of most mock drafts, a generous showing for a 34-year-old who played only 99 games in 2013 and is coming off the worst season of his career.

I use the term "worst" accurately, though somewhat lightly.  Pujols hit .258/.330/.437 with 17 homers, 64 RBI and 49 runs scored over 443 PA.  That was still good enough for an 111 wRC+ and, if projected over a full season, those counting numbers start looking a lot more Pujolsian.  While there are certainly reasons to be concerned about how Pujols will perform in 2014, maybe you can add me to the "he's still Albert!" club since I'll defend that late-third round ADP placement, even to the point of preferring Pujols ahead of another certain Los Angeles first baseman in Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez's own ADP is 67.67, and while there are a lot of first basemen hovering in that sixth round position, I'm a little stunned that A-Gon is behind Chris Carter (62.58), Jose Dariel Abreu (64.64) and Brandon Moss (67.58).  Seriously?  Mock drafters prefer Captain Strikeout, a rookie prospect with holes in his swing and a platooner ahead of one of the most durable and productive hitters of the last decade?  I certainly think Gonzalez merits a higher draft placement than that....though not ahead of Pujols.

Let's start the draft battle by acknowledging the elephant in the room, durability.  Since 2007, Gonzalez has averaged 160 games per season.  Pujols had a strong record of durability himself before last season, when he was hobbled by (and eventually shut down early because of) plantar fasciitis in his left foot.  Pujols had been bothered by the injury for a decade with little effect on his play, though the pain intensified in 2013 and he partially tore his plantar fascia in July.  That small tear, however, may have spared Pujols from surgery and now he says he's ready to go for Opening Day.

Since plantar fasciitis can be the kind of injury that never goes away, you have to wonder if Pujols' health will really hold up for the majority of a season.  Even if the foot is totally fine, you still have to consider Pujols' age (34) and a couple of knee injuries in recent years.  If you're drafting solely on having a first baseman for as many games as possible, Gonzalez is the safer pick.

If both men are healthy, however?  Well, if both players end up with roughly the same number of plate appearances, I'll go with Pujols.  While there's no doubt that Pujols' performance has been in decline over the last two seasons, I can't help but feel that his struggles have been somewhat exaggerated by all the hype over Pujols' ten-year, $240MM contract and the fact that his decline began basically as soon as he put on an Angels uniform.  Check these numbers out from 2012-13...

Pujols: 1113 PA, 134 runs, 47 homers, 169 RBI, .275/.338/.485, 130 OPS+

Gonzalez: 1325 PA, 144 runs, 40 homers, 208 RBI, .296/.343/.462, 121 OPS+

Despite the additional 212 PA, Gonzalez still falls behind Prince Albert in homers and OPS+, and you have to figure that with equal playing time, Pujols would've caught up in runs.  Despite all the bad press and the contractual albatross label hanging around his neck, Pujols has still been the best first baseman in L.A. over the last two seasons.

Gonzalez, of course, has been dealing with some physical issues himself in recent years.  He underwent shoulder surgery prior to the 2011 season and, as Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan has illustrated, Gonzalez has since become primarily a pull hitter and his power has greatly diminished.  A-Gon's .166 ISO in 2012-13 was well below his .207 career average, and it's possible Gonzalez's overall hitting numbers would've been lower were it not for a .325 BABIP over the same period (Pujols has a .273 BABIP over the last two seasons, by the way).

Also, Pujols' critics have noted that he's posted the three lowest walk rates of his career over the last three seasons, and since 2010, Pujols has recorded three of the three highest strikeout rates of his career.  To recap, that's an 8.7% walk rate and a 10.7% strikeout rate from 2011-13 for Pujols --- that still tops Gonzalez's 8% walk rate and 16% strikeout rate over the same span.  While those three-year percentages represent a bigger drop from previous career norms for Pujols than they do for Gonzalez, let's also remember that Pujols was putting up ridiculous, all-time great numbers from 2001-10.  Naturally he has further to fall since he's coming from a greater height, and yet even the 2011-13 beta version of Pujols is still getting on base more and striking out less than Gonzalez.

