1B Keeper Stock Watch: Freeman, AGon, Belt

With the regular season over, it’s time to look at 2017 and beyond. For keeper formats, I’m looking at risers and fallers in our 2017 rankings, as well as highlighting where I differ from the rest of the Assembly team.

Stock Up logoFreddie Freeman I admit it: I’ve not liked Freeman, at least based on his average cost for the last few years. My pre-2016 criticism was largely due to two factors: he’d only hit better than .290 in one season, and he’d never hit more than 23 home runs. Some pundits said he could reach .320 and 30+ HR, but I thought he had established himself after five full seasons and we shouldn’t expect more. What happeend in 2016? He posted career bests in FB% and HR/FB%, and he put up his second highest AB total, helping boost his home runs. He put up his second best BABIP, which explains the average over .300, but it’s not likely sustainable. He’s always been a line drive hitter, and his hard hit rate is above average. He’ll keep producing RBI despite a weaker Braves offense.

That said, there are some warning signs. His contact rate took a drop: he usually posts 77% but dropped to 72%. And though he’s always had a swinging strike rate above the MLB average, he put up a career high of 14% in 2016. He proved me wrong and posted a .300/30 HR season. But is this his new norm? I still say no.  Set your expectations and price tag at .290 and 25 HR, and anything else is a bonus. But I know someone’s going to keep paying for elite production, so I don’t expect to own him in any format for 2017.

Hanley Ramirez Raise your hand if you thought Hanley would hit 30 home runs and set a personal best in RBIs during 2016. I sure didn’t, after his last few seasons were shortened by injuries. Yet he settled in as a first baseman for Boston and put up a top-2 HR/FB in his career. After posting a career low in FB% in 2015, he managed to hit a few more fly balls, especially in the second half (36%, his career level). His hard hit rate has been solidly above average, even though he hits more grounders than we’d like. He kept up decent plate discipline by swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone than 2013 and 2015.

The possible red flag is a drop in contact and a spike in swinging strikes. However, he has shown he’s capable of producing as a top-10 first baseman, and he’s not so old that he can’t keep this up for a few more seasons. Now that he’s not a top-10 pick, you can often get him at a reasonable value. I say pull the trigger.

Wil Myers We knew he had talent, but injuries and a lack of actual performance kept his price low entering 2016. Now you’re going to have to pay full price for him again. The power isn’t surprising, but his FB% isn’t amazing, so any drop from a career high HR/FB% may hurt his home run total moving forward. Then again, simply staying healthy and racking up at bats will keep the home run total well above 20. His hard hit rate is only league average, and he plays his home games in a big park, so it may be hard to repeat or improve on this year. I don’t expect him to hit for a high average, because his ground balls are going to cap him, and he isn’t the type to put up a BABIP above the league average.

What helped drive his roto value this season was a shocking 28 stolen bases. Can he repeat 20 SB? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t pencil it in every year. His speed rates above average, and the Padres let him run whenever he wanted. Another 20/20 season could happen, but don’t think he’ll flirt with 30/30 again. That said, a mid-20s hitter who has a chance at 20/20 has value.

Tommy Joseph – Because a lot of hitters managed 20 HR this season, and because Ryan Howard still had at bats at first, and because he’s not a catcher anymore, Joseph might get overlooked. However, he’s on the verge of a major breakout entering 2017, and you’ll want buy in now before you have to pay full price. I’m expecting him to produce one of the best return on investment for any 1B next year. He managed 21 home runs in just 315 at bats, and though you can’t simply double his totals to project for a full season, it’s still an impressive rate. He hits a lot of fly balls with a friendly home park, and his HR/FB ratio got better in the second half. His contact and walk rates also went from below average to above average.

The hard hit rate is solid and above the league average. His batting average doesn’t look great for the season, but it was dragged down by two months of unlucky BABIP. When his BABIP wasn’t down, his lowest monthly batting average was .270. His skills drop a little against righties, but he’s not in danger of being stuck in a platoon. The fact is that I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed 30 home runs within the next two seasons, but even a .270 with 25 HR will be great value for someone you can likely pick up for a few bucks right now.

Stock Down LogoAdrian Gonzalez AGon is still a professional hitter, and he won’t hurt you. But you can’t ignore a 10 HR drop from his 2014-15 levels. The season felt a lot more like his 2012-13 performance — again, solid but not elite. That two-year power surge had him climbing the preseason ranks, but if he’s back to a sub-25 HR profile, then you have to start discouting him. Also, there are signs of his age starting to catch up to him. After being extremely steady in contact rate and hard hit rate for at least seven years, small dips show the cracks in his armor. He also posted his second highest GB% and his lowest FB% of his career, helping to explain the HR drop. Those numbers may bounce back, but if they don’t, he’s not a top-12 first baseman. Also, given that the Dodgers are supposed to be stacked, 90 RBI for two consecutive years seems a bit low, and his 69 runs are tied for his lowest full-season total. I like him as a CI option, but if you’re using him as your long-term 1B in a keeper league, you need to upgrade.

Brandon Belt I’m going to name Belt my “Freeman Plateau Pick of 2017.” However, I’m more confident that he’ll remain mediocre, because there’s a bit less going for him compared to Freeman. At this point, he has three years of dropping in HR/FB, though an increase in FB% this year helped him nearly repeat his 2015 home run total. He’s a line drive machine, but despite that, his hard hit rate isn’t much above average, and he doesn’t convert a high BABIP (career .341) into a high average (career .272). He put up a career best walk rate in 2016, which helps in OBP leagues. The contact rate isn’t anything special. Plus, he’ll be 29 next year.

When you put it all together, and you look at 4-5 years of established track record, I’m going to say it again: This is what he is, and you shouldn’t expect a breakout, where he hits .290 with 25 HR. Belt usually is hyped up a bit and costs more than I’m willing to pay. Don’t go a dollar or a round over your projected value for him, because he won’t reward you for it.

Albert Pujols He’s getting long in the tooth, and his average is down, so long-term keeper leagues are steering away from him as a top option. Entering his age 37 season, I can understand the aversion to a degree. That said, I’m still buying because his cost to acquire is a lot lower, and he’ll keep hitting home runs as long as he’s healthy. A look at his metrics explains why he’ll continue producing.

He still makes contact and takes walks in line with his previous five years, though he’s starting to swing at more pitches out of the zone. His hard hit rate is still above league average, and while his HR/FB% isn’t elite anymore, it’s still 15%. As for the batting average, an anemic first month (caused by an extremely unlucky BABIP under .150) is the only thing that prevented him from hitting .280 this year.

Given that fact, he may have one or two more .280/30/100 years in him, essentially repeating his 2012 level of production. If you can get him pretty cheap because of his age, don’t shy away from the veteran, even in keeper leagues.

Mitch Moreland Moreland is the kind of guy I keep believing in, expecting more every year. Unfortunately, I now worry that 2015 is going to be his best year. His power is legit, but he doesn’t net 500+ AB, so his home runs are likely capped at where they’ve been. He isn’t helpful in batting average, especially if his BABIP tilts toward unlucky. The hard hit rate has been above average, but it’s dropped for three seasons. This offseason he is now a free agent, so future playing time is questionable, and just when Texas has a full-time opening at 1B due to Fielder’s exit. What’s more, he’s not young anymore, so a sudden explosion of talent isn’t in the cards.

Moreland will never be what I hoped he would become, and you’ll have to watch where he lands this offseason. He may hit 25 HR with a .250 average, but it’s more likely he continues notching sub-400 AB seasons.


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Kevin Jebens

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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.