Can You Get By Without a Franchise 1B?

Most of us fantasy managers are used to having a reliable, power-hitting first baseman on our dynasty teams. In fact, I try to go as young as possible while still getting a proven player. Not surprisingly, my top targets in recent years have been Anthony Rizzo, Jose Abreu, and Paul Goldschmidt. However, you can’t always get one of the elite guys under 30, so what do you do next? In one league, a guy really, really wanted me to take Teixeira off his hands. My first impression was, “Hell, no!” And even though I stuck with that reaction (mostly because the entire package was a lowball offer, and he offered it ten times), I started thinking about why I immediately rejected most any 1B who was over, say, 32 when it came to my keeper teams. Yes, the old guys can be in decline or have higher injury risk. However, they have a long track record of performing, and just because they may not make a great 5-year keeper, that doesn’t mean they should be greatly demoted in the rankings, does it?

I decided to look at some of the top dynasty targets from a few years ago. They were top targets due to age, even if they hadn’t (fully) broken out yet. Then I wanted to compare them to the grizzled veterans who have their warts, and so aren’t drafted in the early rounds of a keeper league. For the tallying of value, I went with Baseball-Reference’s oWAR, because fantasy baseball usually only measures offense. What kind of production do I get from simply slotting in a guy like Freddie Freeman for years, instead of redrafting a variety of oldies but goodies who aren’t guaranteed to be keeper worthy? Let’s find out.

Teixeria and Pujols? Or Rizzo and Goldy?

     Teixeria/Pujols?  Or Rizzo/Goldy?

The Dynasty Guys, 2012-2014
I went back to my 2012 Baseball Forecaster and looked at their first base rankings. In this case I’m looking for guys under 30, but the younger the better. I’ll provide their rankings for the player, but bear in mind their rank is strictly for that year, not as a dynasty investment.

Eric Hosmer (10) – Part of the draw was that he was 22 in 2012, so if he worked out, he’d be a great keeper for years to come. Again, who doesn’t like the idea of plugging a player in your lineup and leaving him there for ten years? Turns out 2012 was a big sophomore slump, and he didn’t really get going strong until 2015. His three years of oWAR: 0.3, 3.0, 0.4. His average oWAR over this span is 1.2

Paul Goldschmidt (12) – At 24, he was entering his first full year. There were concerns he wouldn’t stick right away, but there was no denying his power. He did well, and only injuries stopped him in 2014. His three years of oWAR: 3.1, 5.7, 4.5. His average oWAR over this span is 4.4.

Freddie Freeman (18) – He had one full year under his belt and was 22, just like Hosmer. Most people predicted upward and onward for him. He had a BA hiccup in 2012, but he’s been rather steady overall. His three years of oWAR: 1.9, 5.0, 3.9. His average oWAR over this span is 3.6.

Brandon Belt (28) – At 24, he was projected to play a lot, but the lack of sure power and the position uncertainty likely led to his low ranking in 2012. A big injury in 2014 stunted his numbers. His three years of oWAR: 2.2, 3.8, 0.7. His average oWAR over this span is 2.2.

Joey Votto (2) – At 28 he was tied with Fielder for the youngest 1B in the top-5 rankings that year. He makes my cutoff of being under 30, even if he’s a lot older than the others I chose. Two years affected by injuries, but still good. His three years of oWAR: 4.8, 6.0, 1.4. His average oWAR over this span is 4.1.

Prince Fielder (4) – Let’s put on the list another veteran who was still young enough to qualify. He already had six seasons under his belt, but at age 28 he still seemed like a good dynasty investment, despite his body type. A big injury in 2014. His three years of oWAR: 5.3, 3.1, 0.0. His average oWAR over this span is 2.8.

The Rental Guys, 2012
Overall, I tried picking potential rental players ranked near or above the dynasty guys each year. The idea is that even if they may be slightly better for the near future, they weren’t great long-term investments due to increased risk (age, injury). The youngest age I included for rentals was 32.

Mark Teixeira (6) – He was 32 and still mashing, though the warts were showing due to his dropping BA. He missed some time, but he still managed to put up a 2.1 oWAR.

Paul Konerko (9) – There was nothing wrong with his recent seasons despite his advanced age of 36. He essentially matched his previous year’s oWAR and put up a 3.2 oWAR.

Carlos Pena (11) – Sandwiched between Hosmer and Goldy for the 2012 rankings, he still displayed great power at age 34, but his BA had become even worse. Turns out that this was the year he stopped paying dividends, because he hit under 20 HR while still putting up a horrible BA. He put up a 0.7 oWAR.

Todd Helton (23) – He was the oldest on my list at 38, and the previous year he didn’t hit 20 HR, but he sported a BA above .300, just like he used to do in his prime. However, injuries got the best of him in 2012, and he gave owners a -0.1 oWAR.

The Rental Guys, 2013
In this exercise, I’m trying to avoid picking the same older rentals in consecutive years. But for the record, Konerko (12) and Teixeira (10) still ranked well this season.

Adam LaRoche (18) – He ranked one slot behind Freeman this year. LaRoche had a great 2012 season, but again, his age (33), and perhaps disbelief that he could repeat, kept his draft value low. He did have a down year, especially in BA, and he produce a 0.8 oWAR.

