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MLB Baseball Column: Closer by Committee

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February 4, 2013
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First Things First

Walter Mosch
Senior Writer, Fantrax

The top four season point totals among first basemen during the 2012 season – 615, 585, 571 and 550, recorded by Edwin Encarnacion, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Billy Butler, respectively.

First base has traditionally been a prime offensive position, but injuries and age have changed the landscape.  While there is still a plethora of options at the position, many of the cost-effective plays are now young up-and-comers.

There are cost-efficient plays in every price range so the players you tap for your squad really depend upon the overall make-up of your roster. There are many possible ways to play this position and space precludes us from looking at every option.  

THE STUDS

Albert Pujols - 3220

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  Pujols was the 28th-highest scoring first baseman in the game through May 14 with a .197 batting average with one round tripper and 12 RBI – scoring at 1.94 PPG clip through his first 35 games.  From May 14 through the end of the season Albert was Albert – leading all first basemen with 503 points while sporting a .312/29/93 line and a .964 OPS.  While Pujols just turned 33, he is no longer the new guy in town after the big contract signing.  That honor falls to Josh Hamilton.  Expect big counting numbers from Albert, but he is no longer a must-have.

Prince Fielder – 3000

Fielder is the poster child for durability – having missed just one game in the last 4 seasons and 13 total games in the past seven years.  You can plug him into your line-up from day one and fugghedaboudit.  He’s had the second most Fantasy points at the position in each of the past two seasons. As with all players who will put a dent in your salary cap total, you need to ask yourself if he is more cost-effective than other high-priced players in the total pool – not just compared to other first basemen.

Joey Votto – 2950

Votto plays half his games in diminutive Great American Ball Park and at age 29 sits squarely in his hitting prime.  On June 30 of last season - prior to the onset of his knee “issues” - he was hitting .350/14/47 with 50 runs scored and leading all first basemen with 4.3 PPG and 333 Fantasy points.  He’s only cranked more than 30 homers once in his career and he doesn’t run much anymore – probably even less now that he’s coming off knee surgery.  His walk rate has improved in each of his five seasons with the Reds and last year he walked at an astounding 19.8% rate.  In fact, he was one of the few MLB hitters who walked more often than he struck out.  His price tag is actually relatively moderate compared to other expensive players at his position and – assuming he is fully recovered from his surgery - he definitely has the potential to outperform his salary.

Edwin Encarnacion – 2720

If EE can come close to duplicating his breakout .282/42/110 performance (with 13 steals thrown in for good measure), then he should be the most cost-effective play in the higher salary range.  EE became a much more patient hitter as his BB rate improved from 8.1% in 2011 to 13% last season.  The Jays hitting coach apparently tweaked his swing in a way that increased his bat speed and allowed him to stay back on the ball.  He played in the most games in his career (151) after averaging just 105 MLB games in the 3 previous seasons.  The Jays have also made significant upgrades to their offense and if Encarnacion can avoid the DL, he’s got a good shot to reach 600 points again.

Billy Butler – 2630

Butler had a career year in 2012 as he put up a .313/29/107 line in 161 games.  He’s a professional hitter who is entering his age-27 season.  He’s not a threat to steal and his 47.2% career ground ball rate means that he’s unlikely to improve much in the home run department.   He scored 530, 503, and 514 points, respectively, from 2009 through 2011 and had a career-high 550 points in 2012.  Butler is durable, consistent and entering his hitting prime, but the bottom line is that he is unlikely to outperform his salary for the fantasy points game.


MID-RANGE

David Ortiz – 2370         

Big Papi put up a .309/29/96 line and 551 points in 146 games in 2011.  In 2012, he led all first basemen with 4.21 PPG and a 3.18/23/60 line in 90 games before an Achilles’ tendon injury ended his season. Last year his walk rate (14.6%) was actually higher than his strikeout rate (13.3%).  The guy can still rake.  However, he’s 37 and the impact of his injury is still uncertain.  Likewise, the Astro’s move to the AL West means that interleague play will be a constant theme throughout the season and Ortiz owners will need to be on their toes – anticipating benching him for weeks when the Sox play in NL parks without the DH.  His price tag is temptingly low and more than a few will roster Ortiz - enduring the risks that come with his potential for cost-effective production.

Paul Goldschmidt – 2350

The 25-year-old Goldschmidt has made steady improvements in plate discipline throughout his young professional career and that trend continued into his first full season in MLB.  After a disastrous month of April – a 27.3% K rate and a .254 BABIP – he looked like he might need some more seasoning.  Goldschmidt rebounded to finish at .286/20/82 with 18 swipes and 3.53 PPG.  He’s never had a BABIP lower than .323 as a pro and that was supported last year by a terrific 23.9% line drive rate.  He plays half his games in a great hitters park and has a chance to eclipse 600 points should he continue to improve.

Allen Craig – 2280

Craig finished in the top ten of qualified first basemen in homers, runs, RBI, batting average, and OBP.  He’s got decent power, a great contact rate (swinging strike rate of 6.9%), and scored at a 3.82 PPG clip in 2012.  He’s a late bloomer (turns 29 in July) who’s had his path to playing time blocked at various points by Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Beltran.  The big question mark here is health - as he’s landed on the DL for ailments ranging from a bruised knee to a strained groin to a hamstring issue in the past 2 seasons.  He’s right in his prime hitting years and could conceivably go .300/30/100 if he can stay on the field.

