Tiers, Not Fears: First Base

Miggy Smalls is top dog thanks to his 3B eligibility
Photo Credit: Cbl62

Normally, the term “first base” is synonymous with “failure” for handsome sooth-sayers like myself. Yet when we are talking fantasy baseball, the word takes on a more positive connotation. First base is deep; always has been. You are pretty much guaranteed elite power numbers from the top six, and potential 30 HR hitters are littered throughout the tiers. For that reason, we’ve upped the ante. We’re covering 61 first baseman in this edition of “Tiers, Not Fears.” You’re welcome.

More after the jump:

The “Cream” Crop
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. Albert Pujols
3. Prince Fielder
These are the goliaths who will cost you top dollar, and for good reason … Cabrera tops the list simply because of his 3B eligibility. For the record, I had him ranked third among 1Bs prior to Detroit’s signing of Prince Fielder. Even though it feels like Miggy has been around forever, he’s only turning 29 in April and posted career-best marks in Contact% (82.4), BB% (15.7), K% (12.9), and BA (.344) last year. A career .317 hitter with a lifetime ISO of .239, homeboy is a beast … Albert “Shit-Openings” Pujols would’ve been the top dog, but fantasy owners should be plenty happy with his production. In a “down” year in 2011, Pujols rocked a sick fantasy line (.299 BA, 37 HRs, 99 RBIs, 105 Rs, and 9 SBs). Admittedly, some of the peripheral data showed he was more human last year (career-worst 9.4 BB%, 44.7 GB%, and .385 wOBA). He is 32 years old, so a decline may be in the “cards” (pun deliciously intended). Still, as he showed last year, a disappointing campaign for Phat Albert is a banner season by normal standards … Some may be surprised to see Fielder mentioned with Miggy and Pujols, but he absolutely belongs in this tier. Fielder’s career-best 80.8 Contact% helped him reach a .299 BA, so he’s no slouch in the BA department. As for his power, Fielder’s career .257 ISO is 18 points higher than Cabrera’s and he is one of the few 50 HR threats in baseball.

The “Still Elite” Squadron
4. Joey Votto
5. Adrian Gonzalez
6. Mark Teixeira
You can’t go wrong with any of these options. The argument can be made that any of them could conceivably finish the season as fantasy’s best first baseman … Votto’s career numbers are certainly elite (.237 ISO, 12.9 BB%, .313 BA, 19.4 HR/FB, and 23.9 LD%) and he’s only 28 … Back in December, your boy Dudley Do Work explained why Adrian Gonzalez is overrated. He’s obviously a great player, but a top six or seven pick overall? Hell naw … In his “second straight down year,” Tex pumped out 39 HRs (first among 1Bs), 111 RBIs (fourth), and a .246 ISO (third). There is reason to believe the BA woes of the last couple of seasons will cease in 2012. His K% has remained in the 16-17 percent range and he’s gotten leaner this offseason to increase quickness. With the league’s best hitting coach, Kevin Long, constantly working with Teixeira on patching up the holes in his swing, it’s quite possible he’ll get his BA up past the .280 range (all he has to do now is keep more fly balls out of the damn infield).

