GERIATRIC PARK: Island for the Aging First Basemen

So, as you may or may not have noticed, many of the top name first baseman for the past ten years or so, have trotted over to the wrong side of 30, which means we are getting yet closer to floating the out to sea on an ice drift. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but you get the gist, right.

What I am talking about his how we value these sluggers as they get on in age. In a sport where players commonly retire in their mid-to-late 30s, hitting 30 is akin to us normal plebeians signing up for our AARP cards. Some age better than others, especially at first base. I am not saying that the old “3” is the easiest position, per se, but there’s a reason that’s where so many other players eventually move to finish their career (see Mauer, Joe). So, they can be tough to evaluate when constructing your fantasy roster. In general I am in favor of trading down in age, especially if you are building a fantasy or dynasty roster. This is not to say that these old geezers don’t still have value, what I am now going to lay out for you, is the future value of these practically geriatric (in baseball years) first baggers. Below are all the “name” first basemen who have hit thirty and then some for, um, some. They are listed youngest to oldest with their dates of birth in parentheses.

Prince Fielder, Rangers, (5/9/84)Fielder is the youngest of this bunch but could, arguably, also be the one of the group that started his downturn at a younger age. Now, granted, Prince was injured in 2014 and, to be fair, we don’t know if, without the injury, he would have turned things around. Or do we? For all intents and purposes, Fielder’s 2013 was a down year. That being said, Fielder’s down year was still fairly decent. Fielder socked 25 dingers, scored 82 runs, drove in 106 runs and had a slash line of .279/.362/.457. Like I said, fairly decent. But in 2013, Fielder posted his lowest home run total since becoming a real live boy, er real full-time first baseman in the majors. Prince posted the second lowest on-base percentage and the lowest slugging percentage of his career up to that point. So, while still good, there is still reason to believe that this could be the start of a decline for the one they call Prince. But, before we just go throwing wild accusations out there, let’s see if we can find something else to back up the decline of Prince (not the singer…he will never decline), let’s find some comps, as in comparative players. There are several comps we could use, based on their numbers through their age 30 season.

A close comp to Fielder is Carlos Delgado, who can give us even more insight into the future. Let’s use wRC+, or weighted runs created, which will kind of give us a more melded number for the whole gamut of offensive production. For Delgado, these were his wRC+ numbers from his age 30 season on. when he was till an everyday player, 145, 159, 126, 152, 128, 101, and 123. So, really it looks like the decline for Delgado was not ridiculous, but the drop off seemed to come after his age 33 season. Now in only 94 ABs in his age 37 season, he did have a 145 wRC+, but hard to see that he would have kept that up. In theory it looks like Portly Prince could still have a two highly decent seasons left, before a nice 3-4 year plateau. The concern here, has to be the injury and, ya know, the portliness. Fielder is coming off a neck injury, that is relatively new to the baseball world and he doesn’t exactly have the body type that screams prolonged productivity. I’d stay away from keeping him, unless you can, and you probably will be able to, get him dirt cheap.

Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays, (1/7/83)E5 doesn’t quite have the same amount of concern that surrounds Fielder, but, hey 34 home runs and 98 RBIs will do that. Edwin has been kind of an injury concern though and, as most of us on the other side of 30 can attest, it gets even harder to stave off, and recover from injuries. Who amongst us thirtysomethings hasn’t pulled a muscle whilst tying our shoes? Just me? Alright. Anyways, although E5 has managed to hit over thirty home runs in the past three seasons, he has only surpassed 481 at bats twice in the past six seasons. Granted, Encarnacion did hit his 24 homers in 477 ABs in 2014, so if you can still get the at bats in the high 400s, you can still get high productivity. The question is, can you get those ABs for 3-5 more years? I think you can count on 400-500 ABs from E5 for at least 2-3 years.

Joe Mauer, Twins, (4/19/83) Let’s face it, the decline of Mauer has already started. Mauer had a big drop off in runs and RBIs, from 2012 to 2013, but in 2014 Mauer added a nifty little drop in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage to add to the mix. Mauer has the disadvantage, comparative to most of the other fellas on this list, of having started his career has a catcher, which is a bit more taxing. Mauer is not looking like he is going to have any sort of resurgence anytime soon and is more likely to level off, replicating his 2014 numbers for another few seasons. Mauer does not have the power the other big boys on this list have, so he will not have that to fall back on as he plateaus into the twilight of his career. Mauer is not worth keeping in dynasty, and is going to barely be rosterable in most, leagues, as his time in the sun has come to an end.

