For a long time first base was a position you could count on for power and depth. It was one to wait on in a draft, as you could be reasonably sure of landing a strong slugger there even after waiting a few rounds. That changed in 2018, as only eight first basemen notched 25 home runs (the same number seen at SS) and, more incredibly, we saw only two drive in over 100 runs.
First base is thin, and a position to value in keeper leagues if you happen to be lucky enough to hold one of those remaining impact bats. This week’s report highlights four players at the position whose value changed dramatically in 2018, so read on for an in depth look at their prospects for 2019 and beyond.
As always, if you have a player you would like profiled or have a question about, feel free to post in the comment section or reach out to me on Twitter @hedenson18 with that or any other questions. We will be working our way around the diamond so you can submit your player requests in advance.
White had a nice run at the end of the season, turning consistent playing time into a solid .287/.350/.551 line with 10 home runs over his last 51 games. He supported his power with solid rates in both his FB% (42.6%) and Pull% (42%) although his overall Hard% (32.7%) was not outstanding. Despite a lackluster showing in his Hard%, White did manage to barrel the ball 9.3% of the time, placing him in the top 100 batters for that metric.
He posted solid strikeout rates (20.7% K%, 7.1% SwStr%) and walked at an above average rate as well (10.1%), displaying a solid approach that could bring more success down the road. His LD% was below average (18.5%) for the season, though his quality of contact mix (21% Soft%; 46.3% Med%, 32.7% Hard%) allowed him to maintain a solid batting average despite that (.276).
Generally, White took some solid steps forward in 2018, making him an interesting option to consider in dynasty or keeper leagues. His low MLB experience makes him somewhat risky, but it is hard to overlook that second half production when you compare it to others at his position:
Not much went right for Hosmer in his sunny new home of San Diego. His stats tumbled across the board, culminating in a rough .253/.322/.398 line with 18 home runs and 69 RBI’s. His batted ball profile went in the wrong direction in every way (-2.3% LD%, +4.8% GB%, -2.5% FB%) counteracting a small hike in his Hard% (+5%). Taking a deeper look at Hosmer via Statcast paints an even more depressing picture, especially as it relates to power production.
Hosmer rated dead last among major league players with a -1.2˚ Launch Angle for the season. He was the only player to produce a negative rating in that metric, though Ian Desmond came close (0.0˚ Launch Angle). He also posted the lowest average distance per batted ball (118 feet) and saw his Average Exit Velocity dip 0.9 MPH as well.
This information highlights one of the biggest issue Hosmer had in 2018: Keeping the ball off the ground. His 60.4% GB% this season just missed out on leading all of MLB (Hello again Ian Desmond!) and severely affects Hosmer’s ability to produce offensively. Barring a change in approach, Hosmer does not offer much keeper value in fantasy, and is someone to avoid in 2019 and beyond.
After notching 26 home runs in 2017, Bell took a big step back this season, whacking only 12 home runs on the year. An 8.3% drop in Bell’s Pull% was one issue that affected his power, working against modest gains in both his FB% (+1.3%) and Hard% (+0.7%). Despite this limited power production overall, Bell did turn it on a bit in the second half, slamming 7 of his 12 home runs and posting the 10th highest ISO (.177 ISO) among first baseman during that period.
He managed to post improvements to his batted ball profile (+1.3% LD%, -2.6% GB%, +1.3% FB%) Average Exit Velocity (+2.1 MPH) and approach (+2.6% BB%, -1.1% K%) in 2018 as well, taking some steps forward despite his disappointing home run numbers. While these positive changes are good to see, Bell must improve his power if he is to be a useful first base bat.
At 26, Bell is still learning, and could still make these changes to become a more consistent source of power for fantasy owners. Until he shows that ability, however, he remains a low-end 1B option, albeit one with the potential to surprise.
Votto was a big disappointment in 2018; limping to a .284/.417/.419 line and seeing his power evaporate, notching only 12 home runs compared to 36 in 2017. Dips in both his FB% (-6.9%) and Pull% (-3.3%) appear to be the main culprits behind that change despite jumps in his Hard% (+4.7%) and Average Exit Velocity (+.5 MPH). At 35, and coming off the year he just had, it would be easy (and understandable) to completely write him off for the coming fantasy season, but further looks into his batted ball profile muddies the water a bit in that regard, especially concerning his future power potential:
As you can see, while Votto dipped in a few power related metrics compared to 2017, his final batted ball profile for 2018 is very much in line with what he produced in 2015 and 2016, two seasons where he notched 29 home runs. He actually posted improvements on his line drive and ground ball percentages, and his FB% is right in the range of what he posted in the 2015 and 2016 seasons (32.8% in 2015, 29.7% in 2016). His 41% Hard% in 2018 was the highest mark of his career, but despite that bright spot, other metrics back up the notion that Votto is in decline and unlikely to bounce back, especially with his home run production.
From 2015 – 2017, Votto’s average home run distance was 397 feet, well above what he averaged in 2018 (383 feet). His Barrel% plummeted 2.4% in 2018, continuing a three-year trend of decrease in that category. In general, trying to predict Votto’s future power production is tricky given the mixed results we see using advanced metrics. Based on his batted ball profile, it seems unlikely that Votto is the 12 home run hitter we saw in 2018, but also I do not see him knocking 36 out either.
Somewhere in between seems likely, with 20 perhaps being his ceiling when you consider all of these variables. If Votto can get back to that level of power, he can still be a productive bat in fantasy. His approach has not deteriorated (17.3% BB%, 16.2% K%) and his expected results per Statcast were very solid (.291 XBA/.370 WOBA/.483XSLG) even if they did not approach his usual levels. At 35, Votto is on the decline and betting on him does carry some risk. However, with that said, there is enough there to think that he could still be a productive bat next season, though not at his previous levels.