To steal a line from Mark Twain, rumors of Pujols' fantasy demise have been greatly exaggerated.  With a little more batted-ball luck (and less plantar fasciitis pain) over the last two years, Pujols might've made the Angels feel less terrified a bit better about that long-term investment.  If Pujols really has put his foot issues behind him, it's hard to argue that Gonzalez is the better option.  While there is certainly no shame in being considered "a poor man's Albert Pujols," it doesn't look like Gonzalez will escape that label even at this late date in Pujols' career.



The Market Report: First Basemen

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Last week began our look at how the market values players at each position. Once again, we'll use ADP data from Couch Managers and group players with similar ADPs into tiers to demonstrate which ones are considered roughly equal in value in the fantasy marketplace. I'll then discuss a few players whom I view as undervalued or overvalued. With that out of the way, let's take a look at the market for first basemen entering 2014. As usual, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Paul Goldschmidt  (5)

2. Chris Davis (8)

Tier Two

3. Joey Votto (12)

4. Edwin Encarnacion (14)

5. Freddie Freeman  (14)

6. Prince Fielder  (15)

Tier Three

7. Albert Pujols  (32)

8. Eric Hosmer  (39)

9. Allen Craig  (40)

10. Adrian Gonzalez (45)

Tier Four

11. Mark Trumbo  (69)

12.  Anthony Rizzo (69)

13. Michael Cuddyer (79)

Tier Five

14. Matt Adams (95)

15. Mike Napoli (107)

16. Jose Abreu (136)

17. Brandon Moss (141)

18. Brandon Belt (184)

Undervalued

Jose Abreu (ADP 136)

Ok, I may not be rational when it comes to Abreu, but on paper this just looks like a recipe for fantasy stardom. Eno Sarris wrote an excellent piece on the challenges in translating numbers from Cuba. It's an inexact science, and the results are mixed. That being said, the numbers alone suggest that Abreu is one of the best hitters in the world. It's certainly cherry-picking, but I don't need to tell you that Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have been able to turn their tools into success over here. Well, Jose Abreu was clearly a better hitter than either of those two in Cuba, and frankly it wasn't close. More importantly, the underlying peripherals were dynamite, too. In 1527 plate appearances over the past four seasons, his walk rate was 18% with just a 12% strikeout rate; that's not your typical power hitter. It all added up t0 a triple-slash line of .392 / .539 / .790. Once again, we're just throwing darts if we try to project how that translates to the Bigs. With a current ADP outside of the top 100, however, the risk is minimal relative to the potential reward. Oh yeah, did I mention he's going to be playing at the best park for right-handed power hitters? Overall then, this is my favorite target in the middle rounds right now. 

Brandon Belt (ADP 184)

Sometimes it doesn't really matter how much we like a player; sometimes the market makes the decision for us. I've never really considered myself to be that bullish on Belt, but the asking price right now is simply too cheap. After a relatively disappointing first full season in 2012, Belt more than doubled his HR total this past season. In fact, few players witnessed such a marked spike in isolated power. I doubt he'll even approach 25 HR this year, but he only needs to repeat his 2013 campaign to return a profit based on his current ADP. This is a skilled batsman who hits the ball with authority on a consistent basis, spraying line drives all over the field. Entering his age-26 season, it's certainly within reason that he continues to make strides in the power department. Ultimately, I'm perfectly content drafting Belt after pick 150 as a solid corner infield option. 

Overvalued

Freddie Freeman (ADP 14)

If you compare Freeman's 2012 and 2013 seasons, you'll see that they're virtually identical across the board - except for the batted ball department. Few players experienced such a drastic jump in BABIP from one year to the next as the Braves slugger did last season. Now I'm not here to tell you that his .371 BABIP was completely a fluke. Like Belt, Freeman too makes hard contact quite often and is a good bet to rank among the league leaders in line drive rate going forward. As such, one would expect Freeman to continue to post relatively high hit rates relative to his speed. Even so, when compared to his .331 xBABIP, that .371 BABIP still looks a tad fortunate. I'd split the difference on the .295 BABIP in 2012 and the .371 BABIP in 2013 and project an AVG around .290. When combined with 20 to 25 HR, that makes for a valuable fantasy player.

