Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Buzz Around The Bullpen: Fantasy Positional Preview: First Basemen


[Editor’s note: With the fantasy baseball season fast approaching, SportsJudge continues its preseason positional preview. Please be sure to check back every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for a weekly positional analysis that will lead you right into your fantasy draft. In case you missed it; take a look at last weeks preview where SportsJudge focused on the outfield position.]

Welcome back to another edition of “The Buzz Around the Bullpen.” It is a little difficult talking about baseball today after an unbelievable Super Bowl victory by my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. As much as I could analyze the Santonio Holmes catch or the James Harrison interception return, I will leave that up to the experts right here at SportsJudge.com.

For right now, let’s get back to the diamond to talk about some preseason projections. Last week we focused on the outfielders and some of my projections caused some great debate that is definitely worth taking some time to read. Once again, I appreciate your comments and I hope that the interest continues throughout the entire preseason preview. Today I’ll take a look at another position which I’m sure will cause some great debate amongst the readers. Let’s talk about the First Basemen.

Studs

1. Albert Pujols (STL): I’m not quite sure that Albert being the number one 1B needs much analysis. However, let’s take a look at his numbers from last year just to remind us of how good he actually is. In a year where owners were hesitant to draft him because of the potential need for Tommy John surgery, Pujols hit .357 with 37 HRs, 116 RBIs and had an OBP of .462. Albert Pujols should and will be the first 1B off the board in your league.

2. Mark Teixeira (NYY): Let me start by saying that number 2 and 3 are about as interchangeable as possible. But for right now, yes I’m drinking the Kool-Aid and I do believe that Teixeira’s move to New York will have him back to producing numbers similar to his 2005 season. While I do expect some growing pains in the beginning, I believe Teixeira will adjust quite quickly and begin to reap the benefits of the Yankees’ ridiculous lineup. Now with the protection of some of the greatest hitters in baseball, Teixeira will flourish as he’ll see more pitches to hit. Teixeira’s run and RBI totals will also increase because of the talent in the lineup. The best part about Teixeira is that even if he struggles, and I don’t expect him to; he’s still going to hit .300 with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs.

3. Miguel Cabrera (DET): While I was doing my research, the most surprising stat I came across with Miguel Cabrera was that he’s only turning 26 years old in April. Because he’s been around for so long, it is easy to think that this guy’s numbers have to drop-off soon. However, it is quite possible he is just entering his prime as a hitter. Miggy’s move to 1B hasn’t stopped him from putting up “stud-like” numbers. Last year Miggy hit .292 with 39 HRs, 121 RBIs and 100 runs. In terms of his batting average, 2007 was an off year for Cabrera. More than anything, that is just a testament of how good this guy is. I look for Miggy to hit closer to his .309 career average and it is more than possible he hits over 40 HRs for the first time in his career.

4. Ryan Howard (PHI): As a disclaimer, let me start by saying that if you are in a league that penalizes for strikeouts, it may be in your best interest to move on to number 5. Throughout his career, Howard has shown the ability to strike out three times in a game and then follow-up in his fourth at-bat with a homerun that endangers the NASA space station. For the better part of 2008, Ryan Howard was plain awful. The only thing he was doing consistently was striking out. Somehow he was able to recover and finished with 48 HRs. After putting up absurd numbers in 2006 (.313, 58 HRs, 148 RBIs, 104 runs, .425 OBP), Howard has come back down to earth and his batting average and OBP have taken a hit. One thing that does stick out is that even in 2006, Howard struck out 181 times. In ’07 and ’08, Howard’s strikeouts increased, striking out 199 times in each season. I guess the only thing that can be said is that if you draft Ryan Howard, you know what you’re getting. If you’re an owner that is easily frustrated by strikeouts, you may want to go with a more consistent hitter.

5. Lance Berkman
(HOU): If you read my articles last year, it is no secret that I am not a Lance Berkman fan. When he was unreal in the first half last year, I spent most of my time coming up some reason not to love him as a fantasy player. Fortunately, for my sake, Berkman gave me some ammunition after the All-Star break when he hit .259 with only 7 HRs and 3 stolen bases. Regardless of my feelings towards Lance as a player, you can’t argue with his numbers. He’s a .300 career hitter that will probably hit around 30 HRs in ’09. However I don’t expect him to repeat his 18 stolen bases in ’09. It is probably more reasonable to expect around 8-10 stolen bases as that extra weight starts to take its tool as he gets a year older.