The “Rounded Out” Rabble
7. Mike Napoli
8. Michael Morse
9. Michael Young
10. Mark Trumbo
11. Michael Cuddyer
Yeah, I couldn’t think of a better name for this crew. They all have their concerns coming into the season, yet these dudes sit above most of the 1B options in fantasy regardless due to their potential … Napoli tops this tier because of his catcher eligibility, plus power, and role in a high-octane Rangers offense. Just understand that last year was as good as it’s going to get and you can’t expect him to improve on those numbers. Don’t get caught overpaying … Morse’s .247 ISO, .303 BA, 21.2 HR/FB, and .387 wOBA are truly elite. The only thing keeping him out of the second tier of first basemen is the fact that he’s only been on this torrid pace for a season-and-a-half. His BA in particular is at risk of a big drop-off. His BABIPs have been over .330 the last two years despite the fact that he hits a fair number of grounders. He also did most of his damage against fastballs, showing some vulnerability to breaking stuff. At age 30 and with adjustments surely to come from opposing pitchers, this season will go a long way towards determining who Morse really is as a fantasy contributor … Young earns a high place on this list because of his 2B eligibility (at least in Yahoo! leagues, which is what we are basing this on). The power is rather underwhelming (.136 ISO and 11 HRs last year), but he posted career-best marks in K% (11.3), BA (.338), and LD% (26.2) in 2011 and is crazy durable … Trumbo swatted 29 HRs last year and his BA should be on the way up as his .274 BABIP, 45.7 GB%, and 17.3 IFFB% (infield fly ball percentage) should improve. He loses points for being a low walk (4.4 BB% in 2011)/high whiff (12.0 SwStr% in 2011) guy and for not having a cemented role in the starting lineup with the Angels at the moment. Still, his plate patience will improve with time and the Angels should move either Trumbo or Kendrys Morales if both are healthy (there is also the possibility that Trumbo supplants Alberto Callaspo as the starting 3B).

The “No Respect” Nincompoops
12. Mark Reynolds
13. Adam Lind
These players have obvious flaws, but are undervalued in fantasy … Reynolds’ BA woes are well-documented, but the dude still socks HRs with the best of ‘em. His 162 game average for his career: 36 HRs and a .246 ISO. Sure the strikeouts suck, but batting average is incredibly difficult to predict and he’s hit at least .260 twice before. He’s worth the risk as far as I’m concerned, especially with the 3B eligibility … Lind has suffered through strikeout issues himself the last couple of years, leading to a BA dip (.251 last year). That said, he’s really cut down on the grounders and his .265 BABIP last year shouldn’t hold in 2012. The chief obstacle standing in Lind’s way is his trouble with breaking pitches. After hammering a slew of fastballs in 2009, pitchers started feeding him more off-speed stuff and Lind has struggled mightily against those offerings. While his floor is still that of 23-27 HRs, 85-ish RBIs, and a BA in the .250-.260 range, his success against breaking pitches will likely determine if he underwhelms yet again or bounces back in a major way.

The “Good Luck With That Shit” Gang
14. Paul Konerko
15. Adam Dunn
This tier features a pair of teammates who have considerable risk attached to them … Konerko has defied his age by having two of his best seasons in his mid-30s the last two years. Hell, even his 13.9 K% last year was a career-best. However, there is reason to fear a major regression from Konerko. He’s turning 36 in March and his power dipped noticeably last year from 2010 (55 point ISO and eight HR drop). He also scored less than 70 runs in 2011 and is on a team that could very well trade off a lot of its assets before year’s end, leaving him with a weaker supporting cast than…well, every network television show … Dunn can’t possibly have a worse year than he did in 2011, when he hit .159 with a .118 ISO and 9.6 HR/FB. However, how much of an improvement he musters is debatable. The most disturbing part of last year’s showing was that teams challenged him with more fastballs than ever (normally his bread-and-butter pitch), and he responded by posting a -8.5 win value on that pitch according to Fangraphs. Couple that with his career-worst 35.7 K%, and you’ll have even dudes like Chris Davis saying “Damn son!” Again, I think Dunn should be better in 2012 and the power potential is still enticing, but just keep in mind that 2011 wasn’t a total fluke job. He really, truly sucked.

