I recently posted an article about how to maximize value with each selection on draft day from the perspective of drafting catchers. You can check that out by clicking here. I will continue on with this series moving from position to position with the next being first base. Just to clarify the purpose of this article is not to tell you which players are better than others but rather to identify where we can maximize the value of our selection and turn profits with the idea in mind that each player will have an associated value on draft day and which players I think will out perform their draft day price tag thus delivering your fantasy team the most bang for you buck.
The first base position has almost always been filled with the most offensively dynamic fantasy assets and has almost always been one of the deepest positions on draft day. Like all positions first base has it's elite performers and you don't need me to tell you that Albert Pujols is good at baseball. But considering that only a few teams are lucky enough to nab the elite on draft day it is important to maximize the value of your selection if you miss out on the clear cut elite.
So with that being said here are five first baseman that I think will outperform their 2013 draft day price tag giving owners a clear profit and five that I think will not.
*For the purposes of this exercise I will only rank the first baseman who realistically will occupy the first base spot on the majority of fantasy teams. For example, I will assume that a player like Buster Posey or Mike Napoli will be occupying the catcher spot on most teams roster and will leave them out of these rankings.
First baseman for profit in 2013:
1.) Joey Votto, 1B, CIN: Votto has been widely regarded as one of the top first baseman in all of baseball since 2008 when he was the Rookie of The Year runner up to Geovany Soto. Votto routinely contributes to four of the five standard fantasy categories, although he has been known to steal a few bases, and if you're in a league that counts OBP he is worth even more. So why is an elite fantasy player like Votto being considered a draft day bargain? The easy answer is that his 2012 season has marred by injuries and his home run production (and other counting stats) have suffered as a result. Fantasy owners who are skimming through top first baseman for 2013 will see his 14 home runs and more than likely go in a different direction and that would be a mistake. While on the surface the 2012 season might look like a dud there are still several signs that point to Votto being a top 10 producer in 2013. Votto has the fifth most doubles in all of baseball at 43 and has done it in only 108 games to go along with a career high 1.053 OPS. He is walking more than he is striking out (91:81 BB/K) and is maintaining a .342 batting average. But even despite his strong peripherals potential owners are going to see his 56 RBI's and 58 runs and bee a bit leery and I believe in some drafts he will fall to the late second or maybe even mid-third rounds. If you can nab him between then (or later) you are likely to realize a large profit. Just for historical perspective, in 2010 Votto was the fourth best position player in all of fantasy and in 2011 he was the 12th best position player. In 2012 he is currently the 94th best position player and just 22nd best first baseman behind position stalwarts like Tyler Colvin, Garrett Jones, and Chris Davis. With the injuries that plagued him in 2012 in the past and a full season of slugging in Great American Ballpark ahead Votto is poised to return to 2011 levels and owners that can grab him with late 20's or mid-30's pick will be glad they didn't overlook Votto-matic.
2.) Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD: From Bean-town to Hollywood Adrian Gonzalez has been a pretty big disappointment for fantasy owners in 2012. From being one of the elite fantasy first baseman for the better part of a decade to a middling option has gotten Gonzo's stock on a sharp decline and if uber-investor Warren Buffett has taught us anything about value it is to always buy low and sell high! For the first time in a long time Gonzalez represents the ideal buy low opportunity for owners looking to add a top-tier player for a middle-tier price. Adrian has posted a career low home run total in 2012 sitting at just 18 over the course of 156 games and the owners who invested a top 20 pick in the slugger are taking huge losses as he has turned in just the 62nd best stat line amongst all fantasy players. What has gone overlooked is the fact that despite his career low in home runs he has already tied his career high with 46 doubles and has still driven in the third most RBI's of his career at 107. The transition to the Dodgers has not gone as smoothly as anyone would have hoped as his power numbers have still been in decline but I believe a full season hitting in the middle of a Dodgers lineup that features a healthy Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, and Shane Victorino/Carl Crawford will remedy that in 2013. As for hitting in the spacious confines of Chavez Ravine it's not like Adrian is a stranger to pitching friendly ballparks as he routinely crushed the ball at Petco Park where he often posted 30+ HR seasons. I will concede that I believe the days of 40+ home runs are behind Adrian but I do think he is capable of posting a line of .300/.370/.500 with 30 HR and 110 RBI's in 2013. One thing that I would be remiss for not mentioning is that Adrian has posted a career low 6.2% BB-rate in 2012 down from a career 10.6% rate which is certainly a red flag but something that I think he will correct in 2013 as he will likely be hitting in the best lineup of his career. In 2010 Adrian was the fifth best first baseman and 34th best player overall, in 2011 he was the second best first baseman and tenth best player overall, in 2012 he was widely regarded as a top 10 player and almost always taken in the first round or early second round in drafts, only to end up being the ninth best first baseman and 62nd best player overall. He will probably go in the third or fourth round in 2013 and if you can nab him in the fourth you will likely see a decent profit as the soon to be 31 year old will have an extended opportunity to rake in one of the best offenses in the National League and rejoin the top tier of ALL fantasy baseball performers.