6. Adrian Gonzalez (SD): Somehow Adrian Gonzalez continues to hit for impressive power numbers in a ballpark that usually swallows up great hitters. I’m ranking Gonzalez ahead of a couple of great hitters solely because I love the progression he has shown over his three seasons. Each year, his power numbers have increased and he is just now entering that age bracket where hitter’s power numbers typically increase. Gonzalez’s average does scare some owners off but when you look at what’s left on the board after the first five players are taken, Gonzalez is your best option.

Wingmen

7. Justin Morneau (MIN): Contrary to Gonzalez, Justin Morneau’s homerun numbers have fallen off over the past three years. While he continues to drive in a ton of runs, I believe Morneau will finish ’09 with 22-26 HRs and 118 RBIs. I don’t think that Morneau has declined but I do think over his career, he will be more of a 24 HRs/year guy as opposed to the 34 and 31 HRs he put up in ’06 and ’07 respectively. His average has fluctuated over his career but I think you can assume he will hit around .290 for you.

8. Kevin Youkilis (BOS): I really like Kevin Youkilis this year. After jumping from 16 to 29 HRs last year, Youkilis established himself as a viable fantasy first base option. Before draft day, be sure to check his player page because he will almost definitely be 3B eligible as well. A combination of his versatility, his potential and the fact he gets to hit in the Boston lineup everyday makes him a nice pick after the elite guys are off of the board.

9. Prince Fielder (MIL): After coming off a stellar ’07 campaign, Prince was somewhat disappointing in ’08. He still finished with great numbers (.276, 34 HRs, 102 RBIs, 86) but at this stage in his career, it scares me that he took such a significant step back. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Prince has the potential to eat his way out of stardom. I know I often joke about this but with Prince, it truly is an issue. He has the potential to be great for an extended period of time but he needs to get serious about getting his body into better shape. Until he does so and gets back to hitting 40+ homeruns, I can’t afford to take a chance on him that early in my draft.

10. Joey Votto (CIN): I really like two things about Joey Votto. He’s young and he plays in a ballpark that turned catcher David Ross into a homerun hitter. In his first full season for the Reds, Votto established himself as a fairly discipline hitter with some great power potential. This may be a little early for the readers but I’m willing to take a chance on a guy with great upside like Votto.

11. Carlos Pena (TB): I think we saw the real Carlos Pena in ’08. In ’07, Pena exploded for 46 HRs, 121 RBIs and hit an impressive .282. I say impressive because Pena is a .251 career hitter. I expect more of the same from Carlos Pena and if you’re alright with .263 and 34 HRs, Pena is your guy.

12. Carlos Delgado (NYM): Last year was definitely a pleasant surprise for Delgado owners. The good news is that even as he gets older, you can still count on him for around 25 HRs. However don’t expect much more than his .280 career average.

13. Chris Davis
(TEX): Let the comments begin after this bold prediction. I like Davis here because he has dual eligibility at 1B and 3B, he has a ton of power potential, he plays in Texas and he has a great track record throughout his minor-league career. I’m sure they’ll be some stretches where you’ll question this pick but by the end of the season, you’ll be pleased you didn’t settle for a veteran.

14. Aubrey Huff (BAL) and Jorge Cantu (FLA): I am grouping these guys together because I feel like they both carry the same risk/reward value. If you take a look at their career numbers, they are all over the place. In order for me to take either one of these guys, it would definitely have to be a great value pick later in my draft.

15. Adam LaRoche (PIT): If LaRoche could actually put together a full season, he would be a top 10 fantasy first baseman. Unfortunately, because of his last two seasons, that’s a big “if”. Here’s to hoping he decides to take a bat with him to the plate in April and May.

16. Garrett Atkins (COL): Over the past three years, Atkins’ numbers have declined in a hurry. Now he’s lost some protection in the lineup with the departure of one of the league’s best hitters, Matt Holliday. This is nothing but bad news for Garrett.

The Best of the Rest

17. Derrek Lee (CHI)

18. Mike Jacobs (KC)

19. Jason Giambi (OAK)

20. James Loney (LAD)

Please be sure to check back next week when we take a look at Second Basemen.
As with any SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post any questions or comments. Until next time, keep your ears open for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.





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5 comments:

Marc Edelman said...

Scott:

Generally, I agreed with your assessment of the first basemen; however I think you missed the mark on two -- Derek Lee and Prince Fielder (both of whom I prefer to Adrian Gonzalez).

With respect to Lee, I think there is a real argument he should be ranked ahead of Gonzalez. Although his power has declined slightly over the past couple of years, Lee is the closest thing out there to a five category first baseman. He gets average and even a few steals, along with homers, runs and RBI. In addition, you cannot estimate the value of hitting between two all-stars in Soriano and A-Ram.