The “Breakout” Battalion
16. Brandon Belt
17. Paul Goldschmidt
18. Ike Davis
These players have a lot of upside and could make a ton of noise in 2012 … The Giants have already told Aubrey Huff to be ready to play the OF. Belt also got some reps there in winter ball. Thing are setting up for Belt to have an everyday role carved out on Opening Day and the added flexibility will just make it easier to get Belt’s bat in the lineup. He has nothing left to prove in the minors (career .343/.457/.596) and actually had a decent-enough rookie year despite the general consensus that he was a massive disappointment (9.6 BB% and .187 ISO). He’ll have to solve some of the strikeout issues that plagued him last year, but the potential is certainly there … The hype may get out of hand by the time draft/auction day arrives, but Goldschmidt certainly has the kind of impact power you like to see from a young 1B. He incredibly sported an ISO over .290 at all three levels of the minors and is playing in a hitter’s park to boot. The strikeouts could be an issue, but he should cruise to 25-plus HRs if he keeps a starting gig all season … Ike Davis was on his way to a breakout campaign in 2011 before succumbing to an ankle injury. It remains to be seen if his decision to opt against surgery will bite him, but if he stays on the field, he should produce. He had a .240 ISO in Citi Field last year and they are moving the fences in for 2012, which only helps his power potential. New York’s offense will be terrible overall, but fantasy owners in favor of same-sex marriage can feel free to “Ike Out.”

The “Twist My Arm” Terrors
19. Howie Kendrick
20. Kendrys Morales
21. Carlos Pena
22. Eric Hosmer
23. Billy Butler
These players require a bit of courage to trust as key cogs of your fantasy team. All of them have upside, but each contain flaws that could easily cost you serious draft day value. I’ll roster ‘em, but not without reluctance … Kendrick makes the list because of his 2B eligibility, which is the chief source of his value here. He would be higher, but I don’t not trust him to stay healthy. Plus, I have a hard time buying a 2012 breakout based on a 48 game sample to end the 2011 season when there is a 607 game sample before it that said he just wasn’t that great … You know that expression “Feet don’t fail me now?” Well, Kendry Morales doesn’t, because his feet sucked last year. Fortunately, he seems on track to be ready for Spring Training and is still only 29. With Pujols in the lineup, Morales could be in line for a nice bounce-back in 2012 if he can just stay healthy. Of course, that’s easier said than done after last year’s fiasco … Carlos Pena has at least 28 HRs in each of the last four years and a .248 career ISO. The power is no joke, but the strikeout issues means he’ll struggle to hit .230. Couple that with the fact that he’s returning to pitcher-friendly Tropicana Park and is turning 34 in May, and you have all the makings of a solid, but unspectacular season … Hosmer is one of the most overrated players coming into this fantasy season, and this awesome post by yours truly explains why … Hopefully, the days of people predicting Butler to be a perennial 30 HR threat are over. He is what he is, a .300 hitter with good RBI totals (over 90 last two years) and modest power for a 1B (career .161 ISO). He’s not a terrible player, but if you slot him in as your starting first baseman, you are pretty much putting your team in a HR hole from the jump.

The “Contract Year” Killah
24. Nick Swisher
Swisher gets his own tier because he’s not quite as interesting as the names above, but is clearly above the suckas below. In 2010, Swisher benefited greatly from ABs in the two-hole, swatting 29 HRs, hitting .288, and tallying 89 RBIs and 91 Rs. With Curtis Granderson stealing that role in 2011, Swisher struggled. He posted a .188 ISO (he was above .220 in his first two years in New York), a career-high 38.9 GB%, and a career-low 39.4 FB%. Swisher won’t be returning to the two-hole anytime soon, but there’s reason for optimism. For starters, Swisher is in a contract year and at age 31, this will be his last chance for a big contract. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the normally over-patient Swisher get a bit more aggressive early in the count to boost his power numbers (and pay check). Even if you get the same ole’ Swish, at least you can take comfort in knowing that he’s rapped over 20 HRs in each of the last seven years and is part of the Yankees’ diesel lineup.

The “So It’s Come To This” Society
25. Ryan Howard
26. Lance Berkman
27. Freddie Freeman
28. Gaby Sanchez
29. Justin Morneau
Waited way too long in your league to land a first baseman? Well, it’s come to this: you have to settle for one of these dudes … … Coming off Achilles surgery, Howard endured a setback in March, and now has expected return has been pushed back from May to ????. Said GM Ruben Amaro, “I don’t know when he’s going to start baseball activities.” That’s encouraging. While Howard could conceivably return and provide a nice power boost in the second half, he’s too big of a risk to take any higher than 25th among 1Bs … Like Michael Young, Cuddyer earns a relatively high spot on this list thanks to his 2B eligiblity. He’s averaged 22 HRs and 94 RBIs per 162 games over the last six years and should benefit nicely from the move to Coors Field … I get the argument that Berkman’s ridiculous bounce-back season saw him put up numbers that fell right in line with his career totals (his ISO and wOBA were within three points of his lifetime marks). So yes, it’s conceivable that Lance Berkman has another Lance Berkman-like season left in him. Yet at age 36, and without Albert Pujols, Berkman could be toast in 2012. A particular item to be mindful of is how he handles lefties. Prior to 2011, he was struggling mightily against southpaws in 2009 (.231 BA) and 2010 (.171) … Freeman has a .300 bat, but his power has always been middling in the pros and last year’s .166 ISO isn’t gonna cut it if he’s trying to step his game up a couple tiers. Sorry, but James Loney and Billy Butler types aren’t catalysts for fantasy championships … Sanchez started off the season hot, but his power fell off in the second half. With a .171 career ISO and under 20 HRs each of the last two seasons, Sanchez will force you to load up at power at other positions to compensate for his shortcomings … Don Brown gave you the medical file on Morneau in his “Do Not Trust” post earlier in the week. The concussions are the biggest concern with him. Fortunately, Morneau has avoided any concussion-related symptoms all offseason and the team is fully expecting him to be a go for Spring Training. There is some allure in taking a chance on Morneau, but just understand that doing so will force you to take another first baseman just to have some insurance (in other words, you are burning a roster spot wit this risk).

The “Talk Me Into It” Two-Some
30. Lucas Duda
31. Mike Carp
This duo isn’t one that will make your rivals ooh and aah over your roster, but the argument can be made that these two under-the-radar hitters offer the always valuable “cheap power” … Duda Math showed great power in the minors (.295 ISO in 2011; .265 in 2010) and posted an impressive .189 ISO last year despite the Citi Field factor. With New York bringing the fences in, more HRs should fly. Sure New York’s lineup is meek even by Met standards. And yes, Duda did suffer some concussion-like symptoms late in 2011 after running into the outfield wall. Regardless, a power hitting sleeper with good plate patience and a .280-.290 BA warrants consideration even in shallower leagues … Carp’s 25.9 K% last year puts him a hair below Duda due to BA concerns, but Carp’s power is actually more impressive than Duda’s. With a diesel .307 ISO in AAA last year and a 17.4 HR/FB in the bigs in 2011, Carp has the type of power that can play at any park (even Safeco). The fact that he did all his damage in the PCL last year takes away some of the shine, but Carp is still a player fantasy owners should be aware of.

The “Give Me Two Forties of Thunderbird And Then Try To Talk Me Into It” Platoon
32. Carlos Lee
33. Edwin Encarnacion
34. Mitch Moreland
Because if you’re drinking Thunderbird, you can be talked into pretty much anything … He’s turning 36 in June and is coming off career-lows in ISO (.170), HR/FB (7.7), and LD% (15.6), but plenty of people still got love for Carlos Lee. I don’t get it. He gets some points for keeping his BA respectable (.275 last year) and for being durable despite being shaped like a lard-filled potato sack … There are no guarantees that Encarnacion will beat out Travis Snider or Eric Thames for the LF gig. Yet his .193 career ISO, post-hype sleeper appeal, and 3B eligibility are intriguing pros … Moreland is coming off wrist surgery, had a .155 ISO last year, and could find himself sitting often against lefties (.229 BA in 145 PAs). Texas’ commitment to him and the fact that he’s part of a strong offense save him from falling to the next tier.