Freddie Freeman – 2200

The 23-year-old Braves first baseman struggled with a vision problem the first 3 months of 2012.  He improved his BB/K ratio dramatically to 46/64 and his PPG to 3.5 after July 1st as he matured into a more selective hitter.  The fact that Atlanta cornered the market on Uptons during the off-season should help him in both runs scored and RBI.  Freeman had a terrific line drive rate (26%) and his average was depressed by an unlucky BABIP.  If his power ever starts to align with his 6’5”, 225-pound frame, he could be a beast.

Eric Hosmer – 2170 

Last year I wrote, “Hosmer is another 22-year-old with great expectations.  He mashed at a 293/19/75 clip with 11 steals in 128 games in his rookie season (2011) with the Royals.“  Now he’s 23 and coming off a disappointing sophomore season.  He actually improved his walk rate and swung at fewer pitches outside the zone in 2012.  He had a ridiculously low BABIP (.255) and after a horrendous start, wound up pressing all year long.  While bad luck accounted for part of his awful BABIP, it was also partly attributable to the fact that Hosmer appeared unable to adjust to the infield shifts that defenses employed against him.  The talent is undeniable.  Keep an eye on him during spring training.  If he shows he can beat the shift, Hosmer could be a low-percentage find – a real diamond in the…. uh….er……diamond.


BARGAIN BASEMENT

Anthony Rizzo (1740)

Rizzo appears to be the latest Face of the Franchise in Chicago coming off of a rookie season when he .285/15/48 in 87 games following a June call-up.  One concern with Rizzo is that he hit just .208 with 4 jacks against lefties in 101 ABs last season – which is admittedly a small sample size.  The question you should be asking yourself is “Does Rizzo afford you better value than other players (and particularly outfielders) in that price range?”

Lance Berkman (1550)

Berkman signed a one-year $10 million deal with the Rangers this winter to serve as their primary DH and Ron Washington indicated shortly thereafter that the switch-hitting 37-year-old would bat in the #3 hole in the line-up.  He’s coming off of an injury-plagued season in 2012 that limited him to 32 games and averaged just 134 games per season from 2009-2011.  Hitting in the heart of a productive line-up in the best hitters park this side of Coors Field is enticing, but health is the real concern.  If he winds up resting once a week (presumably against southpaws whom he does not fare as well against) to keep him fresh, then that would cut into his value considerably.  This is a situation that bears watching.

Brandon Belt (1350)

We can argue about whether or not Bruce Bochy has been patient enough with Belt, but the soon-to-be 25-year-oldis a former topprospect who has been unable to establish himself as the everyday first basemen each of the past two seasons.  The power numbers that he put up in the minors have disappeared in cavernous Pac Bell Park, but he can swipe a base, hit .280, and deftly field his position.  His cheap salary will afford Fantasy owners the chance to roster Big Boppers elsewhere in their line-ups.

Avoid:

Adrian Gonzalez  - 2960

His moniker might have to change from A-Gone to A-Grounder.  His BB%, swings at balls outside the zone %, home runs and ground ball% since 2007 are all trending in the wrong direction.

Year

Walk %

O-Swing %

HR

GB%

2009

17.5

23.1

40

38.8

2010

13.4

31.8

31

39.5

2011

10.3

35.5

27

46.7

2012

6.1

37.3

18

40.3

 

Chris Davis (1790)

Davis had his long-awaited breakout year for the Orioles as he raked to the tune of .270/33/85 in just 139 games.  He began pulling the ball more in 2012 and the result was a dramatic increase in home runs.  Strikeouts are the bane of his existence and the fact that he was able to hit .270 while striking out more than 30% of the time was astonishing.  Like Carlos Pena in his prime, Davis is so streaky, I can never figure out when to insert him in my line-up so I stay away.


THE BOTTOM LINE 

Four of the top nine hitters in 2011 were first basemen, but during the 2012 season there were just two first sackers among the top 15 point-scorers.  Traditionally, this has been a position where Fantasy mangers have loaded up on big bats.  As the old-line studs reach their 30s and younger players emerge, it is clear that the position also offers some of the most cost-effective players in the game. 

While the overall salary structure of your team will dictate the players you choose, you should certainly consider having players from across the price spectrum on your roster.

 

 

 

Walter has written about Fantasy Points Challenge games for Fantasy sites such as The Hot Sheet and Owner's Edge.

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milhouse538 Feb 9, 2013 12:43:32 PM EST
Houston's GM said on Clubhouse Confidential that Carter could get something close to a full season's at bats between left field, first base and designated hitter.
Walter Mosch Feb 6, 2013 12:40:49 PM EST
At 1020, Carter is definitely a consideration for points as well. With Brett Wallace and Carlos Pena in the mix at 1B and DH, the main consideration is whether he is in danger of being platooned? That answer is not clear at the moment. Playing in Minute Maid is definitely an upgrade over Oakland Coliseum. Hopefully, his playing status will be clarified during Spring Training.
Northcoast Feb 6, 2013 2:45:50 AM EST
Good stuff as usual, Chris Carter's trade to Astro's could make him an interesting sleeper play, especially in later rounds of draft leagues.
SIXPACK Feb 5, 2013 12:16:01 PM EST
Good work Walter

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