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, (4/18/83)Miggy will be 32 not too far into the 2015 season, but Miggy is, well, Miggy. But are we already starting to see the decline of Miggy? I mean Cabrera hit fewer than 30 homers for the first time in eight seasons. Clearly the end is near, the sky is falling, yada, yada, yada. Ease up Chicken Little. Saying Miggy is on the decline may be a bit premature and somewhat over-exaggerated, right here, by yours truly to, well, draw you in. Okay, look, the number one comp that comes up on Baseball-Reference for Miggy through the age 31 season is a little know hitter by the name of Henry Aaron. You may know him better as Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. A good comp to have. Aaron slugged over 30 homers in nine of the ten seasons directly after his age 30 seasons. Of course Hammerin’ Hank is the home run champ (you heard me), so maybe Miggy won’t have that many dingers, but I think you can consider yourself safely in for Miggy like production for at least 4 more years with that sweet swing.

Joey Votto, Reds, (9/10/83) Votto lost a large chunk of the 2014 season due to injury, but you have to remember that in 2013, Votto hit 24 long balls, scored 101 runs, while driving in 73 runs and of course walking at his normal ridiculous rate. The start to Votto’s 2014 was very un-Votto like, but it seems pretty clear (right?) that the injury to the left quadriceps/knee areas had a heap to do with that, right? Now Votto is not a true slugger in your E5 way but he lines the ball all over the park when he is right. There are going to be questions about how Votto returns from this injury, but if Votto gets his legs back under him (literally) then he is still a plus bat. The patience at the plate and ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, means, barring more major injuries, that he is still a top 10 first baseman for  a few years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers, (5/8/82)Adrian Gonzalez is 32 and he just finished the 2014 campaign with 116 RBIs. 116!! That’s now 100+ RBIs in five consecutive, and seven of the last eight seasons for AGon. That’s darned (pardon my French) good, folks. But when does this darned (apologies again) goodness start to taper off. Well, it seems for hitters comparable to AGon at his age, hitters like Paul Konerko and Derek Lee, there is still another season or two of that same level of goodness. For guys like Lee, and say Will Clark, the fall was shortly after the age 33 season. Going back to Konerko, though, he remained similarly productive at ages 34 and 35, with a slight drop off at 36. So Adrian should be able to hit at his current level for 3-4 more seasons, although you may see a 10-20 RBI drop.

Mike Napoli, Red Sox, (10/31/81)Naps still has the power, trust me. You have to think a lot of this year’s poor numbers in the homer department had to do with the several finger ailments that plagued him, right? As far as long-term, though, I think you are looking at 2o-65-65 for a couple more seasons, and the thing that will help keep Naps relevant is that he has stopped chasing as many pitches. I’d hardly put him in the same category as, say, the previous guy on this list, Joey Votto, but if you are in OBP or OPS leagues, I think Napoli is still a middle of the pack first baseman for now, but a dropoff is quickly approaching. Naps could be a fill in at first or the utility slot, but using Mikey as your starter at first might be a bit much unless you are in a really deep or AL-only league, or if you are stacked with power at a non-power position like 2B or SS. Naps is top 15-20 at 1B for a couple more seasons.

Justin Morneau, Rockies, (5/15/81)19, 17, 17, 17. Those are the number of home runs over the past four seasons for Justin Morneau. 77, 77, 74, 82. Those are the RBI totals, the last four seasons for Justin Morneau. At 33 years of age, Morneau already seems to be in a nice little plateau, but what will really keep that big decline from happening? Well, playing in Colorado is a good start. Todd Helton is a somewhat good example. Helton had similar seasons to the recent Morneau seasons in his age 35, 37 and 39 seasons. Helton had some injuries, which is entirely a possibility with Morneau as well, but if Morneau stays in the mile high air and stays healthy, I think you can have a solid backup fantasy 1B for 3-4 years. If he moves to a different home park, then I give him 2-3 years of productivity. So, I guess what I am saying that he has three decent-ish years ahead, but I wouldn’t count on him as a keeper or dynasty first baseman.

Mark Teixeira, Yankees, (4/11/80) Tex’s prime is in the rearview mirror, and a good prime it was. But, obviously I am not here to talk about his past, but his future. Look, Teixeira hasn’t topped the 500 AB number in three straight seasons now, and although he did slug over 20 homers this year, that is a number that will be harder and harder to come by over the next few years. Maybe you can get a couple of seasons of 20 homers, but I think the RBI and run totals in 2014 are the best you can expect from here on out. Honestly, I think, with his propensity for injuries, retirement is only three or so years away. Possibly a good backup to have for spot starts, but he was ranked outside of the top 25 for regular everyday first baseman in 2014, so his days as a starting 1B in fantasy are, I think, pretty much done. You can maybe stash him deep on the bench for some good spots starts, but that’s about it.