The “Well, I Guess I Got No Other Choice” Clan
35. James Loney
36. Yonder Alonso
37. Justin Smoak
38. Adam LaRoche
39. Aubrey Huff
These are the folks you really don’t want to own, but the depth of your league is forcing your hand … Here’s James Loney in a nutshell: the ceiling is 13-16 HRs, 90 RBIs, 65-70 Rs, and a .290-.300 BA … Alonso is the likely starting first baseman for San Diego, but with middling power in the minors (career .173 ISO) and Petco Park not doing him any favors, he’s a very underwhelming option … Smoak was always overrated coming up as a prospect (.175 ISO in the minors— Babe Ruth eat your heart out). No reason to think he’s about to turn things around in Safeco Field as a member of one of the most anemic offenses in baseball … The Nationals have given LaRoche a vote of confidence publicly, but the 32-year-old underwent shoulder surgery last June and has just one 30 HR season under his belt … The 35-year-old Huff has been an inconsistent player throughout his career. Reports indicate he is in better shape than he was in 2010, but it’s just as easy to picture him falling off the fantasy map as it is to envision him having a bounce-back campaign.

The “Reach For The Sky” Renegades
40. Anthony Rizzo
41. Chris Davis
42. Todd Helton
43. Daniel Murphy
Well, at least these dudes should get a healthy amount of playing time when healthy. That counts for something … It was obvious that Theo Epstein’s “belief” in Bryan LaHair was all bullshit when the team went out and traded for Rizzo. Though LaHair will get the first crack at the starting 1B gig, it’s only a matter of time before Rizzo supplants him. The team wants Rizzo to get more seasoning at AAA, which makes sense after his atrocious performance last year. Expect Chicago to take their time with Rizzo, who could spend two months or more in the minors … Davis gets a lot of flack for his absurd strikeout rate (career 31.5 K%), but he still has some sleeper appeal. He has 3B eligibility and a ton of power in his bat. He also doesn’t have any real competition for PAs at first. Am I expecting a Chris Davis breakout? No, but even a modest improvement in his whiffs could greatly enhance his fantasy value. Keep in mind that Baltimore’s offense is actually looking pretty damn good on paper … Colorado’s loyalty to Helton sneaks him into this tier. The 38-year-old just doesn’t have the pop you’d like to see from a fantasy first baseman (hasn’t hit 20 HRs since 2005) and has become injury prone in his senior years … Murphy is actually a pretty decent deep sleeper at second base, but only because of his BA potential. He still offers jack shit in the HR or SB categories, and thus possesses the upside of a young Freddy Sanchez. Whoop-de-frigging-do.

The “Part-Time” Posse
44. Garrett Jones
45. Luke Scott
46. Mat Gamel
47. Juan Rivera
48. Casey Kotchman
49. Ty Wigginton
50. Bryan LaHair
51. Jesus Guzman
52. Kyle Blanks
Some of these players have full-time jobs coming into the season, but all of these players reek of part-time or platoon roles thanks to their underwhelming skill sets … Sure Jones has flashed some power in the past, but he’s hit below .250 the last two years and his struggles against lefties could force him into a platoon … Not-So-Great Scott definitely has some pop, but he’s another potential platoon player given his issues with lefties (career 24.8 K%). He’s also played over 140 games just once in his career … Fantasy owners sporting Gamel-toe are likely to yield unattractive rosters. This dude has been a total bust in the majors to date and the only reason he makes it on this list is because he has a starting role to start the season … Rivera totaled 46 RBIs in 62 games with the Dodgers after coming over from Toronto, but he isn’t likely to have much of an impact on fantasy rosters this year. He’s projected to share time with Jerry Sands in LF to start the season and while his veteran status (and $4.5 million salary) will probably earn him more PAs, the odds of a useful fantasy season for Rivera are longer than my girthy cock … Kotchman was picked up by the Indians and is a pretty clear favorite for the majority of the PAs at first. He’ll hit for a solid average, but has no power (.130 ISO) … Wigginton is actually a pretty decent early season fantasy option with Ryan Howard due to miss at least the first month. While Philadelphia’s infield is loaded with injury-prone players, Wigginton will need them to miss a lot of time to really have long-term value this season … LaHair has enjoyed a quality minor league career (career .297 BA and .208 ISO), but there’s a reason this 29-year-old hasn’t been given much of a big league shot in the past: he sucks. Only reason he even sniffs this list is because he will be starting (at least early in the season) … Guzman hit .312 last year in 76 games with the Padres, but has modest pop (.166 ISO last year) and will be battling Blanks and Alonso for playing time … Though Blanks owns an impressive .205 ISO in the bigs (it’s impressive mostly because he plays his home games at Petco), he’s had his share of struggles at the major league level (31.5 K% and .219 BA). Blanks’ glove is also suspect, so he’ll really have to mash in order to warrant a regular role in San Diego’s offense.

