Fantasy Baseball 2012: Early First Base Rankings & Profiles

Below is my early look at the 2012 first base rankings along with profiles of each player. I covered some of these guys in my 2011 Review of my Preseason First Base Rankings, so you might read something you have read before. 

I am taking a bit of a risk with ranking Albert Pujols at #3, but will give a snippet on my thoughts as to why, and will follow with a separate article on him tomorrow. The trend in his stats are going down, yet they are still very good. My concern is that the downtrend could continue into 2012 due to age and injuries.

There are a few guys, like Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales, who probably belong in these rankings, but the uncertainty of their injuries left them off. Morneau did not hit well in 2011 but I want to see if he is fully recovered from from his concussion before including him. As for Morales, I have not seen anything positive regarding his rehab, so if his status changes, he will be included in this list should he prove 100% healthy.

Everyone says that first base is deep, and it is compared to other positions, but after the 8-9, there are some questions marks, so I suggest if you don't get a first baseman early in your draft, you can wait while you fill other deeper positions like outfielders and starting pitchers.

Now onto my early look at the 2012 First Base Rankings:

1. Miguel Cabrera, DET -Every year I think Cabrera can hit 40 HRs yet the closest he has come to hitting 40 bombs is in 2010 when he hit 38. Miggy hit .344-.448-.586 with 30 HRs, 105 RBI, 111 runs scored and he walked more than he struck out in 2011. His home run total dropped from 38 to 30 this season, mainly as a result of him hitting just 33.8% of his batted balls in the air, down from 41.7% in 2010, and down from his career average FB% of 37% An increase in fly balls hit, and a slight jump in his HR/FB% could produce a 40 HR season from Miggy. He has averaged 33 HRs and 115 RBI in his 8 full seasons in the majors and a career triple slash line of .317-.395-.555. I think he can approach 40 HRs and 120 RBI in 2012.

Check out the rest of my early First Base Rankings for 2012 after the jump:

2. Adrian Gonzalez, BOS-I think Gonzalez has another 35 home run season in him, and I wonder if his home run totals were down because he was still recovering from his offseason shoulder surgery when the season started. Gonzalez still had a great year at the plate hitting .338-.410-.548 with 27 HRs, 117 RBI and 108 runs scored in 2011. His HR/ISO/SLG/2B trend looks like this over the last 3 seasons:

2009- 0/.274/.551/27

2010- 31/.213/.511/33

2011- 27/.210/.548/45

As you can see the home runs are down, but he is still hitting for decent power as he is hitting more and more doubles. Is this trend something to worry about? I would say not really, as Gonzalez is still young enough to top 30 HRs again in 2012 and beyond. I can see a 35 HR, 125 RBI season from him in 2012.

3. Albert Pujols, STL-as I said, this ranking may stir some comments but I am going with what I see on his stat page and when I watch him at the plate. Albert hit .299-.366-.541 with 37 HRs, 99 RBI, 105 runs scored and 9 stolen bases this season. As I said, I will have a separate article on why I ranked him here, but a couple telling stats for me was the big drop in walk rate from 14.7% to 9.4%, the increase in first pitch strikes and the drop in extra base hits (home run and doubles dropped). He could very well make me look very bad for ranking him here, but there comes a time in a hitters career where his production starts to drop off, and it is very easy to drop off from Albert's production levels and still be a productive fantasy hitter. But, I wonder if he is on the down side in his career.

4. Joey Votto, CIN-Votto appeared to have a down year in 2011, but only the power was down from his 2010 MVP season. Votto was the second best first baseman according to fWAR with a 6.9 WAR, and hit .309-.416-.531 with 29 HRs, 103 RBI, 102 runs scored and 8 stolen bases. His HR/RBI/runsSB totals were all down slightly, but he was still very productive, and a 28 years of age is in the prime of his career. Votto is signed through 2013, and there have been rumors that they might listen to trade offers this offseason, but they were quickly shot down by GM Walt Jocketty. Votto hits in a hitter friendly ball park, so another 30-35 HR season is certainly possible for Votto.

