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Daily Fantasy Strategy: First Base

Atlanta Braves v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Logan Riely/Beam Imagination/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

I began my MLB DFS overviews last week with a look at catchers. My goal is to hit every position leading up to the start of the season—one I can attain easily by sticking to our Fake Teams positional weeks schedule. I also enjoy putting this out after reading an entire week’s worth of strategy at said position. Feel free to check out our work thus far as it pertains to first base. And here is catcher week for those of you who missed that coverage.

What sticks out at first base is safety. This is a position that you can routinely pay up for, as first basemen are elite in nearly every offensive category (with steals being the primary exception). Here is a great read from Brian Creagh that describes how first basemen stack up against other positions. I recommend reading it—especially for you visual learners—but the synopsis is that first basemen are the “Cadillacs” of any lineup. Elite first basemen stack up favorably with elite players from any other position. Let’s dig a little bit deeper.

First Basemen Hit for Power

MLB First basemen ISO over the last three years: .185, .192, .211.

MLB Third basemen ISO over the last three years: .160, .178, .182.

MLB Outfielder ISO over the last three years: .158, .165, .176.

In fairness, first basemen generally fit a similar prototype—big, strong guys who hit for power. They are easy to compare to one another because you are basically looking at similar profiles. It isn’t fair to lump all outfielders together, since there are all different types (power, speed, power and speed, etc.). Still, I wanted to quickly illustrate what first basemen do well compared to the two other positions that are the most powerful. It isn’t really close. First basemen rule the roost when it comes to power.

Batting Average is a Push with the “Power Three”

Compared to the other two power positions, first basemen hit for average just fine.

First Basemen BA, last three years: .259, .255, .261

Third Basemen BA, last three years: .260, .264, .256

Outfielder BA, last three years: .260, .257, .260

First basemen have ranked third, second, and first among the “power three” over the last three years. That, and the range between the lowest BA and highest BA is only nine points of all the totals over the last three years. What I see is that first basemen don’t give up much of anything to those at third or in the outfield with regard to batting average. And they are more powerful, as has already been established.

Team Context Matters

As for runs and RBIs, we know that team locale matters quite a bit. Batting order, too. There are many factors to consider when constructing a DFS roster. For now, I am choosing to leave out specificity and simply focus on a macro view of what first basemen have to offer. So I won’t attempt to tackle runs or RBIs, especially since you read Brian’s piece and know that first basemen rank well in those categories compared to their peers.

Some First Basemen Can Run

Stolen bases are the one category where first basemen do not compare favorably to others (except catchers). So it follows that we should examine which first basemen actually offer steals, right?

Over the last three years Paul Goldschmidt has stolen 71 bases, a whopping 18 more than Wil Myers, who checks into second place with 53. After Myers, there is another big drop to Anthony Rizzo (30) and Joey Votto (24).

Goldschmidt is only 30 and is coming off of a year in which he stole 18 bags...I think we can safely assume he is a true five-category contributor for at least another year.

Myers topped all first basemen with 20 thefts last year and should be considered the frontrunner to pace the position again, especially at only 27 years old. The only flaw with Myers is the batting average—his career 24.9% strikeout rate and career .254 BA are not spectacular. One obvious caveat is that the league average for BA was .255 last year, so Myers is right around league average. Pretty much, Myers will be a strong consideration on any day you think he can manage a home run and a stolen base—there aren’t many first basemen that offer that sort of upside. Lastly, Myers has an epic 79% career success rate on thefts. He and Goldschmidt (80.7%) are in a league of their own when it comes to thievery from the first base position.

Rizzo has a 63% success rate on stolen bases, which isn’t great but probably allows for him to approach double-digit totals once again. Votto only swiped five last year and has seen his totals decrease in three straight years (he’s also 34 years old). Freeman stole eight last year, but was caught five times. Only 22-year-old Cody Bellinger seems to offer any upside heading into 2018, as he was successful on 10 of 13 attempts last year and has youth on his side.