3.) Eric Hosmer, 1B, KCR: Eric Hosmer has been a riddle wrapped in an enigma for the majority of the 2012 season. Prior to 2012 drafts he was hyped as the next great first baseman and the buzz on him was through the roof after he contributed to all five categories as just a 21 year old in 2011. Fantasy guru's saw his 30+ HR potential and 20 stolen base upside along with his solid .290+ batting average as a sign that he was on the verge of greatness and many of us bought in hook line and sinker and invested accordingly only to get our bubbles burst in a big way. In 2012 he came out of the gate batting just .204 over the first two months of the season and while there were months where he looked like he might break out (June and August) he never recovered from the slow start and looks like he may finish up the 2012 season on the bench with an injured right shoulder. Discount shoppers should be thrilled he never broke out as his once lofty price tag, he was off the boards by the 6th round in most competitive leagues, is now heavily discounted. The young slugger who turns just 23 this month is no stranger to bouncing back after disappointing seasons (see his 2009 in the minors) and he will look do do so again in 2013. All the tools are there and the environment is right as he will see a ton of playing time in the middle of a very underrated offensive lineup. Aside from his extremely low .255 BABIP which almost assuredly will bounce back closer to the .300 mark Hosmer was still able to contribute 16 stolen bases and bumped his BB% up 3.4% from his break out 2011 season (6.0% to 9.4%). He will have to continue to limit his K% though as that rose from 14.6% to 15.9% but that shouldn't be too big of a problem going forward as he has shown good contact skills throughout his minor league career. If you can grab the post-hype Hosmer somewhere between the 9-11th rounds in 2013 there is a real shot of him returning a solid profit as I believe he will post somewhere in the realm of a .280 batting average along with 20-25 home runs and will be a sneaky source of steals posting roughly 20 stolen bags over a full season.
4.) Ike Davis, 1B, NYM: Davis has spent his 2012 season trying to be the next Adam Dunn and so far it's worked out pretty well. After starting off 2012 with horrific .201/.271/.388 prior to the All-Star break Davis has, to an extent, turned things around by raising his 2012 slash line to .225/.305/.456 by posting a decent .251/.342/.531 after the All-Star break which is more indicative of his skill set. His only saving grace prior to the All-Star break was his ability to hit for power as he smacked 12 home runs prior to the break. He turned things on after the break and continued to hit with plus power by tacking on 19 more home runs bringing his season total to 31 home runs. He has also shown the ability to drive runs in with a strong total of 89 RBI's. So what can we expect from Davis going forward? In short probably much of the same in terms of counting stats but I think where he will really break out is if he can figure out how to hit lefties at even a mediocre rate. Right now he is a career .216 hitter against left-handed pitching and much of that is carry over from his 2010 season where he hit .295 against lefties. In an injury shortened 2011 he hit .163 and to date in 2012 he has posted only a .171 average. If he can make the necessary corrections to hit even .220 against lefties in 2013 he will see a huge spike in his batting average and his other counting stats will get a big bump as well. It is also worth mentioning that Ike Davis is probably the only starting first baseman in the majors who is actually jealous of Eric Hosmer's BABIP considering Davis himself has an ugly .245 BABIP that will surely rise in 2013 offering more offense going forward. Despite his obvious flaws Davis offers owners a clear line to huge power numbers as he is currently tied for sixth in home runs and 14th in RBI's amongst all of fantasy baseball first baseman and only the infamous Adam Dunn has more bombs and RBI's while posting a lower batting average. So while many owners will try and nab Adam Dunn upon his resurgent 2012 it would be a smarter value move to wait until a few rounds later to draft Davis. If you can get him in round 13 or later you will set yourself up for a huge profit from the soon to be 26 year old.