Accordingly, I actually view Freeman as a safe, durable option who would make for a solid pick in the fourth round. The only problem with that is he's currently going just outside the first round in 12-team mixed leagues. With his line drive approach, I don't see the upside in the HR category to warrant that market price. In the second round, I'd much prefer to grab sluggers like Adrian Beltre or Prince Fielder who are capable of matching Freeman in AVG while hitting significantly more HR. I hope I'm wrong because I recently extended him through 2018 in my dynasty league, but I just don't think Freeman will ever be a fantasy superstar.


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Draft Round Battles: Brandon Belt Vs. Eric Hosmer

We're back for another year of Draft Round Battles, the series that pits players likely to be taken in roughly the same part of your fantasy draft against each other in a Sherlock-and-Moriarty-esque battle of wits a steel cage death match an analytical look at which will perform better in 2014.  We begin this year's battles with a typical Hollywood sports story...the golden boy against the out-of-nowhere prospect. 

Eric Hosmer has been Mr. Everything since the Royals took him third overall in 2008.  He tore up the minors and debuted in the bigs at age 21, hit a rough patch in his sophomore season at age 22 and then rebounded with a 17-homer, .302/.353/.448 campaign in 2013 that puts some of the worries to rest.  Even his slow start last season has a movie script twist to it --- Hosmer's came alive under the tutelage of the greatest Royal of all time.  The next act in the film would apparently be that Hosmer fully breaks through, becomes a superstar, and leads his misbegotten franchise back into the playoffs.

The out-of-nowhere guy, however, wasn't taken until the fifth round of the 2009 draft.  Brandon Belt wasn't on anyone's radar as a prospect but he proceeded to obliterate minor league pitching so fully that the Giants had no choice but to recall him after just 825 PA on the farm.  Since Aubrey Huff (the surprise hero of the Giants' 2010 World Series run) was locked in at first, Belt had to toil in left field and struggled to receive regular playing time until Huff's decline became too much for the Giants to ignore in 2012.  Belt took over as the everyday first baseman and played a big role in San Francisco's next World Series title.

You might not know what exactly happened next since the Giants fell off everyone's radar last season, but basically, Belt kind of went off.  His counting numbers (17 HR, 67 RBI, 76 runs) and slash line (.289/.360/.481) were solid but nothing too special for a first baseman but consider this --- Belt's 142 OPS+ ranked 17th amongst all MLB players.  His 24.3% line drive rate (topped by only 23 players last year) also helped Belt collect 39 doubles (tied for 11th-most in baseball), showing that he can still generate power despite playing at AT&T Park.

In short, Belt took the big step forward from 2012 to 2013 that Kansas City is hoping Hosmer takes from last season to the next.  The question is, do you presume it's all onward and upward for Hosmer from here on in, or do you perhaps go with the underrated guy in San Fran who's entering his prime age-26 season?

My instinct is to take Belt, and that's not just because I'm prone to backing the underdog.  You could argue that playing at AT&T Park will suppress Belt's power numbers...except it's not like Kauffman Stadium is exactly homer-friendly.  You could make the salient point that Belt was helped by a .351 BABIP last season...except then you'd also have to acknowledge Hosmer's .335 BABIP.   The .870 OPS that Hosmer posted over his last 461 PA, making everyone believe he'd turned the corner?  Belt quietly posted an .893 OPS over his final 462 PA of 2013.  The only true positives in Hosmer's favor are that he records far fewer strikeouts than Belt and his splits were pretty even, whereas Belt had more trouble against left-handed pitching (.755 OPS vs. LHP, .867 OPS vs. RHP).

The question, of course, is ceiling.  It's possible Belt has already hit his peak, and while a repeat of his 2013 performance would be nothing to sneeze at, it could pale in comparison to what Hosmer could put up if he makes The Leap into the superstardom that has been long predicted for him.