Joe Romano said...

Looking at Gonzalez's and Fielder's numbers, they are pretty interchangeable. In fact, I think Scott's six through nine picks are all pretty interchangeable and you can make an argument for any one of them to be sixth. I am actually split on Youkilis and Morneau as sixth. But with these four players, we are splitting hairs.

I was surprised to see Lee as 17, but I certainly can't see an argument for including him in the top ten and keeping him in the top 15 is debatable. In his 11 year career he has only hit above 300 twice, and the .335 season is a huge outlier. He hasn't hit more than 22 home runs or stole more than 8 bases since 2005. He has only had more than 100 rbi or 100 runs one time. Based on his stats over his career, one could be suspicious that Lee received an extra "boost" during the 2005 season.

Lastly, Lee is no spring chicken. At 33 years old, his best days are definitely behind him. His rbi and runs production remains fairly solid, but the rest of the tools aren't there. As Marc pointed out, this is best explained by hitting between Soriano and A-Ram. Is it possible he could return to top ten numbers? Sure. At the right price, I'll take that chance, but he should be drafted as a backup with the hope of finding the fountain of youth.

Chris said...

Its not which 1b will top .300, but rather which will top 300 lbs. Fielder is the odds on favorite but Howard/Ortiz are big men and Miggy has been eating that great Detroit food and has been putting on the lbs.

Kevin Fenstermacher said...

I agree with Joe about how so many of these guys interchangeable. I have my list going Fielder, Gonzalez, Berkman, Morneau, Youkilis. I just feel like Fielder and Adrian have the most upside and will surpass their prior numbers as they progress as players. I am hoping Fielder is back to eating his daily rack of lamb (or entire lamb for that matter) so his power numbers rise back up.

I agree with Marc about Derek Lee being ranked too low. I think he has around a 10-15 guy in this group. I know you said you were going to get some comments about your bold prediction of Chris Davis and I absolutely love it. He is sitting at 11 in my early '09 rankings. The third base eligibility is a huge boost and with this kids power and that park he could be in for some big numbers.

One guy who you left off the bottom of your list is Conor Jackson. I think he proved last year that he can be a productive hitter and Outfield eligibility is a quality addition. He doesn't possess the power numbers as others at the position, but a slight increase in those numbers would not be a surprise. He is a right handed Loney with OF eligibility in my mind.

Overall I think you did a great job with your rankings. Everyone is going to have discrepancies, especially at a position like first base where so many players are relatively equal. I look forward to what you have to bring us next week.

Scott Simon said...

Hey guys thanks again for the comments. Hopefully I can offer some decent responses for you.

Marc,

While I'm a huge fan of D-Lee, I have to agree with Joe (who raises some great points). I'm afraid D-Lee's fantasy value has fallen further than anyone's over the last three years. I don't disagree that he puts up decent numbers across the board, but he doesn't distinguish himself in any category. The appeal that he once had was that he could hit for above average power while maintaining a decent average. Unfortunately, after some wrist surgery in '06, D-Lee has not been the same. Any lingering effects from the surgery are only going to get worse as he gets older. This can only mean a further decrease in power numbers. With that being said, you do bring up a great point about his RBI and run productivity because of his lineup. But for me, that's not enough to put him in the top 15.

Joe,

Thanks for your input. You gave some great statistical support for "our" argument to wait on D-Lee. Your point about taking D-Lee as a back-up option is a great idea. Maybe he catches lightning in a bottle and regains his power stroke. He could be some nice trade bait to help fill a need on your squad.

Chris,

Hilarious. Need I say more.

Kevin,

You touched on a great point that at the end of the day, a lot of these projections come down to a gut instinct or personal preference. It is a good thing that a lot of these guys are interchangable because when "your" guy goes off the board, you do have some similar options. As much as any position, there is a clear division of "tiers" of players at the 1B position. Within those tiers, you really can't go wrong picking one guy or another. The important thing I hope the reader gathers from these projections is that you should be drafting Aubrey Huff around LaRoche and Atkins and not in between Howard and Berkman.

Conor Jackson didn't make the rankings but he does have the potential to put up 20-24 HRs one of these years. Depending on the amount of teams in your league, you may be able to wait until he actually starts producing those numbers to pick him up on the wire as opposed to snagging him on draft day.

Thanks again for all of your comments and please keep them coming. I hope you guys all check back next week for my second basemen preview.