I debated starting with the traditional catcher first setup for this series, but after looking at the American League catching pool, I decided I did not hate myself nearly that much. Instead, we'll start with first base, a much more exciting position for fantasy purposes and circle back around to catchers at a later date.
The motivation behind this upcoming series is a desire to provide rankings to the "forgotten". With the majority of fantasy baseball content geared towards mixed leagues (with good reason - the majority of leagues are such), the AL & NL only manager can find it difficult at times to find reliable rankings for the upcoming season. Furthermore, many "only leagues" use OBP (on-base percentage), instead of batting average. While it might not be the majority (yet), it's closer to a 50-50 split as compared to mixed league formats.
What comes below will be both 5x5 (batting average) & 5x5 (on-base percentage) rankings, along with a player I am targeting and avoiding. We'll continue this process through both the American League & National League, going position-by-position. I hope you enjoy it.
Reminder: The rankings below do not include players we expect to gain eligibility at a particular position. For the purpose of these posts, we are using the traditional 20-games played the prior season to determine draft-day eligibility.
5x5 BA Rankings | 5x5 OBP Rankings
|1||Miguel Cabrera||DET||1||Miguel Cabrera||DET|
|2||Edwin Encarnacion||CLE||2||Edwin Encarnacion||CLE|
|3||Hanley Ramirez||BOS||3||Carlos Santana||CLE|
|4||Jose Abreu||CHW||4||Hanley Ramirez||BOS|
|5||C.J. Cron||LAA||5||Chris Davis||BAL|
|6||Eric Hosmer||KC||6||Jose Abreu||CHW|
|7||Carlos Santana||CLE||7||Mike Napoli||F/A|
|8||Albert Pujols||LAA||8||Eric Hosmer||KC|
|9||Chris Davis||BAL||9||Albert Pujols||LAA|
|10||Mike Napoli||F/A||10||Brad Miller||TB|
|11||Mitch Moreland||BOS||11||Joe Mauer||MIN|
|12||Brad Miller||TB||12||Dan Vogelbach||SEA|
|13||Joe Mauer||MIN||13||Chris Carter||F/A|
|14||Greg Bird||NYY||14||C.J. Cron||LAA|
|15||Steve Pearce||TOR||15||Greg Bird||NYY|
|16||Dan Vogelbach||SEA||16||Mitch Moreland||BOS|
|17||Brandon Moss||F/A||17||Steve Pearce||TOR|
|18||Chris Carter||F/A||18||Brandon Moss||F/A|
|19||Byung Ho Park||MIN||19||Byung Ho Park||MIN|
|20||A.J. Reed||HOU||20||Adam Lind||F/A|
|21||Adam Lind||F/A||21||A.J. Reed||HOU|
|22||Marwin Gonzalez||HOU||22||Dae-ho Lee||F/A|
|23||Logan Morrison||F/A||23||Kennys Vargas||MIN|
|24||Dae-ho Lee||F/A||24||Yonder Alonso||OAK|
|25||Billy Butler||F/A||25||Marwin Gonzalez||HOU|
The first thing one might notice is the high number of "F/A" (free agent) players available at first base. This will ultimately change these rankings to a degree as some of the hitters above will certainly sign in the National League.
C.J. Cron: I really like Cron's chance to reach the 30-home run mark in 2017. This would require a near doubling of his current career high (16 in both 2015 & 2016), however, it's important to note that both of those years Cron did not play a full season. At this point, assuming health, I don't see how the Angels sit him often and with his sneaky impressive batted-ball ability, a power breakout could be looming. The Statcast data for Cron also shows a hitter with slightly above league average generated velocity, exit velocity and a launch angle that while not "elite", is more than adequate to produce balls flying over the fence, along with a solid batting average. Cron does tumble down the rankings leaderboard for me in OBP leagues due to a poor batting eye. At 27 years old and with a slight improvement in that area last season though, the fall might not be as drastic as the OBP rankings show. Speculate.
Jose Abreu: This one could be tough for some to swallow, but I'm selling Abreu and his big second half in 2016. Of course a .320/.381/.500 triple slash over his last 306 at-bats is much more impressive than the .267/.325/.437 line he posted over his first 318 at-bats, but the skills are lacking. Using an expected batting average, we see the difference was not so drastic between the two halves (.253 1st half | .278 2nd half). Abreu's hard contact rate was also quite similar half-to-half. The major change occurred in his line-drive rate, as his fly-ball rate stayed the same and his power metrics sat at slightly below league average rates. Using Statcast data for 2016, we see that Abreu's Average Distance was identical to the league at 218 feet. The Average Exit Velocity sat only 2 MPH higher than the league and his Average Launch Angle was actually below the league average rate. Sure, the home ball park is nice, but the supporting cast is not and may continue to get worse. He's slotted fairly high in our ranks, but perhaps look to invest your resources elsewhere when his name is called.
That does it for American League first basemen. Next up will be the National League's turn. Please leave any questions, comments or other fantasy baseball related banter in the comments below. You can also follow me on Twitter using the icon at the top of the article and feel free to ask questions there as well.
For a more in depth look at particular players, check out Rob Parker's Player Profile Series. Here are some that relate to this post: