Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw and Analyst Alex Burwasser recap the top five first basemen this fantasy season as well as the top three busts.
TOP FIVE PERFORMERS
5. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
In an offseason move that shocked many, Albert Pujols decided to leave St. Louis, his home for a decade where he won two championships, for the bright lights of Los Angeles in Anaheim. To the delight of jilted Cardinals fans, Pujols got off to a rough start for the Angels, even hearing some cat calls in his home park, but he more than made up for it over his final 105 games where he hit .319 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI. You can make a case that he may not be as dominant a hitter as he once was but he still put up his typical 30-HR, 100-RBI season, which always has fantasy value.
4. Billy Butler, 1B, Royals
Billy Butler has always been a very productive hitter throughout his career for the Royals but has consistently flown under the radar because he plays in relative obscurity in Kansas City. However, this year he was the subject of a national controversy when Robinson Cano decided not to pick him for the Home Run Derby in front of his home fans at Kauffman Stadium. Butler took the high road and did the talking with his bat the rest of the year when he finished with 29 home runs and 106 RBI, both career highs, all while hitting above .300 at .313.
3. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
Much like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder moved from the top of the NL Central to the opposite league in the offseason. Fielder signed a massive nine-year contract which left many worrying about the long-term injury risk of signing a man of his size, but his performance in the first year of that deal quieted all the critics when he blasted 30 home runs and knocked in 108 RBI leading the Tigers to their second consecutive AL Central crown. Though Prince has had more powerful years, he hit over .300 for the first time in his career, checking in at a very impressive .313 on the season.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, Jays
Encarnacion had been a solid player for Toronto since acquiring him from the Reds in 2009, putting up seasons of 20 home runs and a little more than 50 RBI on average in 2010 and 2011. This season, however, he completely obliterated those numbers with 42 home runs and 110 RBI, more in each category than the previous two years combined. In addition, Encarnacion also improved in other categories, setting career highs in stolen bases (13) and walks (84). What makes this rapid improvement all the more impressive is that he did it without Jose Bautista in the lineup who missed about half the year injured. Next year could be very intriguing for the Jays with those two bats healthy and producing in the middle of that lineup.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B/3B, Tigers
There really is not much else you can say about the year Miguel Cabrera had for the American League champion Tigers. He was the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 (led the AL in batting average, home runs and RBI) and he did it before the age of 30! In fact, Miguel Cabrera leads all active major leaguers under the age of 30 in hits (1802), home runs (321), and RBI (1123). We are not sure Cabrera is on his way to his second championship ring this year, but it sure looks like he will be on his way to Cooperstown one day.
TOP THREE BUSTS
3. Mark Teixiera, 1B, Yankees
Every year in his career besides his rookie campaign in 2003, Mark Teixiera has had at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI, but not in 2012 when he hit only 24 home runs and knocked in only 84 RBI. Even more alarming for Teixiera is that he has seen his normally stellar batting average drop season after season. A perennial .280, and some years .300, hitter has not reached those numbers since 2009 when he hit .292. The last three seasons he has not hit above .256 including this year when he hit .251 and had a dreadful on-base percentage of .332. For the Yankees, he provides a lot of value with his defense at first base, but for fantasy owners, his value seems to be slipping fast.
2. Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Pirates
At the beginning of the year, many picked the Marlins and their revamped team with the acquisitions of Jose Reyes and Heath Bell among others to possibly win the NL East. Gaby Sanchez was one of the players set to contribute in the middle of that lineup, but much like the entire team, he was a gigantic disappointment. After the first 55 games of the season while hitting just above the Mendoza line at .202, Sanchez was sent down to the minors and subsequently traded to Pittsburgh. Though he fared better for the Pirates than for the Marlins, he still finished the year with a .217 average and only seven home runs, a huge dropoff from back-to-back 19 home run seasons in 2010 and 2011.
1. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
During Spring Training, there was a lot of buzz around the Royals that they may be the team on the rise given their farm system and dearth of young talent. One of the centerpieces of this renewed hope was Eric Hosmer, and after his rookie campaign in 2011, it was easy to believe given that he hit .293 with 19 HR and 78 RBI in only 128 games. Much like his team, Hosmer severely underperformed his expectations this year hitting .232 in his first full season in the majors with less home runs (14) and less RBI (60). You would hope that this is just your classic sophomore slump for the third overall pick in the 2008 draft and 2013 is a year he can replicate or even outperform his 2011 numbers.