The “Back Of Your Brain” Brigade
53. Jared Goedert
54. Brandon Allen
55. Matt Downs
56. Chris Carter
57. Russ Canzler
58. Matt LaPorta
59. Matt Adams
60. Brett Wallace
61. Tyler Moore
Though these players are at the bottom of this set of rankings, they are actually all relatively interesting for one reason or another. They are all starting the season as bench players or in the minors, but they should be kept in the back of your mind in case things open up for them … Goedert turns 27 in May and is not a big-time prospect. However, he’s shown good pop in the minors the last couple of years (ISOs between .215 and .267 in AA and AAA), is second base eligible in Yahoo! leagues, and could challenge Matt LaPorta for the first base job … Allen showed good power in the minors, but is battling like eight dudes for 1B at-bats (Daric Barton, Chris Carter, and even Kila Ka’aihue are all options). Allen has yet to show he can hit southpaws consistently at the big league level (.134 BA in 92 PAs) and he strikes out a ton. There is some potential here, but I’d feel a lot better about him if he didn’t have so much competition for playing time … Downs could very well be a nobody by the time 2012 comes to a close, but he was pretty impressive filling in around Houston’s infield last year. With a .241 ISO in 222 PAs and a very aggressive approach at the plate, he sort of has a young Ty Wigginton feel about him … Carter is a pretty overrated prospect despite his .265 ISO in his AAA career. After all, those gaudy power stats came in the PCL, where dudes like Dallas McPherson do work. Yes he’s 25 and has nothing left to prove in the minors, but his terrible defense and propensity to rack up Ks are major obstacles. Sprinkle in Oakland’s spacious home park and the 1B depth on the team, and it’s easy to see how Carter could end up doing jack shit in 2012 … Though a reserve player, Canzler is a versatile fielder who can man the corners in the infield and outfield. Oh yeah, he’s also 3B eligible and was the International League MVP last year (.314 BA and .215 ISO in AAA) … LaPorta-Potty has been doo-doo thus far in the bigs and the Indians didn’t sign Casey Kotchman to be a $3 million bench player. There is a molecule of post-hype sleeper appeal here, but odds are, it’ll be another crappy season for LaPorta … First base prospect Matt Adams (of the Cardinals) absolutely brutalized AA pitching last year (.300 BA, .266 ISO, .391 wOBA). While he’s yet to play in AAA and is blocked at first by Lance Berkman, Adams could make an impact in 2012. St. Louis will be fiending to replace Pujols’ production, and the team could conceivably let Adams play first, put Carlos Beltran at CF, Matt Holliday in LF, and Berkman in RF if Jon Jay or Allen Craig fall on their faces. Hell, even a couple of injuries (combined with a diesel AAA showing by Adams) could pave the way. All I’m saying is, if you see that there may be a hole at first in St. Louis, it wouldn’t hurt to take a chance on Adams and his upside … The only reason Wallace even makes this list is because he may gain 3B eligibility and is a former top prospect. His power was never really all that in the minors (.179 ISO mostly aided by two .200 ISO seasons in PCL) and strikeouts have been a big issue in the bigs. Dude even got dropped by his Dominican Winter League team … Tyler Moore also has yet to step into a AAA batter’s box, but his power looks beastly. He actually asked the Nationals to give him playing time in the outfield in the minors to increase his versatility. Better yet, he’s got Adam LaRoche (who is coming off an injury-marred 2011) standing at first. Moore isn’t as developed as Matt Adams coming into the season, but that could change in a hurry as Moore has plenty of talent.

*Last updated on March 8th, 2012.


About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.