Taking nothing away from Hosmer's potential, however, it should be noted that over-valuing potential has led to the downfall of many a fantasy owner.  It can't be ignored that Belt, despite receiving almost 600 fewer PA, has outperformed Hosmer as a Major League player.  He could well continue that trend in 2014 or even take a leap in performance himself. 

I kind of cheated in making this my first Draft Round Battle of the year since I suspect Hosmer's pedigree will mean he gets picked a few rounds ahead of Belt in most fantasy drafts.  That doesn't mean you should jump to take Hosmer early just because another owner will snap him up, however.  Keep an eye on the undervalued guy out in San Francisco --- you could easily pass on Hosmer and find superior production later in your draft.



Stock Watch: AL Central First Basemen and the Back of the Braves' Rotation

As the season goes on, we've started to sort out which hot and cold starts we believe in. Most of the unbelievable ones have already regressed to the mean (think Justin Upton or Matt Moore), while others are showing signs that their new levels of production might be real, for better or worse. That said, there are still plenty of values to trade for, and plenty of chances to sell on players likely to still regress. But you better get it done quickly, because your trade offers will probably have to get fairer and fairer as the season goes on....

Trade For

Felix Hernandez just endured a brutal game, wherein he gave up seven consecutive hits and lost a seven-run lead. To the Angels. Any Felix owner rightfully expects greatness every time the King pitches, and there's a chance his value is down just a touch after a bad outing like that. It's not so much that you'll get an amazing deal for him from most owners--just a slight discount. If you were already looking to acquire an ace, though, he might be the one to get, and this is the time to get him.

I was not a huge proponent of Andrew McCutchen before the season started, largely thanks to his declining steals numbers and low SB%. I didn't see him as a big speed threat anymore, but I liked the way his power had been increasing over time. Reality hasn't matched my predictions, or McCutchen's recent trends: he has already stolen 15 bases (three-quarters of his 2012 total) and has been caught just four times, but the power has been a big disappointment, as he's hit only seven homers through two and a half months. Not exactly what owners were looking for with their first-round pick.

McCutchen's strikeout rate is down noticeably, and his walk rate is down a little, so he's putting the ball into play more often. He's hitting slightly fewer fly balls than last year, but the biggest difference is in his HR/FB rate: after spiking at 19.4% last year, it's down to his 2009-2010 levels, at 8.6%. While his increased contact is probably causing part of his decrease in homers, it's worth noting that he only had a handful more longballs last year at this point of the season (he didn't hit any last April). Perhaps his power heats up with the weather. Either way, a powered-down McCutchen is still a strong fantasy asset; the chance that he reclaims even some of that power makes him a great trade target.

If your first baseman plays in the AL Central, chances are you've been pretty disappointed with his production. Unless he plays for the Tigers. Three of them make good trade targets: Billy Butler, Nick Swisher, and Paul Konerko. Butler introduced a lot of new power last year, but it has disappeared so far this year, with just five homers. His average is down too, but his OBP and walks are actually up. Maybe he isn't getting any pitches to hit in the moribund Kansas City lineup, but even a slight improvement in his power could vault him to among the top first basemen in baseball again. Swisher has had a rough year in many ways, but his OBP is still .100 points better than his average. Having been hampered by injuries, but keeping most of his batted ball profile intact, he seems like a good candidate to improve over the course of the year. Konerko should command the least trade value of the three, as his season has mirrored the White Sox's overall offense. He's actually produce negative WAR on the season, and the gamble is basically that the 33-year-old isn't completely done. The upside is worth a shot, but don't give large amounts for him.

Trade Away

Carlos Gonzalez has been pretty much the best player in the National League this year. Wherever you drafted him, he's been the best player on your team. He's already earned the second highest WAR total of his career and he's one homer away from matching his season total from last year, in just barely over half as many games. So trade him already. 

