What’s the advantage of tiers?
Placing players of the same position into tiers based on similar projected production can give you a huge advantage when planning out your roster. What’s the gap between Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion? It’s projected to be minimal, so take who you like. Otherwise, wait for someone else to pay and make that call for you.
- Paul Goldschmidt ARI 29
- Anthony Rizzo CHC 27
Paul Goldschmidt is the class of the position. He has no weaknesses statistically, and his unique ability to swipe 20 plus bases pushes him to the top of the list, especially in roto leagues. You could easily make the case to take the slugger above every MLB hitter this side of Mike Trout. Take Goldschmidt early and often and enjoy the show.
Anthony Rizzo will make his case to be the top fantasy option at 1B this season. I’ll make one for him. The Cubs lineup is absolutely stacked which will boost his counting stats and make it impossible to pitch around him. Rizzo is entering the prime years of his career and appears to be a lock for 30 HR and 100 RBIs for the next 5+ years. Do what it takes to acquire the Cubs slugger in keeper formats. He appears to be as close as they come to a sure thing in baseball.
The Rock Solid
- Miguel Cabrera DET 33
- Joey Votto CIN 33
- Edwin Encarnacion CLE 34
Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best hitter of his generation, which means you may have to pay a bit more than you should for the superstar name value. Words like “regression” are starting to creep into his fantasy bio, but regression from first ballot HOF numbers are still better than almost all of the field. If batting average is a category in your league, consider Miggy even higher. He’s won four of the past six AL batting titles by hitting .330 or higher in the years he won the crown and even hit over .310 in his two “down” years over that period. I’d snatch him up in single season formats and expect a king’s ransom in return in a keeper league trade.
Joey Votto is an offensive force. His counting stats are a tick lower than the other players in this tier because of his patient eye and lack of supporting staff, but players who flirt with a 1.000 OPS every year are truly difficult to find. Go after Votto with fervor in formats that reward OBP and hope that 2014 was a one time dip that won’t be repeated.
Edwin Encarnacion is arguably the most consistent hitter in baseball over the past five seasons. Assuming health, “Steady Eddie” should be a lock for 35 HRs and 100 RBIs with the potential for more. The only concerns are the typical decline of a 34-year-old slugger and adapting to Cleveland’s clubhouse. I say acquire with confidence.
The High Potential
- Jose Abreu CWS 30
- Freddie Freeman ATL 27
- Wil Myers SD 26
Jose Abreu and the rest of the High Potential Tier could describe their 2016 as the “Tale of Two Seasons.” Abreu has shown slight decline over his first three MLB seasons as pitchers have adjusted to his phenomenal start in 2014. After the first half of 2016, fantasy owners and pundits were starting to use the dreaded “B” word to describe this possible “bust”, but Jose rebounded nicely and produced a .319 BA and .898 OPS post all-star. His numbers are impressively consistent over three full seasons. Could I interest you in 25-35 HRs with 100 RBIs and an AVG in the .300 neighborhood? If not, someone else will be.
Freddie Freeman saved his best for the 2nd half of 2016. If he can sustain this, the 27-year-old has the potential to stay in the elite tier for years. Do you buy the breakout? The home run total nearly doubled up to 34 last season, so was this an outlier or the new world order? You’ll have to pay a high price to find out for yourself, but the reward could be immense if he can get anywhere close to the 1.067 OPS he posted over the 2nd half of last season.
Wil Myers had the breakout that everyone was waiting for since his days as a Tampa Bays blue chip prospect. If Myers had matched his first half production after the break, we’d be talking about the new class of the first base position. If he can continue to develop, the Padres slugger will be a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt with the unique potential to go 30/30 from the 1B position. There is serious regression risk, but the ceiling is equally as high. Which version of this boom or bust pick do you believe in?
The Fallback Tier
- Hanley Ramirez BOS 33
- Ian Desmond COL 31
- Eric Hosmer KC 27
- Chris Davis BAL 31
- Carlos Santana CLE 30
Hanley Ramirez’s vintage performance last year makes it’s easy to blame his 2015 season on the failed OF experiment. Hanley is getting long in the tooth, so he’s probably not going to flashback to 2009 when he finished 2nd in the MVP voting behind Pujols. It sounds like the Red Sox are going to plant him at DH this year, which could be great news for his fantasy owners, counting stats and durability. There has been a pretty wide range of outcomes with Hanley over the years, but the good Hanley will give you the same production as the players two tiers higher.
