One Man’s Map to 1B Happiness

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. My father was an antique car collector. While growing up, it was common place to have 10-15 cars either parked in the driveway or stored in the garage. My father was not one to tinker; he simply wanted cars he could drive and those he could easily move if the price was right. My father was never a brand loyalist. The lone requirement was that  the automobile was all original, inside and out – the whole works had to be original. Those demands certainly came with a price tag, but that price was always something he was comfortable paying.

All fantasy players have their own unique way of prepping for the upcoming season. Like most I value input from others. I read countless write-ups, and search high and low for any rankings list I can find. I dive into projections looking for players who I’ve perhaps over or under valued. After compiling as much data as I can; I begin evaluating the player pool.

I start out looking at the broad picture, but will quickly begin to evaluate on a position by position basis. What I hope to accomplish by doing this is to find a comfort level for each position. When submitting our positional rankings we are asked a simple question, “Who is the lowest ranked player you would feel comfortable with as your starter at that position?”. The answer to this question will provide you with a map to draft day success.

Once you go beyond your 10 and shallow 12-team leagues it becomes impossible to acquire top-tier talent across the board. Without fail there will be one or two positions where a path to top-level production will not be apparent. For you to find this level of success you will need to have a breakout star. Positions that seem to have limited talents behind the elite options are referred to as shallow. For generations first base has been the elite fantasy position for hitters. As we sit here in January, I’m here to tell you that is no longer the case.

Let me be clear: first base has not become the new catcher, nor has the talent level been surpassed by shortstop. What first base has become is very top-heavy. Goldschmidt, Rizzo, Cabrera, Votto,  Encarnacion and Freeman all are being selected among the top-30 picks in NFBC Drafts, and deservedly so. All are Tier 1 talents with a very high floor.

Wil Myers and Jose Abreu are going among the top-75 picks and are two players I have the utmost confidence in. Daniel Murphy (34), Ian Desmond (65), and Matt Carpenter (73) are players who have or could soon have 1B eligibility that I’m also comfortable with.  

Now, eleven players being selected among the first 75 picks doesn’t make a case for positional panic. In this regard 1B is as deep as it ever has been. The problem with the first base pool lies beneath.




In years past my comfort level would have extended well beyond the Top 10. The next grouping of players features Chris Davis, Eric Hosmer, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and Brandon Belt. I’m finding it difficult to suggest any of these options can comfortably produce a top-10 first base season.

Davis’ counting stats seem secure, but a batting average around .230 can really drain you in Roto formats.  Carlos Santana has also had batting average issues in the past, and I find myself doubting those HR totals from last season.

Eric Hosmer and Brandon Belt are at the right age for a potential breakout. Statistically Hosmer is growing closer, but his plate discipline has regressed and the high GB% makes 30 HR seem like a pipe dream.  If somehow Hosmer could overhaul his approach,walk 15.9% of the time and up his FB% into the mid-40’s then he’d end up being… Brandon Belt. The same Belt whose all field approach makes 25 HR seem like the pinnacle.

Could all this lead to Ramirez being the safest option among this group? On the surface the 30 HR, 111 RBIs and .286 average look really good.  However, if you dig a little deeper you’ll find a career high swinging strike rate of 10.3% and  a career low contact rate of 77.8%. If you can shrug those numbers off and still have no concerns then reference his games played the last six years – that should trigger the nausea.

As you move down the ranks the production level become even more questionable. Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez have transitioned into the twilight of their careers. Pujols still posses the power, but his inability to run will cap his average and limit his run totals. Gonzalez could improve upon his 2016, but inability to drive the ball (32.8% Hard Hit rate) and increased GB% (46.2% – career 40.8%) prevent me from really believing.  

In addition to those two you have a modern-day collection of Rob Deer types. Mike Napoli and Chris Carter will grab the headlines, but Brandon Moss and Tommy Joseph offer very similar skills. Wind them up and give them 500 AB and the production will follow; I just can’t promise the batting average won’t be disastrous.

The underbelly of the first base position also contains a small sample of players that we’re still undecided on. I suppose this could be the area in which a breakout could occur. Eric Thames has been given very solid projections by various forecasting tools. Steamer, in particular, has him projected for a .272 average with 29 HR and 13 SB. Other undefined commodities include CJ Cron and Josh Bell. Bell has the top Prospect pedigree, and his good batting eye and solid contact followed him to the majors last season. CJ Cron has shown growth since his debut in 2014, steadily increasing his walk rate while improving his K rate.

The forecasting for this group isn’t all good. Cron hasn’t really shown plus power since his days in A-Ball. He hits the ball to all fields and overall has yet to produce favorable batted ball velocity. His floor could ultimately be solid given his ability to hit for a respectable average, but I’m wondering if 22 HR is all we’ll ever get.

Bell faces many of the same issues. He showed some power at the MLB level last season, but ultimately we have a Minor League player with 2,200 PA and just 44 HR to show for it. This is also assuming he performs well enough this Spring to beat out John Jaso/David Freese and plays good enough defense to ensure the playing time.

As for Thames, his resume is being built-in the same league that gave us Jung Ho Kang and Byung-Ho Park last season. Kang worked out well in 2015, but Park had opposite results in 2016.  Aside from a nice 2010 season at AA, Thames’ production on US soil has been unimpressive.

Other 1B options exist beyond those covered thus far. Sadly, I don’t see many inspiring cases. Justin Bour looks in the mirror and sees Lucas Duda. Steve Pearce can hit the pitchers the Bour/Duda duo can’t, but unless you’re in a daily format, split concerns just don’t play. Daniel Vogelbach and Mitch Moreland could be steady and boring. Steady + Boring doesn’t equal top-15 status.

WE could all  go to the well once more with Ryan Zimmerman or Joe Mauer… “We’re….We’re going streaking, through the quad and into the gymnasium.”

*****

For years fantasy owners drafted Troy Tulowitzki early because he was a SS. In retrospect, analysts would crucify the decision to draft him, citing “position scarcity” as no reason to select someone too early. I’ve always supported the position scarcity argument. The error in drafting Tulo had to do with the player, not the position.

There’s something to be said about having a production level you’re comfortable with. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but the 2017 first base class has some position scarcity to it. This scarcity would not force me to take some of the 1st round first base talents if preferred choices remained. It would, however,  have me more than willing to reach at some point early in the draft to secure one of the elite options I’m comfortable with.

Buying an all original antique automobile forces one to pay a premium. My father was certainly capable of tinkering with those automobiles he purchased. By doing so my father would have saved money and generated more profits. By buying original my father knew exactly what he had. He knew how it looked in the evening sun, how it felt driving down the two lane roads of my hometown, and how it sounded when that old V-8 engine was revved up. Sometimes having that feeling of comfort is well worth the price tag that comes with it.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.