Why? Well, there's certainly the chance that he keeps this up and wins the NL MVP for his greatness. Or, he could do what he always does, and hit the DL for some significant portion of the season. Don't sell him in desperation; there's no reason you shouldn't hold out for a huge return, but it's hard to think of him without seeing a little clock over his head, counting down to the next injury. Unlike his similarly injury-prone teammate Troy Tulowitzki, his production is replaceable in the outfield, so you're better off mitigating your risk and dealing him for several good-to-great players. If he stays healthy all season, maybe you'll regret the deal and maybe not. But if he gets injured, you'll really regret not making a move.

Jean Segura is setting the world on fire right now, with five-category production. The steals look completely real, and if you're relying on him for your team's speed, don't send him packing. The homers, however, aren't so believable: of his 10, eight are classified as Just Enough by ESPN's HitTracker. He's certainly one of the best shortstops in baseball...but he's not this good. 

Segura's Brew Crew teammate Yovani Gallardo has had a pretty miserable year, but he's strung together three good starts in a row. In fact, he hasn't allowed an earned run in those starts. The trouble is, two of those starts were against the worst teams in baseball. Sure, one came against Cincinnati, but it's hard to get too excited over shutting down the Astros and Marlins. His next start is scheduled against the Cubs, so he's got a good shot at making it four good ones in a row. Wait till then, and deal him. Maybe he's righted the ship and ready to produce like the inconsistently dominant strikeout machine he was the last couple years, but he isn't showing real signs of that yet. 

Usually, when we say a team has a "good problem," it's not a problem at all. For the Braves and the return of Brandon Beachy, that's not really the case. They haven't indicated what they'll do with him when he's ready to return, and he may even start out in the bullpen. Or Julio Teheran or Kris Medlen may get sent to the 'pen, with a lower probability that Paul Maholm or Tim Hudson get removed. Without knowing the Braves' solution to their problem mine is this: trade away Beachy, Teheran, or Medlen if you've got 'em. You might get full value for the pitcher, when each has some unknown probability of having his value reduced to basically zero.

Pick Up

When RotoAuthority mentioned on Facebook that Roy Oswalt had been signed by the Rockies, the response was unenthused, to say the least. I can't say I blame anyone for their lack of excitement over that prospect, but Oswalt put the fantasy world on notice yesterday by striking out 11 Nationals in his Colorado debut. Does that mean he's automatically the old Oswalt? Obviously not, but you still couldn't have gotten much better of a first outing. He's well worth a speculative add.

Maybe Esmil Rogers is just excited to pitch in Rogers Centre, but he appears to have turned a real corner in his career with the Blue Jays. His improved slider should get the credit for his success, and there's a good chance that much of it is sustainable. He's got more upside than most free agent starters.

Cody Ross was a productive outfielder last year, but this year he's been a real disappointment, even since returning from injury. After a three-hour visit to the eye doctor the other day, Ross is claiming that the blurred vision that plagued his season is cleared up. He punctuated that by hitting a homer against the Marlins. If the vision was his main problem, he could be in line for a big improvement. 



2013 Position Rankings: First Basemen

Our position rankings are rolling along today with first basemen. If you're just catching the series, check out Catchers and Outfielders. After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, we've prepared tiered rankings that go 40 players deep. The players are divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. Speaking of players with other eligibilities, their rank here only represents their rank as a first baseman--basically, Carlos Santana's ranking represents when you should nab him even if you've got your catcher slot filled by Buster Posey.

Finally, there's a strategic reality to be aware of before you go into the draft: first base is weak this year. Really weak. A lot of the old stalwarts have fallen off the map, and their younger replacements haven't brought their game to an elite level yet. You'll still have to pay a premium for first basemen, but don't be shocked if you aren't getting the production or the certainty you've been able to expect for the last two decades.

1st Round

1. Albert Pujols, LAA
2. Joey Votto, CIN
3. Prince Fielder, DET

These guys are pretty easy to rank. Though Votto and Pujols come with more question marks than usual, the supra-elite production we've seen from them before is enough to keep them at the top of the pile. Fielder is close, much closer to Votto or Pujols than he is to any other player. So close that if you prefer his consistency to their upside, we'll understand.

