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Tiered First Base Rankings Analysis

Brian Creagh digs deeper into the projections to find the implied tiers in first base rankings.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

First Base Week rolls on with my favorite article of the week - implied tiers analysis. If you missed this same article from Catcher Week, I would recommend giving the overview a quick read. The concept remains the same: using a relatively vanilla projection model (Steamer) we discern the implied tiers where production makes a big drop from one player to the next. Furthermore, looking at current ADP values (via FanGraphs) we discover where it may be advantageous to take a first baseman in drafts.

For each position, we will only rank as many players as are typically owned in your standard 5x5, 12-man league. For first base, this means approximately 30 players since your 31st and 32nd first basemen are likely going undrafted in this format. So without further ado, here are the implied tiers for first base:

Again, a few explanations - zSUM is the sum of all a player’s z-scores for each of the 5 categories. A zSUM of 1 means that the player is one standard deviation better than the average player at this position. It is not the be-all and end-all definition of a player’s value, because a player’s worth to a team is dependent to the construction of that specific team (i.e. Billy Hamilton doesn’t mean as much to a team that already has Dee Gordon). It is an excellent approximation of a player’s general value compared to the rest of the position and a helpful metric for organizing similar expected output.

Tiers are represented by the solid black line and were generated subjectively by looking at both zSUM and current ADP. The double black line beneath Ian Desmond represents the average production at the position - players above the line are “above-average” and players below the line are “below-average”. It is my goal to leave every draft with an above-average player at each position, so having this break-even point in mind is extremely helpful.

Next we need to compare this zSUM metric to where each player is currently being drafted. If we can wait a round or two and get the same production as an earlier pick, we are setting ourselves up for success. The graph below plots each player’s zSUM vs. their current ADP with a trend line running through the scatter plot. A simple way of interpreting the chart is: players above the line represent good value, while players below the line represent poor value at their current ADP.

(click on image to zoom)


Paul Goldschmidt might need to move up to the #2 overall pick. Only Mike Trout and Gary Sanchez have a larger disparity between themselves and the next player at their position (according to this type of analysis).

Anthony Rizzo is being severely undervalued. I think the Chicago Cubs‘ disappointing season, relative to the hype, has many Cubs going at a lower price in early drafts. Rizzo is one of the safest bets in the game and he is going at the end of Round 2. I am going to try to pair Kershaw with Rizzo in mock drafts and see how things look.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Projections love Rhys Hoskins and Cody Bellinger. Steamer buys into both Hoskins and Bellinger repeating their performance across an entire season, and give Hoskins a slight edge in value due to a higher projected batting average. Everything in their profiles looks repeatable, but I am not crazy about the price I have to pay. I probably won’t end up with either in my redraft leagues.

Freddie Freeman is being undervalued by the projection systems. It is not rare for a player coming off injury to have their projected output be low, but Freeman’s appear especially off. If I can get him early in Round 3, I think I am in a great spot.

If I don’t get Rizzo or Goldschmidt, I am waiting to get a guy outside the Top 10. I could see myself ending up with a lot of Wil Myers, Joey Gallo, and Carlos Santana this season.

The second wave of first basemen all are coming at poor value and there just isn’t that much difference between the fifth player and the 10th. Miguel Cabrera’s projections trail Jose Abreu by 10 runs, 10 runs batted in, and 6 home runs yet Cabrera can be had 50 picks later in the draft.

I don’t know that I want to rely on him as a starter, but I am excited for Joey Gallo in 2018. Every version of this I do has Gallo as an above average option at the position. A full season of Joey Gallo could be a difference maker in redraft formats.

Josh Bell, Justin Smoak, Yuli Gurriel, and Chris Davis are my favorite late round picks. There is some upside available with all of their current ADPs and I think each is likely to outperform the projection listed for Steamer.

If you have any questions or comments or just want to chat further about your league, please don’t hesitate to reach out on Twitter @BrianCreagh or via email