Ian Desmond is 32 years old but did manage to record 15 thefts in only 95 games last year. He has a career success rate of 77.1% and was successful on 15 of 19 last year, good for a 79% success rate. Desmond has managed double-digit steals in every season of his big league career, with the lone exception being his 21-game sample in his rookie season. Last year’s success and Desmond’s previous history of good health suggests that double-digit steals should be a given. Desmond’s hitting environs at Coors Field and his ability with his legs make him a steal in your early DFS lineups. Pun intended.

The Cheap Splits

So, first base stacks up better or as good as the other positions with regard to power and average. Runs and RBIs aren’t my focus, as team context plays a large role there. In the daily game, too, it bears mentioning that on any given day the worst offense in the league will be viable if the matchup warrants such. That’s right, folks. Even the Marlins will be relevant in the DFS game on the right day.

Anyway, we also know that Wil Myers, Paul Goldschmidt and Ian Desmond offer us some upside with their legs—and maybe Bellinger and Rizzo. Truly, though, you are searching for power at this position. Stolen bases are not something we should chase, not even with Myers.

Since it makes more sense to be contrarian with hitters than with pitchers, I think scoping out less popular first basemen with strong splits is a worthwhile endeavor. Here are some splits from 2017 against right-handed pitching:

Sneaky First Basemen vs. RHP in 2017

Player Name PA BB% K% OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+
Player Name PA BB% K% OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+
Lucas Duda 380 13.70% 25.30% 0.342 0.525 0.298 0.36 126
Matt Adams 304 6.90% 23.70% 0.342 0.554 0.259 0.367 126
Brandon Belt 304 16.80% 22.40% 0.375 0.504 0.254 0.372 133
Justin Bour 331 11.20% 19.90% 0.378 0.552 0.252 0.384 139
Mark Reynolds 423 10.20% 28.80% 0.355 0.515 0.233 0.368 111
Adam Lind 269 9.70% 15.20% 0.364 0.534 0.231 0.37 127

And here we go against left-handed pitching:

Sneaky First Basemen vs. LHP in 2017

Player Name PA BB% K% OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+
Player Name PA BB% K% OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+
Jose Martinez 69 14.50% 17.40% 0.493 0.847 0.441 0.539 240
Wilmer Flores 110 1.80% 17.30% 0.309 0.553 0.262 0.351 119
Justin Bour 98 10.20% 29.60% 0.327 0.483 0.23 0.342 112
Jesus Aguilar 115 9.60% 28.70% 0.365 0.524 0.223 0.372 127
Ryon Healy 144 4.90% 20.80% 0.347 0.526 0.212 0.369 133
Buster Posey 162 14.20% 11.70% 0.451 0.568 0.209 0.415 161
Danny Valencia 149 13.40% 20.80% 0.356 0.448 0.184 0.343 118

Shouts to Justin Bour for making both lists. What a hoss. Jose Martinez was Eddy’s bargain first basemen pick early this week. Martinez may wind up being a steal in redraft leagues, but for DFS purposes he should be sneaky all year if his playing time isn’t consistent.

Some of the guys above are straight up part-time players, like Matt Adams in Washington. That may sound bad, but it isn’t. Not playing every day will suppress his cost and his ownership. And when the oft-injured Zimmerman gets a day of rest, you’ll know that Adams makes for a viable punt.

Brandon Belt is always one of my favorite plays when he finds himself on the road against a right-handed pitcher. I prefer the park being a plus as well. That may sound like too much to remember, but that’s why you get the fancy graph to refer back to, eh?

Lastly, Wilmer Flores barely walks against southpaws, so he is not a great cash game option. In tournaments, though, I’ll take the power potential.

And yeah, I included Posey against left-handed pitchers. Not because you don’t know him, but because his numbers are ABSURD. In the right spot you’ll be sweating it profusely if you fade him.