The State of the First Base Position

Jason Miller

Bret Sayre kicks off a week of coverage on first basemen here at Fake Teams by taking a step back and analyzing the position as a whole.

You're going to see a lot of information this week on individual first basemen, whether it's player profiles, rankings or prospect information. But before we get into those specifics, it can be very helpful to take a step back. The idea behind this State of the Position series, which will run at the beginning of each week of coverage, is to give you a sense of what to expect from the position as a whole in various types of leagues.

The Overview

2012 was a down year for the first base position, both at the star-level and as far as depth is concerned. Joey Votto got hurt and then decided to stop hitting for power when he returned. Albert Pujols put up a first month of the season so unspeakably bad, that even being Pujols-ian for the last five months of 2012 still left him with a disappointing season. Everyone's breakout darling, Eric Hosmer, reminded us all that getting caught up in hype can lead to pretty disastrous results. Even next-level stalwarts like Mark Teixeira and Paul Konerko had disappointing seasons and finished well outside the top-10 at the position.

However, what 2012 did provide was the breakouts of many less heralded options - which leads to an important question. Is first base now just filled with stars you're not sure if you can trust and breakout performers you're also not sure if you can trust? It seems as though there are question marks about almost everyone (except for Prince Fielder, that guy didn't let us down). Is Edwin Encarnacion for real? Will Votto's power come back? Will Billy Butler's power stick around? Is Paul Konerko finally aging? Will Justin Morneau be healthy? Will Allen Craig be able to produce over a full season? More than any other position, there are so many more questions than answers heading into 2013. That is unnerving as a fantasy owner.

The other thing we need to consider is how much the first base position was dominated by players who were being played at other positions in fantasy. It's easy to say that Paul Konerko was the 15th best 1B according to the ESPN Player Rater; however, let's take a look at where you were actually playing the guys ahead of him. Miguel Cabrera (1), Edwin Encarnacion (2) and Chris Davis (14) all had 3B eligibility, and considering the lack of impact talent there, those players were not in a 1B spot. Buster Posey (4) and Joe Mauer (8) were being played at catcher. If you had Allen Craig (10), Corey Hart (11) or Mark Trumbo (13), they likely had an "OF" next to their names all year - and that's not even including Adrian Gonzalez (9), who picked up OF eligibility during a period of weakness for the Red Sox. Add all that up, and Konerko is now the 5th best 1B on the ESPN Player Rater among guys who were likely at the position in your lineup. That's a huge difference, and we'll get to more about this later.

The League Breakout

In the official Fake Teams consensus ranks (which will be coming out in subsequent posts), the American League leads the National League in our top-25 by a score of 14 to 11. And where you feel the brunt of that discrepancy is in the top-end. In our top-13 1B for 2013, only 5 are from the National League - and if you narrow the field down further to players who will be 1B-only in 2013 (10 overall), the NL can claim only three: Votto, A-Gon and Goldy. Of course, this is assuming that A-Gon doesn't have OF eligibility in your league, as he played 18 games there this year.

So, for those of you in NL-only leagues, this will leave the position in a similar, but not quite as bad, position as what you experienced in 2012 after the AL claimed big names like Pujols and Fielder. In last year's drafts, it was more or less Votto-or-bust if you wanted to make a splash at 1B, but this year offers a little more of that next level. The league switch for Gonzalez and the emergence of Craig and Goldschmidt makes it a little bit of an easier pill to swallow, but you're still going to want to spend to avoid being the guy with Garrett Jones or Yonder Alonso at 1B. On the other hand, in AL-only leagues, it's business as usual even though some of the more consistent names from years past have lost some of their luster.

The Forgotten Eligibility

Just a brief expansion on what I hinted at earlier. In previous seasons, especially going back a few years, a player picking up 1B eligibility in addition to something else was generally greeted with lots of shrugs. However, with the big boppers we're used to seeing at the position being slightly less big and bop slightly less, that eligibility becomes more important. So when a guy like Corey Hart or Nick Swisher or Chris Davis has it in their back pocket, it allows you to take a chance in hitting on another position, while preparing for the worst at what should be your most stable.

What won't show up in our individual ranks so much, but will in draft rooms over the next few months, is that 1B eligibility actually has real value now - and should be treated as such. Although this is more applicable when you're looking at players who qualify at other positions. For example, if you're trying to decide between Logan Morrison and Ryan Ludwick, Morrison's 1B eligibility matters, and it probably matters enough to make the difference between the two of them. However, the same idea applies when I say that I'm willing to reach a little bit for Allen Craig because of that flexibility.

The Strategy in Mixed Leagues

If you think of the 1B ranks as a class system, here's how it breaks out for mixed league drafts this year:

The Elite - Slightly down in value and volume. It's Votto, Pujols and Fielder, and all of them are first round worthy selections.

The Upper Class - Much weaker as a whole, especially in the lower half. Added risk everywhere and a significantly lower population. You could argue it only contains E5 and A-Gon, but I'd expand to include Craig as well.

The Middle Class - Stronger than ever with upside as bounce-back candidates and potential breakout stars are all over the place. But the reason they're in this category in the first place is because they also carry a lot of risk.

The Lower Class - Very weak. No big bats likely to come up through the minors this year, and few potential breakout performers outside the top-25 unless you're pulling a guy off a different position.

So how does this mean you should view the position in your draft? If it's me, I'm taking advantage of the uncertainty at the top and grabbing one of the elite guys if they show good value. Essentially, that means if they fall out of the top-5 (which I still believe is Braun, Trout, Miggy, Kemp, Cano - in no particular order), I'm going to pounce. And the variance is so small between the three of them, you could make an argument for any sort of order. In fact, when we did our consensus ranks, Jason and I put Pujols first, Craig put Votto first and Ray put Fielder first. It's just a matter of personal preference. But regardless of whether you grab an early guy or not, I'd be aiming to grab a middle class guy or two from this group who comes without potentially intense hype (like a Hosmer or a Rizzo), as you could have a very valuable trade chip if he hits. And a few guys I like to fit that bill: Ike Davis, Justin Morneau and Brandon Belt.

The Rest of the Week

Now that we've covered the position from a macro perspective, it's time to dig into the players. Ray will be bringing you the first part of our 2013 consensus positional rankings next (in just a few short hours), so stay tuned for that - along with our first base prospect coverage which starts tomorrow morning with Jason and Craig. The rest of the writing staff here will be working on bringing you in-depth profiles and sleeper picks. We've got a lot of information coming your way for both the rest of this week and the rest of the off-season, so empty some space in your brain and be prepared for an informational avalanche. Remember, if you haven't started your 2013 draft prep yet, you're already behind someone in your league (especially if you play in a league with me).

Follow me on Twitter at @dynastyguru.
Check out more of my stuff at The Dynasty Guru.

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