5. Prince Fielder, ?-Fielder's ranking may change depending on where he signs this offseason, but as many expected he had an on year in 2011. Fielder is notorious for having on years and off years, and 2011 was another on year, as he hit .299-.415-.566 with 38 HRs, 120 RBI and 95 runs scored. Here are Fielder's HR/ISO/SLG stats since 2006:

2006- 28/.213/.483

2007- 50/.330-/.618

2008- 34/.231/.507

2009- 46/.303/.602

2010- 32/.209/.471

2011- 38/.267/.566

An obvious trend if there ever was one, so 2012 may be an off year for Fielder, but his off years are still decent as he has averaged 31 HRs and 89 RBI, while in his on years he has averaged 45 HRs and 127 RBI. I think he will fall somewhere in between in 2012.

6. Mark Teixeira, NYY-Teixeira has averaged 35 HRs and 113 RBI in his 9 year career, and has hit 30 or more HRs in each of the last 8 seasons. Actually, he has alternated 33 HR and 39 HR seasons the last 4 years, so he could hit 33 HRs in 2012 if that trend continues. One disturbing trend in Teixeira's stats is the downtrend in BABIP/BA/SLG:

2007- .342/.306/.563

2008- .316/.308/.552

2009- .302/.292/.565

2010- .268/.256/.481

2011- .239/.248/.494

Teixeira's extra base hits have dropped the last two years as well, but he hits in Coors Field East where pop flys turn into HRs in Yankee Stadium. If Teixeira gets a bit more lucky in his batting average of balls in play in 2012, he could approach 40 HRs in 2012, and push his BA to the more respectable .270-.275 range.

7. Eric Hosmer, KC- I don't watch too may American League games during the season, but think Hosmer may be one of the young AL hitters who push me to watch more. Hosmer, along with Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, are two AL hitters I most want to watch in 2012. Hosmer has been compared to a younger Joey Votto, and I think the comparison is appropriate. Hosmer hit .293-.334-.465 with 19 HRs, 76 RBI, 66 runs scored and 11 stolen bases in his rookie season. In his rookie season, Votto hit .297-.368-.506 with 24 HRs, 84 RBI, 69 runs scored and 7 stolen bases, but that was after a an 84 at bat cup of coffee in 2007. Hosmer could stand to improve on his 1.57 GB/FB rate as he only hit 31.7% of his batted balls in the air in 2011. I think he can make the necessary adjustments in his approach at the plate and go 25-95-.300-15 in 2012, and could approach 30-100-20 which would move him up several spots in these rankings. Yes, I am high on Hosmer.

8. Paul Konerko, CHW-Konerko proved his critic wrong in 2011 as some expected a down year from him after his 2010 season which saw him hit 39 HRs and drive in 111 runs. Konerko followed that up with a 31 homer, 105 RBI, 69 runs scored and a triple slash line of .300-.388-.517. Konerko turns 36 in March, so his numbers could start falling in 2012 as age catches up to him, but his stats tell a different story. He still hits for power and owns an excellent eye at the plate, but I am not sure we can expect another line drive rate over 22% in 2012, so the BA may drop a bit, but he could still approach 30 HRs hitting in U.S. Cellular Field.

9. Carlos Santana, CLE- Santana was Robert's top ranked catcher and I couldn't agree more. I don't know if it is because he was once in the Dodgers farm system, but Santana put up excellent power stats in 2011 despite a low BABIP. He triple slashed .239-.352-.457 with 27 HRs, 79 RBI, 84 runs scored and he chipped in with 5 stolen bases to boot. Santana's line drive rate dropped from 21.16% in 2010 to just 15.4% in 2011, so if he can hit more line drives in 2012, his BA will benefit. Santana strikes out in around 20% of his at bats, but walks in close to 15% of his at bats as well, so the only thing that held him back from an excellent season in 2011 was luck, and I see that changing in 2012. I can see 30-90-.275 from Santana in 2012.