Ian Desmond will most likely be added to fantasy rosters as an OF this season, but the extra 1B eligibility he will acquire in April only adds to his value. He’s been very consistent, hitting 19 or more HR’s over the past 5 seasons, and his counting numbers can only go up in Coors Field. The only knock on Desmond is a poor OBP and OPS by 1B standards, so acquire him for his positional versatility and look forward to Rockies home games.
Eric Hosmer finally cracked 20+ HRs last season with 25 and drove in 104. He gave up some batting average to do it and has never had great counting stats, so why would he be in this tier? His age puts him right in his statistical prime, and as Sparky Anderson famously said, “Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contract; I’ll win a pennant every year.” Maybe that works in fantasy baseball too.
Chris Davis can be a frustrating player to own in fantasy. There are a Grand Canyon wide range of outcomes for his 2017 season. He could hit anywhere from .280 to the Mendoza Line and hit 50 bombs or half of that. I wouldn’t reach for a player with this much variability, but take him if you’re feeling lucky. He could single-handedly tip the power scales in your favor.
Carlos Santana posted the best season of his career in 2016 with career high stats almost across the board. He’s produced extremely consistent numbers since he’s been in the big leagues, so feel confident knowing what you’re going to get, but expect the 34 HR’s and .259 average from last season to regress to the mean a bit.
The Fall Way Back Tier
- Albert Pujols LAA 37
- Brandon Belt SF 28
- Adrian Gonzalez LAD 34
Albert Pujols can still hit the ball out of the ballpark. He’s probably going to get hurt and you’re probably going to have to reach for him a little bit because he’s a first ballot HOFer. Acquire him for old time’s sake and enjoy the hot streaks, but don’t be surprised or disappointed when it’s time for plan B. Pair Pujols with a fallback option in anything deeper than a 10 team mixed league.
Brandon Belt produced a solid .928 OPS over the first half of last season, but crashed back down to earth in the second half. He’s in his prime and never touched 20 HRs, so expect solid production with a low ceiling. Acquire Belt on the cheap if you don’t want to be the one without a chair when the music stops.
Adrian Gonzalez has been extremely consistent and durable over the past four seasons. Last season may have been the start of the decline, so pull the trigger on Adrian if you’re risk averse and can live with a HR ceiling around 25 and RBIs and runs that will not approach 100. Snap up the career .290 hitter if you need a BA bump, just remember the numbers aren’t trending upward at this age.
Format Dependant Tier
- Mike Napoli FA 35
- Chris Carter FA 30
These batting average killing strikeout machines can help your team win, as long as the format is right. Is batting average a category in your league? Forget it. Are there harsh penalties for striking out like it’s your job? Find another option. Don’t be fooled when these guys go on a predictable hot streak this season. These two are only viable options for leagues that do not reward batting average and potentially points leagues, depending on your scoring system.
The Wild Card Tier
- C.J. Cron LAA 27
- Lucas Duda NYM 31
- Justin Bour MIA 28
- Tommy Joseph PHI 25
Here are the players that will be taken at the end of drafts to fill out your CI and bench slots. There could even be some shallow mixed league appeal if things break right. The Angels have been waiting seemingly forever for C.J. Cron to show his potential, maybe this is the year. Lucas Duda can’t seem to stay on the field, but is capable of a short-term power streak that ranks with the best, so good luck with your timing. Justin Bour‘s value lies totally as a platoon player, as he logged 291 productive plate appearances vs. RHP and only 30 vs. LHP. Consider him for DFS and leagues with daily roster changes. Tommy Joseph can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but that’s about it. Add him if you’re lacking in the power department and hope the average doesn’t hurt.
The Prospect Flier Tier
- A.J. Reed HOU 23
- Greg Bird NYY 24
- Josh Bell PIT 24
- Dan Vogelbach SEA 24
There are far more reliable options available to you at the end of your draft or auction, but they do not have this much sheer potential. All four of these players might end up being total busts in 2017, but if just one of them breaks out, they will help you win your league or provide you with a valuable trade chip, especially in dynasty leagues. Stash one of these lottery tickets on your bench and be patient through the first portion of the season, but make sure you have a better option locked into your starting lineup.
The Excluded List
- Daniel Murphy WAS 32 2B/1B
- Matt Carpenter STL 31 3B/1B/2B
- Brad Miller TB 27 SS/1B
These guys have plenty of value in your fantasy lineup, but you’re wasting some of it by inking them in at first base. These three players will most likely be drafted to play a shallower or middle infield position in your league and therefore were excluded from this list. Stay tuned for future positional tier articles for information on these players.
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