2nd-3rd Round

4. Edwin Encarnacion, TOR
5. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD

These guys are fair value in the third, but I can totally understand reaching for them in the second. First is just that shallow, that it's worth banking that Encarnacion can do it again or that Gonzalez will find his lost power. Plus, Gonzo's average and lineup will keep him valuable even if the power doesn't come back on, and E5 was so good that he can slip a lot and still be one of the top third basemen. Yeah, things are that thin.

5th Round

6. Billy Butler, KCR
7. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
8. Allen Craig, STL (OF)

Call me crazy, but I prefer Butler's consistent production and recent power surge to the relative unknowns of Goldschmidt and Craig. I know this seems low on Goldy, but would you take him in the second round if he wasn't stealing bases? He's got plenty of potential, but his ADP doesn't reflect that--it reflects a proven star and that isn't what he is. Craig is going too high too. He's not young and he's got a career full of injury-shortened seasons. Was he great last year? Yes. Will he be great again if healthy? Probably. See: question marks.

6th Round

9. Anthony Rizzo, CHC
10. Freddie Freeman, ATL
11. Buster Posey, SFG (C)

Rizzo is full of potential and Freeman still has room to grow. That said, players like these used to be had a lot later in the draft. It feels like a reach to me, but that's the change of market value. I prefer Rizzo because he's got the best chance to make a big jump instead of a little step. Unless your league doesn't allow catchers, you can't get Posey at this point. This is where I'd slot him in at first, as I expect some regression from any MVP season.

 7th-8th Round

11.5 (David Ortiz, BOS--DH only)
12. Mark Teixeira, NYY
13. Paul Konerko, CHW
14. Adam LaRoche, WAS
15. Adam Dunn, CHW

Ortiz can't play first, but at this point you might be taking your utility player or DH. If you are, take Ortiz above any available first baseman. Age and injury risk are all that keep him this low, because his production is top-notch when he's healthy. I still hesitate to write Teixeira's name down, even this much lower than his ADP. He truly seems to be on the decline, and he's at the point of his career where the downward slide could really accelerate. Maybe he rights the ship and I reevaluate during the season, but right now he isn't where I'd place my bet. Konerko and LaRoche are consistent and unexciting. Oddly, I think Konerko is a little overrated and LaRoche a little underrated despite similar profiles. Dunn's good years kill your batting average, but his power is getting rarer and rarer, so I'd still reach for him here.

9th-10th

16. Eric Hosmer, KCR
17. Chris Davis, BAL (OF)
18. Carlos Santana, CLE (C)
19. Joe Mauer, MIN (C)

Hosmer will either be a steal here, or a hideous bust. I don't imagine for a second that he'll give ninth round production, but I couldn't say with any confidence whether he'll be better or worse than this. The power that Davis showed last year was no surprise, but the respectable batting average sure was. In case you already have Posey catching for you, here's where you should grab Santana or Mauer to play first.

11th-12th Rounds

20. Nick Swisher, CLE (OF)
21. Ike Davis, NYM
22. Mike Napoli, BOS (C)

Swisher takes a slight value hit at first, but he's still a really consistent performer with versatility. Davis could be a decent value play here. Napoli will be playing first for the Sox, but you probably don't want him out from behind the plate on your team.

13th-14th Rounds

23. Lance Berkman, TEX
24. Todd Frazier, CIN (3B)

The chance that Berkman has any gas in the tank at all makes him worth a flier. He could be massive value here, though the risk is high. Frazier is an interested and underrated player. After an impressive partial season, he won't be battling the ghost of Scott Rolen for time at third base.

15th-16th

25. Justin Morneau, MIN
26. Kendrys Morales, LAA

Morneau is one of those fallen stars, but at least he's picked himself up to the kind of mediocrity that allows you to play him at utility or corner infield. The move to Safeco scares me: I don't know what difference the moving fences will make, but I do know (sort of, not like I'm a meteorologist or anything) what that humid Seattle air does to fly balls. Plus, Morales isn't that awesome in the first place. 