10. Mike Napoli, TEX-NA-PO-LI!! NA-PO-LI!! Napoli concluded an excellent 2011 season with a tremendous playoff and World Series performance, but I wonder if this season was a career year for him. Napoli hit .320-.414-.631 with 30 HRs, 75 RBI, 72 runs scored and 4 stolen bases. Yes, he's a catcher, but he also plays first base, and he cut his strikeout rate down from 26.9% to 19.7% and increased his walk rate to 13.4% from 8.2% this season. He also was very lucky at the plate, as his batting average of balls in play jumped to .344 from .279 in 2010. Napoli's batted ball data did not change much from 2010, but he did experience an increase in his HR/FB rate from 19.3% to 25.4% which was the best in all of baseball. I like Napoli's power, but I don't think he can maintain this HR/FB rate heading into the 2012 season. I can see a 25 HR, 75 RBI season from him next year.

11. Mark Reynolds, BAL-you might say Reynolds is ranked too high, and on the surface, I see your point, but only Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira hit more home runs than Reynolds in 2011. Reynolds still strikes out a lot and doesn't hit for a good average, but he triple slashed .221-.323-.483 with 37 bombs, 86 RBI, 84 runs scored and chipped in with 6 stolen bases this year. Only 5 other hitters had a higher fly ball rate in 2011, so as long as he keeps hitting fly balls at a 48% clip, plenty will be flying over the fences.  I rank him here because power hitters are becoming scarce, and league average BA is falling as well. League average triple slash lines in 2011 was .255-.321-.399, so he is above league average in OBP and SLG.

12. Michael Young, TEX-Young was very close to getting traded last offseason, and Ranger fans are happy that he didn't. Young hit  a career hugh .338-.380-.474 with just 11 HRs, 106 RBI, 88 runs and 6 stolen bases this season. Young benefitted from a career high .367 BABIP and career low 11.3% strikeout rate, and I am not sure if he can sustain them in 2012. Young is a safe mid-round choice if you need a first baseman as he will provide above league average stats in BA/RBI and runs scored, with around 15 home runs.

13. Michael Morse, WAS- Morse came out of nowhere to hit .303-.360-.550 with 31 HRs, 95 RBI, and 73 runs scored in 2011. He took over for Adam Laroche when Laroche was placed on the DL in early May and responded with a breakout season. Morse benefitted from a .344 batting average of balls in play and a 19.5% line drive rate, up from his 15.8% line drive rate in 2010. Morse has many critics because he is huge and is a liability in the field, but he was very consistent at the plate this season. After his .211 BA in April, Morse hit .411 in May, .299 in June, .344 in July, .333 in August and .237 in September; and he hit 6 or more home runs in 4 of the 6 months this year. I am not sure he can go 30-95 in 2012, but I think he can go 25-85 with upside to 30-95 again.

14. Ryan Howard, PHI-you are probably asking yourself "what is he thinking ranking Howard so low? Has he gone mad?" My thoughts are that Howard will be out longer than expected, returning in late May/early June rather than in April. Far fetched? Maybe, but I am not sure he can return to baseball activities 6 months after tearing his achilles. Could be wrong, and if I am, I will move him up. Even still, he will probably only move up a few spots, if at all. The reasons I laid out are in my Review of my Preseason First Base Rankings. Here is an excerpt:

Ponder his ISO/SLG/HR trend when considering drafting Howard in 2012:

2006- .346/.659/58

2007- .316/.584/47

2008- .292/.543/48

2009- .292/.571/45

2010- .229/.505/31

2011- .235/.488/33

15. Freddie Freeman, ATL-Freeman exceeded my expectations in 2011, hitting .282-.346-.448 with 21 HRs, 76 RBI, 67 runs scored and 142-53 K/BB rate this season. His K% increased from 16.2% in AAA to 22.4% in the big leagues, yet he maintained an 8% walk rate. Of concern for me is that Freeman hit .282 but enjoyed a 23% line drive rate, so should the line drives turn into more ground balls or fly balls, his BA could suffer. Which leads to me wonder if I was a year to early to be negative on him. If he can maintain the line drive rate, he should continue to hit for a solid BA, and a few more home runs as a result.

