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January 14, 2015

Fantasy Three-Year Projections

First Basemen

by Craig Goldstein

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For last week’s edition, follow the link below:
Three-Year Rankings: Catcher

A few notations before diving right into the rankings. These are not BP consensus three-year ranks. These are Craig Goldstein’s three-year ranks and you’ll soon see why that distinction is important. I think it’s fair to say that my rankings are considerably different than those of the BP fantasy staff at large.

Please also note that DH/UTIL players are included in this ranking, and have been marked with a double-asterisk. There are two outfielders with first base eligibility that have also been included in this ranking, because they were included in the first base tiers that were already published. They are marked with a single asterisk.

First base is actually fairly deep, looking at the next three years, and because of that (and it’s general lack of prospects at/near the major league level), there are no prospects present in this article, outside of some notable omissions. The top of the position represents several of the top players in fantasy, allowing the position to provide impact on top of it’s depth. This isn’t a state of the position article though, it’s a ranking, and one I’m likely to take some heat for, so I’ll let you get to it, with only one more brief warning that I’ll lift from Ben’s article last week:

The formula is simple: most of the weight is placed upon projected 2015 performance, with a substantial drop in weighting potential 2016 performance and then another drop in how 2017 output is valued. Finally, remember these are themed around positions, so losing eligibility is a big deal within the confines of this particular exercise.

1. Paul Goldschmidt
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Jose Abreu

This is pretty obvious, methinks. I suppose some people might want to push Cabrera down further because he’ll be in his decline phase for much of this three-year period, but he’s only 31 and has shown an ability to remain remarkably productive despite some relatively serious injuries. I don’t think there needs to be a significant amount of analysis on the other two. They’re really good, and Goldschmidt gets top billing for his ability to contribute to all categories.

4. Edwin Encarnacion
5. Anthony Rizzo

If this were a five-year ranking instead of three, I might flip these two. Rizzo only has one dynamic year under his belt though, and might have a little more variation over the short term than a guy like Encarnacion, though I’m optimistic that he won’t. The artist formerly known as E5 gets the benefit of consistent power contributions with the ability to match up with Rizzo in batting average, even if there’s been decline over the last couple years. He’ll be 35 by the time this three-year window concludes, and should still be extremely useful, as he’ll likely get more and more time at DH over the years. If you want to flip these two, I certainly understand, and wouldn’t make a strong argument.

6. Joey Votto
7. Freddie Freeman

Freeman is younger, and not coming off an injured season, but on the other hand, Votto has never posted a season with fewer than 24 home runs when he plays 130 games or more. Freeman on the other hand swatted just 18 home runs last year despite playing 162 games. He’s more consistent, to be sure, and stays on the field, but since we’re talking about a position with a relatively high bar to compete at, and Votto will only be 34 at the end of the three years, I’m okay with taking a chance on his upside. Keep in mind that his stolen bases likely won’t return thanks to the recent knee troubles he’s had.

8. David Ortiz**
9. Victor Martinez
10. Prince Fielder
11. Adrian Gonzalez
12. Albert Pujols

This is a mess. Honestly. What do you do here? It’s completely legitimate to prefer Fielder at the top of this grouping because he’s the youngest and has shown the most power. That said, neck injuries are frightening and there’s a non-zero chance he’s never even 85 percent of the guy he once was. Ortiz is the oldest of the bunch but I can’t bring myself to think he’ll give in to age. The smart play is that it will happen at some point, given that this is covering his age 39-41 seasons, but it’s hard to argue with what he’s done year in and year out, and he’s in a great contextual situation, in terms of Boston’s park and lineup.

Martinez isn’t ever going to post a year like 2014 again, but he doesn’t have to. The man hits when healthy, and ample time at DH should provide him the opportunity to stay upright. Gonzalez and Pujols are similar players production-wise, but Titan gets the edge because of youth.

13. Eric Hosmer
14. Brandon Belt
15. Matt Adams

I’m going to make some enemies with this one. I’m not “the guy who still believes in Hosmer” at this point, I’m the guy who still believes in Hosmer. Last year was a bad season, no doubt. He’s been disappointing compared to what we expected, to be sure. He’s been flat out disappointing, outside of 2013, honestly. That said, this ranking reflects that at least in part, while still keeping his upside in mind. Perhaps I’m weighting that too heavily for your liking, and I respect that to the utmost. If you’re not inspired by Hosmer’s .321/.379/.509 slash line from July 1 through the end of the season, then it’s completely legitimate to place him below the Mike Napolis’ and Joe Mauers of the world. Me? I’m a dreamer.

If you put Belt and Adams next to each other, you wouldn’t think they suffer from the same affliction, and yet, here we are. Like the two above them, Belt and Adams don’t hit for the power normally associated with first basemen—or they haven’t done so yet. Consider this the dreaded vote of confidence that both can do better than they have. Understandably, that might not be enough to sway you from your power-hungry ways, and I respect that. This reflects the authors desire for a balanced offensive threat, when working in a vacuum. I might prefer several of the names listed below to the ones listed above depending on the construction of my team, but without context, I like the guys who contribute across the board. Bear with me, and note that you could realistically make one massive group out of the four names above, and the ____ names below, but I’m trying to make this digestible.

16. Kennys Vargas**

Another guy I’m substantially higher on than most of my BP brethren, and I detailed why in the 1B to Target section. I think Vargas has the ability to hit for average and power in the short-term, a combination that few possess. There’s definitely risk here, and again, I’ve attempted to factor that into my ranking but it’s likely I’m both higher on his upside, and lower on his risk than many. If you’re not me (let’s hope you're not), he’d probably slot in behind the high-power/low-average slot that comes below.

I actually had Vargas at 14 behind Hosmer before being talked out of it (if only barely). I recognize this is still a measure of insanity in terms of faith in Vargas. I just want you to know that I’m capable of being crazier.

17. Lucas Duda
18. Brandon Moss*
19. Chris Carter**
20. Mark Trumbo*
21. Adam LaRoche
22. Mike Napoli
23. Justin Morneau

Big power, low batting average. That’s the name of the game here. I’ve had the argument, and legitimately understand the notion of pushing Duda all the way up to above Hosmer, on a list like this. Here are my concerns with Duda: He’s not likely to hit in the .250s based on his career figures, and the likelihood of the league adjusting to him (not to mention a huge fly-ball rate, which lowers his BABIP). Without that batting average separator, the difference between him and the rest of this group narrows significantly, meaning his skill set just isn’t that unique. It’s possible we just saw a career year from Duda, as he still can’t hit lefties and he’d never before smashed right-handers to the tune of a .900-plus OPS. Yes, that could signify a breakout in tandem with increased playing time, but it could also mean there’s regression looming or a league-adjustment (or both) on it’s way. I’ll eat crow when I’m wrong here, but I’m going to wait to see this one more time before buying in.

As for the rest of the group, consider ranking Moss this low a recognition of the concern surrounding his hip surgery, because one of my favorite guys going from the Coliseum to Progressive Field would normally move up in the rankings. This is also a reflection that Moss is actually an outfielder in most formats, and likely won’t be a first baseman for many fantasy players.

Carter launched 37 bombs last, but hit .227 in the process. Consider the downside though. If he’s a 25 home-run bat, that’s still good! But is it worth the batting average that comes with it? The league’s continued offensive decline helps Carter in this respect, but considering the offensive bar at first base, he has to hit for a ton of home runs to be worth what he could cost you elsewhere. Trumbo is in much the same boat. Worth a bunch if he’s bashing 35 round-trippers each season, but seeing a steep decline if he falls below the 30 home-run mark.

I actually love LaRoche for 2015 alone, but we can’t ignore his traditional slow-starter status, or his penchant for getting hurt. He’s in a great spot to hit, and in a revamped lineup, but he’s no spring chicken either. Morneau is another health and age risk in a great spot to hit. Of course he’s only assured of being with the Rockies for 2015 (and could still be traded), and if he goes to a more moderate hitting environment, he could see a significant decline in performance.

24. Joe Mauer

[When my legs don't work like they used to before
And I can't sweep you off of your feet
Will you still remember the look of my ‘burns?
Will my swing still look as sweet?]

No, you just adapted Ed Sheeran lyrics to apply to Joe Mauer.

25. Adam Lind
26. Billy Butler

Lind is a platoon-masher who have vacillated between being a power hitter and not, and staying healthy and not. He’s a great value play should he stay healthy, but there’s considerable risk that he won’t. Billy Butler loves gravy.

27. Mark Teixeira
28. Jonathan Singleton
29. Ike Davis
30. C.J. Cron

I’m just sad at this point. Teixeira is actually reasonably productive in the games in which he’s on the field, which is on an ever-increasing journey towards “never.” Singleton has the most upward mobility of this crew, and it’s worth not putting too much stock into a rough debut, but the reality is that even if it all clicks, he’s not a fantasy-game-changing talent. We’ve seen the risk, and with only moderate upside, he checks in towards the bottom of these rankings. Davis’ best attribute is power and he just landed in Oakland, and can’t hit lefties. Cron is basically Davis but on the wrong side of the platoon and without a clear path to playing time now that Matt Joyce is in Anaheim.

Notable Omissions: Christian Walker, Orioles; Logan Morrison, Mariners; Justin Smoak, Blue Jays; Garrett Jones, Yankees; Nick Swisher, Indians; Yonder Alonso, Padres; Greg Bird, Yankees; James Loney, Rays

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

20 comments have been left for this article.

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Premium Article Rumor Roundup: One Of ... (01/14)
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