Albert Pujols, Angels, (1/16/80) Prince Albert is actually pretty comparable to Miggy and, as such, has the similar comps to Hammerin’ Hank. So, you can read the Miggy section again (I’ll wait) to get the main details. All set? Okay, let’s continue. Pujols, of course is three years Miguel’s senior, so his “fall off” is closer. Like Miguel, Albert is a hitter, plain and simple. That allows him to be a serviceable fantasy asset for longer than your average home run hitting schmo. You don’t quickly cut bait on a guy nicknamed “the Machine”. Pujols will be 35 when the 2015 season starts, which could be a concern, but with Pujols ability, I think you have at least three good fantasy years left.

Ryan Howard, Phillies, (11/19/79)Howard had 23 homers and 95 RBIs in 2014. Let me say that again. 95 RBIs! So are the stories of Howard’s demise greatly exaggerated, or are we headed to Howard’s end? Well, let’s go back to wRC+ for a minute. Despite the homers and RBIs, Howard posted a 93 wRC+. 93?! You know who else had a 93 in that category in 2014? Jed Lowrie. Yeah, that’s not a great number. Of course that doesn’t necessarily correlate to fantasy, but Howard was ranked overall, probably just inside the top 200 , even with that nice RBI total. With guys getting that many ABs, he was right around James Loney. I have nothing against James Loney, but a #1 first baseman on your fantasy roster, he is not. Howard getting as many ABs as he did this year also seems unlikely with his injury history, so this year’s RBI total is bound to be the exception, not the norm as the curtain starts to come down on his career. Really, it’s hard to say he is worth keeping but, like Teixeira to a lesser degree, you may be able to stash him for some good matchup spot starts.

Adam LaRoche, Nationals, (11/6/79) LaRoche put up solid numbers once again in 2014. His numbers have been pretty decent for the past few seasons with the Nats and that should continue in 2015, but hows about beyond that? Well, I think a good hitting comp is actually Paulie O’Neill. Granted O’Neill retired when he very well still could have been useful, I think, so we can’t really see a comparison beyond the age 38 season, but for our purposes that’s fine. There was some drop off for O’Neill in that final season, but he was still very productive. LaRoche will be 35 for the 2015 season and it is tough investing long-term in a player of his age, but this could be a nice cheap roster filler, since we have yet to see any signs of decline. I mean, LaRoche won’t blow you away, but as a top 20 first baseman, you could do certainly worse. I think four seasons of roughly what you got in 2014, is extremely likely.

Victor Martinez, Tigers, (12/23/78) Ridiculous. That is the best word I have for V-mart’s 2014 season. Martinez was the #1 ranked fantasy first baseman in 2014. Martinez is 35. Victor had over 30 homers. Martinez is 35. Victor had over 100 RBIs and a .974 OPS! Martinez is 35. Do you know how many batters who qualified for the batting title had a higher OPS than Victor Martinez, in 2014? Go ahead, take a guess. Okay, fine, it was zero. No one had a higher OPS than Victor Martinez. Martinez is 35. Impressive, sure, but I can’t imagine that a 36-year old (his age for the 2015 season) who used to catch and has had leg problems in the past will possibly have a resurgent arc and replicate the 2014 season at any point during the rest of his career. This season, in fact, was the first in which he topped 30 home runs in, well, ever. V-mart is a good keeper, don’t get me wrong. You’d be quite silly not to keep him based on his 2014 numbers and at the value you can probably keep him at, but I would be selling high, early on in 2015. I think, if not next season, the season after you are back below 20 dingers and around 70-75 RBIs.

David Ortiz, Red Sox, (39- 11/18/75)It can’t be happening. What we continue to see the rotund one, affectionately known as “Big Papi” doing with this bat just can not be happening, right? The decline has to happen soon, right? I mean, he’ll be thirty-frickin-nine once the seasons starts. The Baseball-Reference comps for Ortiz include McCovey, Frank Thomas, Stargell, Thome, Sheefield, etc. Some of these guys had a drop off, but still productive age 39 seasons, but not a one of them was able to perform at a high level at age 40. The odds are not in favor of Ortiz continuing at his current level of productivity, whatsoever, but we all know there is a first for everything. Really though, if I were a betting man, and I am, I’d put good money on saying, at best, unless Ortiz is just some weird hitting cyborg, you have one decent-to-great season left for Papi. If you can still get good value (perhaps some nice young stud prospects?), you should be looking to move Papi to whomever believes he can continue this next year and beyond.

Will Emerson

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Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.