Justin Morneau (22) – After two years of missing a lot of time, he stayed on the field in 2012. In 2013 he was 32 years old, but the obvious risk with his health lowered his price. He was ranked one slot behind Belt. In the end, he was mostly healthy but fading as a batter, with a 0.1 oWAR.

Adam Dunn (28) – He ranked two slots behind Hosmer for this year. His age 33 season was about what we’d come to expect from him, with an awful BA but 34 HR. That netted him a 1.2 oWAR.

Michael Cuddyer (15) – At age 34 he was a known injury risk, but he ranked two spots ahead of Freeman. Despite missed time, his BA exploded, and he put up 20 HR, for a 3.8 oWAR.

The Rental Guys, 2014
At this point, all the dynasty guys are ranked in the top-12 at the position. It’s harder to get older rentals that match up in terms of preseason ranks. It makes perfect sense that someone ranked 25th won’t come close to producing like a guy ranked 8th. For that reason, I threw in Albert Pujols, because despite his strong history of being a keeper, he has been aging and has had a few poor (for him) seasons.

Adrian Gonzalez (7) – He was sandwiched between Freeman and Hosmer in the ranks. This is the first year he qualified as a “rental” because it was his age 32 season. He was coming off a second year of low (for him) HR production. Turns out he found his groove again and produced a 2.6 oWAR.

Albert Pujols (9) – Coming off an injury-shortened year and entering his age 34 season, he was nearly out of the top-10 for rank. But this is Pujols we’re talking about, and he found a way to produce, even if it wasn’t vintage. He put up a 3.1 oWAR.

Mike Napoli (14) – Another age 32 guy, but he wasn’t really considered a big keeper after he moved to 1B. He was ranked two slots behind Belt. Dealt with injuries as usual, but he still put up a 2.4 oWAR.

Mark Teixeira (19) – He’s back on the list here, at age 34. It turned out to be his worst season in recent memory, excluding 2013 when he missed nearly all year. That means he wouldn’t be my top choice for a rental in 2014, coming off a fully missed year, but some people did gamble on him. He produced a 0.6 oWAR.

Ryan Howard (25) – It’s easy to say Howard’s stock was down after two injury-plagued years. For that reason, I avoided him like the plague, even as a rental. But again, someone in your league gambled on him as a CI or bench player. Turns out he wasn’t completely useless, but he only produced a 0.3 oWAR.

The Results

Bear in mind this was a random sample, and a slightly small one at that. I didn’t hunt for the highest and/or lowest oWAR values among the rentals. I tried to pick older players who were near the preseason ranks of the franchise names. Also, note that oWAR doesn’t always greatly translate to fantasy production, but it was a statistic available to me that I could apply to all players across all three years.

That being said, there’s clearly a wide range of value. We have a negative oWAR from one rental, but we get three players that are above 3.0 oWAR. In 2012, averaging the four players nets a 1.5 oWAR. In 2013 the average is 1.5. In 2014 it’s 1.8. It makes sense that 2014 is a bit higher, because the preseason ranks of the players (both franchise and rentals) are higher. The average of all the rentals is 1.6.

The experiment seems to be in favor of the franchise players. Despite some growing pains and injuries, five out of six of the franchise names had a better average oWAR than any given rental year. Two of the franchise players averaged more than the highest single rental contribution of 3.8. When you ignore injuries (because they can happen to any player), it does seem safer and more productive to invest in a franchise 1B who’s in his prime and preferably young.

The only bit of devil’s advocate that I’ll offer is this. Usually a cornerstone 1B is going to cost you as a keeper. It depends on your format: salaries rise each year you keep a player, you lose a higher and higher draft pick, or you simply have to pay a lot to get and keep someone like Goldy the year after he broke out. What do the rentals cost you? Depending on their age and their previous year’s production, it may be nearly the same as a franchise guy — or it may be very little. According to ESPN’s preseason auction values, in 2012 Teixeira and Konerko were pretty expensive, but they did perform well, with Konerko beating four of the six franchisers in oWAR. In 2013 Cuddyer put up a 3.8 oWAR, and what did ESPN have him valued at before the year? A measely $2. Dunn was the next best rental in my sample that year, and his preseason value was $1. In 2014 Napoli was valued at $11, which was cheaper than five of the six franchisers, but he outscored four of the six. If you got lucky — yes, it’s a big “if” — and hit on the best rental from each year, you’d average 3.4 oWAR, which would beat three of the six franchisers, and for a fraction of the cost of a prime keeper 1B.

You do have to get lucky with a rental performing at an equal or better level than a franchise 1B. But again, the cost is far less, and if he flops in April and May, it’s easier to dump a rental and try a different hot player, as opposed to giving up on a franchise player you paid $35 for. If you’re looking to trim costs and save money in the draft, I would at least consider passing on a super-expensive franchise 1B in order to lock up other positions where talent is scarcer. My personal strategy would be okay with trying a rental in mixed leagues with 12 teams or fewer. But if there’s a CI slot and 14+ teams (or AL/NL only), then I would be uncomfortable rolling the dice on rentals for both 1B and CI — I’d sleep better at night with a franchise guy locked in at 1B.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.
Kevin Jebens

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