Perennially the deepest position in fantasy baseball, first base is where you’ll find some of the game’s nastiest mashers (not to mention the best player of the past 10 years). Top to bottom you’re getting a near lock for 20-plus home runs, something no other position can boast.
With this in mind, many prefer to wait on the position and grab a guy like Kendry Morales in later rounds in order to fill much scarcer positions early. This is a fine strategy but beware, wait too long and you’re power bat will come with a steep cost in batting average.
In the end, if you’re trying to draft the best players that are going to fill up the stat sheet for you on a weekly basis, then you should end up with a first basemen in your first four picks. Plain and simple, these guys are the cornerstones of any fantasy offense.
Here’s the first base installment of my 2011 fantasy baseball rankings. Here’s where you can find catchers. Thoughts and opinions are encouraged.
1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals – No reason to go all that deep into this one as Pujols is regarded as the best player of the past decade and one of the best ever. For fun, here’s his average line over the course of his 10-year career: 119/41/123/8/.331. The only question this season will be where he’ll be playing in 2012.
Are you concerned about Miguel Cabrera this season?
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – Cabrera’s recent relapse into alcoholism and run-in with the law has suddenly put his draft position in jeopardy, but I’m not ready to move him out of the No.2 spot among first basemen yet. While his massive 2010 campaign illustrated how the previous struggles in his personal life had limited him some on the diamond, he has still managed to drive in over 100 runs in all seven of his full seasons and hit 33-plus home runs in six of them. Add a minimum .310 average onto that and you have exactly the kind of guy you want in the first round of your draft.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox – Gonzalez has been a ball-blasting stud for the past four seasons now, posting huge offensive numbers year-in and year-out despite playing in Petco Park and surrounded by mediocre lineups. The fantasy community let out a collective squeal of joy when his move to Boston became official. Think about it: a guy who has been a lock for 30-plus bombs despite playing in one of the toughest hitters parks in the major leagues just got moved to a powerhouse lineup in a hitter’s park. Shoulder issue or not, considering what he has done in the past under adverse circumstances I have a hard time projecting anything less than 100/40/115.
4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds – There’s definitely a case to be made for the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple Crown contender for the number three ranking, but it will be extremely difficult for him to repeat last year’s remarkable line of 106/37/113/16/.324. Not that he is not capable or that he was somehow a fluke in 2010, but previous to last season he had never hit more than 25 home runs or registered 85-plus runs and RBIs. I still think he’s a safe bet for 30 home runs and at a minimum 90/90 but I expect a small regression to be in the offing due to an obscene 25 percent home run-to-flyball ratio that will be tough to repeat.
5. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies – It’s odd to call a guy who hit 31 home runs last season a “rebound candidate” but that’s exactly what Howard is after an ankle injury hampered him from August through the end of the season. He was on pace for his usually gaudy home run and RBI numbers and was even providing a fantastic .292 batting average before taking nearly three weeks to get back on the field after his injury. He proceeded to hit .231 after that and ended up with what looks like a declining season. Now fully healthy, expect a rebound into 100/40/100 territory with an average somewhere in the .280 range to go with it.
6. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees – Teixeira is another guy who had a “down year” by many standards, but when you look at the finished product you can see that the only statistic that is true for is his batting average, which at .256 was the lowest of his career. Some may think this was the result of him never coming out of one his notoriously slow starts to the season but his lopsided splits actually remained similar, it’s just hard to reach a .300 average by the end of the year when you start the surge at .221. What’s encouraging is the career-worst batting average came with a BaBIP 35 points lower than his career average so things should swing back to normal this year. His first half will surely be poor as usual, but an absurd second half and his surrounding lineup will make him a fantastic first base option once again.
7. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers – It’s an odd numbered year, so it’s time for another huge season from Prince Fielder, who after batting .299 in 2009 followed it up with a pathetic .261 last year, not to mention a drop of nearly 60 RBIs. Nothing really troubling shows in his peripheral stats; his strikeout rate remained similar, his walk rate actually increased and his contact and swing rate didn’t move much either. The big difference is in his HR/FB percentage, which is in the 23 percent range in his good years and 18 percent in the off years. If he can pull that back up like he seems to do every other year, he’ll be in for a monster year.
8. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox – Youk was on pace for one of his regularly excellent seasons (.964 OPS the past three seasons) before going down in early August with one of the many thumb injuries that terrorized baseball in 2010. There’s absolutely, 100 percent, zero reason to expect anything other than consistent excellency from Youkilis this season, and what makes him so valuable is that he will very quickly attain third base eligibility where he will be a top-five option. Draft with upmost confidence.
9. Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins – Another victim of the injury bug but of the more bizarre fashion, Morneau took a knee to the head sliding into second base in early July, sustaining a concussion that ended his season despite numerous optimistic reports that had him coming back. It was a massive blow to fantasy owners, as the Minnesota Twins’ first baseman was playing unconscious baseball (no pun intended); if he had played 162 games his line would have been 106/36/112/.345 with an OPS at 1.055. He has been taking batting practice and working out but is still waiting to gain clearance to play in games, a sign of how serious his concussion apparently was. Still, like Youkilis, a healthy Morneau will be a fantastic first base option and will be available much later than the guys listed above.
10. Kendry Morales, Anaheim Angels – Met with skepticism going into 2010 fantasy drafts after a monster 34 home run season in 2009, Morales’s “fluke or for-real” season was cut brutally short after breaking his leg jumping on home plate after a walk off grand slam. Seriously. The good part is, he was on pace for a big season, with his line drawn out over 162 games coming to 93/35/124/.290. There’s still some debate on whether he’ll be ready by Opening Day, but if he can produce like he has over the past two seasons when healthy, he’ll be a steal in round six as the 11th first baseman off the board in ESPN leagues.
11. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox – This is the point where you start to lose some categories, and there’s no better illustration of that than the mashing or missing Adam Dunn, who has hit 38-40 home runs the past six seasons but hasn’t batted better than .267 in his career. Take one look at his career stats and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get with him, so pay what you feel is appropriate for those numbers. Moving from Washington D.C. to The Cell in Chicago should help him get back up in the 40-bomb range.
12. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals – Butler is the anti-Dunn, giving you a .300 batting average but suspect power. Also counting against him is a weak Kansas City Royals lineup that holds down his run and RBI numbers. That being said, he’s only 24 and his prime power years are yet to come. If he can get the ball in the air a bit more (1.40 GB/FB rate) he should be able to get back to the 20 home run plateau he reached in 2009.
13. Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox – After being written off as a fading star at age 34 last season, Paulie came out of nowhere to have his best season since 2006, blasting 39 home runs and driving in 111 RBIs while batting at a .312 clip and posting the highest slugging percentage of his career. It was fantastic for those who snagged him off the wire, but a favorable BaBIP and the highest strikeout rate of his career likely means this isn’t repeatable in his 14th season. Don’t be the guy that just looks at last year’s numbers and grabs the name too early.
14. Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles – We all know Mark Reynolds’ batting average isn’t going to win you championships, but he hit an all-time low in 2010, batting just .198 in what became his last year in an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform. Also annoying for fantasy owners was the severe lack of stolen bases that made his batting average bearable in 2009, dropping from 24 to seven in 2010. Things have to get better, as his BaBIP was 66 points below his average and while he’s always had a notoriously high strikeout rate. The 42.3-percent he posted last year was off the charts, like, literally. He won’t steal 20 bases like he did in 2009, but a return to the 40 home run range and a .250 batting average is plenty likely.
15. Carlos Pena, Chicago Cubs – Like Reynolds, Pena is a masher who batted below the Mendoza Line last season. Also like his Orioles counterpart, he has a new home this year and there is a lot of optimism for him going into 2011. The .222 BaBIP is one obvious reason, as it’s 57 points below his career average but unlike Reynolds, Pena’s strikeout rate actually dropped two percent from 2009. Looking at his batted ball rates, you can see his problem wasn’t making contact, it was how he was making it as his groundball percentage rose 16 percent while his infield-hit percentage actually doubled. An offseason to work with premiere hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo should do wonders in helping him get back to the 35-plus home run range and out of batting average hell.
Best of the Rest:
Ike Davis - emerging
Derrick Lee - declining
Adam LaRoche - declining
Hey you with the home-run pace, you've still got a douchey face:
Lane Rizzardini is a fantasy football and baseball writer for Brunoboys.net and Rotowire. His earliest fantasy sports memory was drafting Fred Lane in 2003, only to find out Fred's wife had shot him in the offseason.
You can follow him on Twitter @lanerizz