5.) Brandon Belt, 1B, SFG: Belt is my pick for biggest value in 2013 hands down. The young slugger offers clear 20/20 potential with a solid batting average and strong counting stats in 2013. The only thing the baby giraffe needs is playing time. So if your reading this Bruce Bochy do the right thing and play your young first baseman and stop wasting all of our time! Belt is not your typical power-centric first baseman and his home run upside is probably hovering around 20 per season and perhaps that is why he has had a tough time locking down a regular gig in San Francisco until late. What he does offer is an outstanding on-base percentage and some speed on the base paths which is a rarity amongst first baseman in today's game which as evidence by his 11 stolen bases and position leading 6 triples. Belt will more than likely play a much larger role in 2013 for the San Francisco Giants but few will take notice on draft day as I fully expect him to still be available beyond round 15 in almost all redraft formats. I think in 2012 he will be able to post a line very similar to Paul Goldschmidt's 2012 season for just a fraction of the cost leaving owners who filled other needs early with a very viable option at first base on the cheap.
First baseman for loss in 2013:
1.) Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, TOR: This one is almost too easy. I fully expect Edwin Encarnacion and the rocket ship he rode in 2012 to come crashing down to earth in 2013. His draft day stock will be somewhere in the late second or early third round in 2013 (Hey, that's Joey Votto territory) and for that type of draft pick the smart money would on a player with a longer track record of success than Encarnacion who has been the biggest fantasy surprise of 2012. Encarnacion set career highs in at-bats, runs, hits, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in 2012 and would be hard pressed to do the same in 2013. A career .264/.344/.471 hitter who only ever eclipsed 25 home runs once (26 in 2008) in his career prior to his 2012 break out. I expect Encarnacion to return to numbers closer to that average in 2012 with probably settle somewhere in the 30-ish home run range in 2013. I'm not going to turn this into a full out bashing session of Encarnacion since his peripheral statistics support his breakout performance and I very much think he will be a top 75 player in 2013, but I refuse to believe that he will be a top 10 performer again in his career and the owners who draft him early in 2013 will have such a slim margin for profit I cannot endorse him at his current price tag. I think his absolute ceiling in 2013 is Albert Pujols's 2012 (.288, 84 runs, 30 HR, 104 RBI) which is currently good for 30th overall but I predict he will end up somewhere in the .270 BA, 80 runs, 30 home runs, 100 RBI range good enough for a near top 50 finish but not enough to justify spending a pick in the first three rounds.
2.) Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY: In fantasy baseball there are no guarantees. But we would all be hard pressed to find a slugger who was more of a guarantee to hit 30+ home runs and drive in 110 RBI's year in and year out the way Mark Teixeira has since his arrival to the big leagues in 2003. To go along with the solid power numbers Tex also used to offer a strong batting average, as he is a career .279 hitter, and contribute to runs as well averaging roughly 94 per season. The key phrase in the last sentence is "used to" for those still paying attention as the once prolific hitter has seen a sharp decline in production and his peripheral statistics tell the story. Since 2009 (his first year in pinstripes) Tex has seen his BB% drop along with his batting average and a player that was once a lock for .280 average along with 30+ home runs is now a .253 (since 2010) hitter who takes less walks and has been seeing less at-bats. Certainly his 2012 season will be his worst to date as a big leaguer due to injuries and persistent flu like symptoms but its also due to his age and I firmly believe that the slugger is on the decline. He has failed to post a BABIP over .268 since 2009 and his 2012 season is statistically his worst since his rookie year in 2003. Just for fun here is what Tex did in 2003 as a rookie for the Rangers: .259/.331/.480 with 26 HR, 84 RBI, 66 R in 529 at-bats. In 2012 here is what he has done for the Yankees: .255/.336/.478 with 23 HR, 81 RBI, 65 R in 439 at-bats. There is a disparity in at-bats which would lend one to believe that his 2012 is still a smidgen better but the numbers are eerily similar so I thought it was worth mentioning. All in all Teixeira appears to be a slugger on decline and considering how he was a top ten fantasy first baseman in both 2010 and 2011 before really falling off in 2012 I would assume that there will be some people drafting him as early as the fifth or sixth rounds and I think that's way to high for a guy who is likely to only produce like a 10tth-12th rounder. I would much rather take a player like Freddie Freeman, Mark Trumbo, Corey Hart, or Allen Craig in 2013 than Teixeira.