16. Adam Lind, TOR-I remember ranking Lind amongst my Top 10 first baseman after his breakout 2010 season, but he has disappointed in the power and batting average categories in 2010 and 2011. After triple slashing .305-.370-.562 with 35 HRs, 46 doubles and driving in 114 runs, his numbers have slipped:

2010- .237-.287-.425, 23 HR, 32 doubles, and 72 RBI

2011- .251-.295-.439, 26 HRs, 16 doubles and 87 RBI

Since his breakout season, Lind has stopped walking and hitting for power. Sure the HRs are ok, but the doubles have dropped in a big way. But, Lind is doing one thing right, he is hitting line drives at a 21.8% clip, but Lind's BABIP of .265 is keeping his BA lower than it should be. Looking at his plate discipline stats over at FanGraphs, he swung at a career high 37.1% pitches outside the zone, so that tendency certainly did not help the BA or the power. HIs swings outside the zone in 2009 was just 24.7%, so he needs to be more selective at the plate going forward. 

17. Ike Davis, NYM-Davis missed most of 2011, but when he was healthy, he was on his way to an excellent season at the plate. At the time of his injury, Davis was triple slashing .302-.383-.543 with 7 HRs, 25 RBI, 8 doubles, and 20 runs scored in just 129 at bats. And that was BEFORE the Mets decided to move in the fences. If he proves he is healthy come spring training, I would move him up a few spots in these rankings. I think he can approach 30 HRs in 2012 as the Mets offense should benefit from the change in the dimensions of their ballpark. 

18. Lance Berkman, HOU-who saw this power surge coming from Berkman? I have to admit, while watching the World Series, I wondered if teaming up with Mark McGwire had something to do with the power surge. Berkman hit .301-.412-.547 with 31 HRs, 94 RBI and 90 runs scored this season, all after hitting just 14 HRs in 2010. His 31 HRs were the most he has hit since the 2007 season, when he was 4 years younger. The question for fantasy owners is whether he can duplicate this performance in 2012. Berkman turns 36 in February, so I cannot predict a repeat of his 2011 power surge. After a 20 HR, 58 RBI first half, Berkman hit just 11 HRs and drove in 36 in the second half of 2011, so I would lean toward some regression in Berkman's stats in 2012.

19. Michael Cuddyer, ?-I am not sure where Cuddyer will be playing in 2012, as he is a free agent this offseason, but I have to think if he leaves Minnesota, his power numbers should benefit a bit. But Cuddyer will turn 33 years of age in March, so I wouldn't expect a big increase in power from him. Cuddyer is eligible at first base and the outfield, but did play 17 games at second base in 2011, so if you are in a league where the eligibility requirement is 10 or 15 games, then Cuddyer is a bit more valuable in 2012. Cuddyer doesn't do anything great, but did hit ,284-.346-.459 with 20 HRs, 70 RBI, 70 runs and 11 stolen bases this season. If he does end up leaving the Twins, I expect a few more home runs and a few more RBI in 2012, assuming he plays every day.

20. Gaby Sanchez, MIA-with Cuddyer and Sanchez, I can easily drop them from my Top 20 before draft day 2012 and replace them with guys like Mark Trumbo. Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Morneau, Kendry Morales or Carlos Lee. Sanchez is a late round draft choice if you miss out on the tip 6-7 first baseman in the first 4-5 rounds. Sanchez hit .266-.352-.427 with 19 HRs, 78 RBI and 72 runs scored in 2011, basically duplicating his 2010 season stats. Even though his power dropped a bit, he walked more and struck out less in 2011, so that is a very good sign heading into 2012. The Marlins are moving to a new stadium, which, from what I have read, has similar dimensions to their current ballpark, but we won't know how it plays till the season starts. Sanchez is yet another hitter to own a 20% line drive rate and have a BA below .300. I don't see Sanchez doing much more than he did in 2011, so I will project a 20-80-.275 season from him in 2012.

Just missed: Mark Trumbo, LAA, Carlos Lee, HOU, Carlos Pena, ?,  Paul Goldschmidt, ARI, Justin Morneau, MIN, Kendrys Morales, LAA

Feel free to comment on the rankings or any of the player profiles above in the comments section below.

 

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