 17th-18th

27. Yonder Alonso, SDP
28. Chris Carter, HOU
29. Michael Cuddyer, COL
30. Mark Reynolds, CLE

Alonso might be able to take advantage of the shortening fences in Petco, and he's young enough to improve the old fashioned way. Carter could hit a bunch of home runs, and the Astros will have little choice to be patient with any batting average issues that hit him. A healthy Cuddyer could be pretty valuable splitting time between your OF and CI spots, especially in daily leagues where you can take shameless advantage of his home park. Reynolds is like Adam Dunn lite: lower ceiling, (usually) lower floor. We miss that 3B eligibility--though he managed 15 games there last season, so if your league has less stringent requirements than most, lucky you.

19th-20th

30. Brandon Moss, OAK
31. Ryan Howard, PHI
32. Garrett Jones, PIT

At this point, it's worth taking any chance at all that Moss's fluky looking season can be repeated. Howard isn't much more than a famous name who strikes out a lot at this point. He's getting drafted way higher than this...but I can't think of a good reason why. Jones will probably be platooning a bit more, but you can use that to your advantage with a little bit of a bench and daily changes.

21 and Beyond

33. Corey Hart, MIL (OF)
34. Justin Smoak, SEA
35. Carlos Pena, HOU
36. Brandon Belt, SFG 
37. Adam Lind, TOR 
38. Tyler Colvin, COL (OF)
39. Mitch Moreland, TEX
40. Todd Helton, COL 

Hart will be injured, and it remains to truly be seen for how long. If we get definitive good news, I'd bump him up, maybe up several rounds. If not...maybe I wouldn't draft him at all. Maybe Smoak can take advantage of the new dimensions in Safeco. I'm skeptical, but this is the time for chance-taking. If Reynolds is Dunn-lite, maybe Pena is Reynolds-lite. Belt believes he found his stroke late last year. If he did he could finally be fantasy-viable. Lind is a memory of a great 2009, and fading fast. Toronto seems to be giving him one last try, so your fantasy bench could too, I suppose. Colvin plays in Colorado, so that's always interesting. Well, usually interesting, since Todd Helton is only number 40 because round numbers make us all feel more comfortable.

Even in the deepest of years I feel pretty comfortable taking an elite first baseman early in the draft. This year, that's even more true. Any of the top three can anchor your team, but everyone after that is a serious question mark. Plenty of players could make (or remake) their mark as an elite hitter this year, but who knows for sure which ones really will. I suggest taking two or more, again, just as usual but for different reasons: it's time to diversify the risk at this position in a way most of us never have. 



Go Bold or Go Home: Draft Adam Dunn Over Paul Konerko

By every significant metric, Paul Konerko had a better 2012 season than Adam Dunn.  Though Dunn enjoyed a big comeback from his legendarily disastrous 2011 campaign, Konerko was clearly the superior overall hitter.  As such, I expected that Konerko would probably be a higher choice on most 2013 draft boards but all things considered, both players fall within my general grouping of "second-tier first basemen."  If you adopt the strategy of drafting the harder-to-fill infield positions first, then Dunn and Konerko are the type of guys you turn to by the 9th or 10th round to fill your 1B or utility spot.

I was surprised, then, to learn that early drafters didn't only have Konerko going earlier than Dunn, but going WAY earlier.  According to Mock Draft Central's latest average position ranking, Konerko is the 12th-ranked 1B-eligible player, with an average draft position of 80.48 (77th overall).  Dunn, if you can believe it, was the 21st-ranked 1B-eligible player, with an ADP of only 193.55 (188th overall).  Sixteen percent of drafters didn't take Dunn at all, if you can believe it.

Granted, ADP isn't foolproof this early in the fantasy drafting season.  For example, Corey Hart is three spots ahead of Dunn, but that will obviously change given that he'll be on the DL until May.  That said, I'm stunned that Dunn was given so little credit by Mock Draft Central's early birds.  The two players immediately following Dunn are the tantalizing-but-unproven Eric Hosmer and the human decline phase known as Ryan Howard.  At the risk of sounding like an old-school sportswriter that lives and dies by counting stats....you're taking these guys over a player who hit 41 home runs last year?