3.) Billy Butler, 1B, KCR: I actually really like Billy Butler and have been on his band wagon since before Eric Hosmer was a household name. Butler always reminded me of a player from another era with his dough-boy body and general goofy looks but holy cow can he hit and he really broke out in 2012. It shouldn't really come as a surprise that Butler is once again exceeding expectations as he was the 17th best first baseman in 2010 and 85th best player overall then in 2011 he finished as the 15th best first baseman and 74th best player overall all while posting underwhelming power numbers never eclipsing 19 home runs or 100 RBI's in those seasons. He has always been treated as a second class option at first base as a guy who routinely hits 40+ doubles but never converting those doubles into the almighty home run. In 2012 Butler went beast mode and more of those doubles left the yard and with those doubles now home runs, Butler will not be cheap in 2013. My colleague Ray Guilfoyle recently profiled Bulter's powerful 2012 here and I recommend taking a look at that piece for more info. I suspect that the fantasy world will now take Butler more seriously and he will probably be long gone by round five in 2013 which is way too rich for my taste especially if he reverts back to the guy from 2009-2011. If he were to fall to round seven I am all in but the chances of that happening is highly unlikely and I would rather spend my early picks on someone with more room to deliver value.
4.) Adam LaRoche, 1B, WAS: The book on LaRoche has long been written. He is a slugging first baseman who will give you anywhere between 25-30 home runs (usually 25) and post a decent .270 batting average with about 80-90 RBI's. Certainly a solid player but not the kind of guy you build a fantasy team around. In the confines of my own home I think of him as the bizarro Dan Haren. He is of course a batter and not a pitcher, but that adds to the fun. He usually starts off every season slow before turning it on after the All-Star break and really crushing it to get to that 25 home run plateau. Basically the exact opposite of Dan Haren who almost always fades in the second half. For his career LaRoche is a .247/.326/.442 hitter before the break and a .292/.352/.530 hitter after the break. So to put it simply he is John Mayberry-like in the first half and Paul Goldschmidt-like in the second half.
The soon to be 33 year old is having a career year in 2012 tying a career high with 32 home runs and on the verge of posting his second ever 100 RBI season (he has 99). He is arguably one of the biggest fantasy values of the 2012 season behind only Edwin Encarnacion in my book. In 2010, his first season with 100 RBI's he checked in as the 110th best player and 18th best first baseman overall. Which is nothing to sneeze at considering his draft day stock is usually depressed. He missed 2011 for all intents and purposes due to injuries but picked right back up in 2012 better than ever. He is currently the 79th best player and 12th best first baseman. So of course on draft day his name will be floating around there in the 8th-10th rounds and there will be an owner who picks him up hoping he can recreate his solid 2012. I urge you not to be that guy or gal. LaRoche is as consistent as the come and expecting anything like his 2012 in 2013 is a fool's errand. Consider this, from 2008-2010 he averaged exactly 25 home runs per season and 85 RBI's putting him amongst the top 20 in first baseman, but only around the 125th overall player or more simply an 12th or 13th round talent. So those of you who think they are getting the 2012 Mark Trumbo at a discount are probably closer to getting the 2012 Garrett Jones (which is not a good thing).
5.) Adam Dunn, 1B, CWS: Adam Dunn is the perfect example of paying a steep price for power. Aside from hitting a ton of home runs and driving in runners he offers nothing else to owners in a standard 5x5 format. He will be one of only three players in 2012 to crack the 40 home run threshold but he will fall short of driving in 100 RBI's. Everyone who played fantasy baseball in 2011 or didn't live under a rock was aware of Dunn's struggles as he posted one of the worst historic lines in recent history finishing the season with a .159/.292/.277 line with only 11 home runs. Dunn just flat out did not hit. But a deeper look into his struggles reveals that Dunn really is a one dimensional hitter and beyond that he really isn't even that good at being a one dimensional hitter. He is a career .222/.341/.445 versus lefties and thus far in 2012 against left-handed pitching he has hit .192/.304/.467, in 2011 he hit .064/.235/.074, in 2010 he hit .199/.304/.416 see any trends? The guy does not hit lefties. What he does well is hit home runs. Particularly what he does best is hit 40 home runs. Since 2004 he has hit 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38, 11, and 41 home runs. I can hear him laughing at my statement that Adam LaRoche is a consistent slugger right now. It's no secret that his batting average is weak but even the resurgent Adam Dunn is making Mark Reynolds look like a perennial batting champ with his near Mendoza line performance in 2012 and I fully expect more of the same from him going forward. We have all seen the best and the worst of Adam Dunn but there will be rumblings that his 2012 is a sign of better things to come and I assure you the better times are long gone. He may win the AL Comeback Player of The Year in 2012 and someone will try and nab him between the 8th-10th rounds in 2013 but I would urge you to hold off on the tempting power and take a more well rounded player who won't kill you in one category to save you in another.