Not only do I think this gap between Konerko and Dunn should be much smaller, I think it shouldn't exist at all.  If you have to draft just one White Sox first base-eligible player this spring, make it the Big Donkey.  Here are a few reasons why...

* More 5x5 Value.  I noted earlier that Konerko beat Dunn in "every significant metric" in 2012, yet that wasn't exactly true.  While Konerko provided more offensive value in real life, Dunn outpaced Konerko in the stats you actually use in your fantasy league.  Konerko's .298 average swamped Dunn's .204 mark, but Dunn hit more homers (41 to 25), drove in more runs (96 to 75), scored more runs (87 to 66) and even stole more bases, albeit by a negligible 2-0 margin.  Since many leagues use walks as a sixth category, that's another big win for Dunn, as he received 105 free passes to Konerko's 56.

It's easy to be critical of Dunn's traditionally low batting averages but beating Konerko is four out of five categories (or five out of six) is hard to ignore.  Dunn had a .246 BABIP in 2012 and a .240 BABIP in 2011, so perhaps he's also due for a bit of a turn-around in actual average.  If he can hit close to the .250 career average that he owned between 2001-2010, then Dunn's value will rise even more.

This is twice now that I've cited counting stats in my pro-Dunn argument.  Geez, I feel like the Fire Joe Morgan guys should tear this column apart.

* Consistency.  You might think this sounds odd given that Dunn is just a year removed from one of the most famous sudden declines in baseball history, while Konerko has been the model of consistency even in his mid-30's, averaging a .304/.384/.530 line over his last three seasons, a.k.a. his age 34-36 seasons.  Let's not forget, however, that Dunn's collapse in 2011 was so shocking simply because Dunn had been so money-in-the-bank for the previous 10 years.  The fact that Dunn rebounded in 2012 makes his 2011 performance all the more bizarre since now it might have been just a blip on the screen, rather than the first sign of a decline.  It's like Wile E. Coyote fell off the cliff, hit the canyon floor and then just bounced up back to the road and chased the Roadrunner again like nothing had happened.  While it's fair to say that Dunn isn't quite all the way back (his .800 OPS in 2012 is the second-lowest of his MLB career), I'm willing to write off his 2011 as just an aberration. 

So if Dunn is consistent again, does that necessarily make him more consistent than the reliable Konerko?  Maybe.  It's interesting to note that both players' 2012 seasons were largely built from their performances in April and May.  Konerko held a 1.097 OPS through his first 51 games and a .258/.329/.409 line in his remaining 96 games, while Dunn had a .950 OPS throgh his first 52 games and then hit .190/.307/.416 over his last 99 games.  That's a big drop for both guys, but Dunn's decline be partially explained by his low BABIP, while Konerko's BABIP was a healthy .312.

* Age.  Using BABIP numbers to excuse one second half slide and raise eyebrows at another might not be much, but when you're dealing with a first baseman who's going into his age-37 season, any sign of decline is a red flag.  Konerko himself recently admitted that his 2012 season "was kind of one of those years where it was smoke and mirrors for most of it," which could be modesty or competitiveness talking, but it could also be an athlete being frank about coming close to the end of his career.  Dunn is no spring chicken himself, but ironically, his bounce-back in his age-32 season somewhat mirrors how Konerko rebounded at age 33, hitting well in 2009 after a disappointing 2008 campaign.  You're rolling the dice on any first baseman (and really, any player) once they pass 32, so you might as well go with the younger option.

Konerko might've had the better season, but his slight dip in form was a warning while Dunn's return to form was a relief.  I think we can count on at least a couple more three-true-outcomes seasons from Dunn while Konerko's 2012 was just troubling enough that a sudden decline wouldn't be a surprise.  If you do find yourself looking for a safe 1B pick in the 9th or 10th round of your draft, I would pick Dunn, since I think you'll know what you're getting.  With Konerko, I'm just not sure. 





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