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by Eno Sarris //
Perhaps the title provides a little clue about the probability that this move works out well for St. Louis. While the deal was short (one year), the dollars were perhaps surprisingly high ($8 million) for a move that flies in the face of some poor trends in Lance Berkman‘s production over the past few years.
Age is a bitter beast that comes for us all. Since Berkman turned 32 in 2006, he’s turned south in a pronounced way. He had 665 plate appearances that year, right in line with his career production. Then, in 2009, he stepped to the plate 563 times. Last year? 481 times. Along the way, he had knee surgery and had some arthritic changes in the joint that don’t bode well for his mobility in the outfield.
Though defense doesn’t factor in to fantasy numbers directly in most leagues, it can have secondary effects. Berkman may find that he can’t play daily in the outfield on that knee – he hasn’t patrolled the outfield regularly since 2007, and that was only for 31 games. He also hasn’t been rated as a positive defender in the outfield since 2003 – what happens when Tony La Russa gets tired of watching Berkman muff fly balls?
All of this is before we even look at Berkman’s offensive statistics, which have also shown decline. Since 2008, Berkman has seen his isolated power decline (.255 ISO down to .166) while his BABIP has also dropped (.341 down to .282). While BABIP is often used as a stat to suss out luck on batted balls, players do have some control over the number, usually tied to their speed and their ability to rack up line drives. The numbers, in this case, line up with what we can see with our eyes: Berkman has lost a step and a little bat speed.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Only 18 first basemen over 35 have put up better than an .800 OPS since 1975, and only Mark McGwire, Andres Galarraga, Jeff Bagwell and Carlos Delgado hit more than 30 home runs beyond that age. Berkman failed to put up an .800 OPS for the first time since he’s become a major league regular, so he’s in danger of repeating that feat. As for the second part, he’s only managed 30 home runs five times in his career – the last was in 2007. He probably won’t make that group a quintet.
The Big Puma has always had a great approach at the plate, so in leagues that count on-base percentage, he may still be a boon this season. More traditional leagues should spend no more than a late-round pick on Berkman.
By Tommy Rancel //
Despite being the Tampa Bay Rays all-time home run leader, Carlos Pena was the second-most important Rays player to sign with a new team at the winter meetings. Carl Crawford got the big bucks from the Boston Red Sox, and Pena is looking to make a big comeback with the Chicago Cubs in 2011.
A crown jewel in the Andrew Friedman collection, Pena went from first-round bust to MVP candidate in the span of one season. In his first year (2007) with the (Devil) Rays, the first baseman smashed 46 home runs and drove in 121 runs – both single-season franchise records. Unsurprisingly, he was unable to top those numbers in any of the next three seasons, but still managed an impressive OPS of .884 in his time with the Rays.
Pena became the franchise all-time home run leader this past season. His 144 home runs in a Rays uniform also rank as the sixth highest total in baseball since 2007.
For all the good done – on and off the field – during his time with the Rays, Pena ended his career with the Rays on a down note. Just three years removed from his breakout campaign, Los hit just .195/.325/.409 in 2010.
Aside from the massive number of strikeouts which are typical for a three outcome hitter (home runs, walks, and strikeouts), groundball outs were also a problem for Pena this past season. His 44.9% groundball rate was his highest total in any full-season.
The last thing you want from primary home run hitter is nearly half the balls he puts in play staying on the ground. His slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) on grounders was an abysmal .137/.137/.151. The .137 BA represents the second-lowest average on groundballs (min. 100 PA) in the majors, owing to Pena’s lack of speed, and teams shifting on him to prevent right-side grounders from scooting through the infield.
Though he may be on the downside of his career, Pena’s power is still a threat. Aside from the terrible slash line, the strikeouts, and high number of grounders, Pena still managed to hit 28 home runs last year. Also consider, he is moving from a below-average hitter’s park for left-handed batters to one of the friendlier parks for lefties. According to statcorner.com, Tropicana Field had a home run park factor of 89 for LHB (neutral is 100). Wrigley Field, on the other hand, had a park factor of 119. NL Central pitching is likely to be easier to handle than that seen in the AL East too.
After whiffing (literally) on his chance of a big payday this off-season, Pena gets another chance with this one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs. With contract motivation, a ton of natural power, a home run friendly environment, and even reuniting with hitting guru Rudy Jaramillo, Pena could be poised for another 30-plus home run campaign.
For fantasy owners who don’t want to pay premium prices for a first baseman, Pena could be a good sleeper. At a stacked position, and coming of a down year, he could get lost in the shuffle in some leagues. While Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto go early, you can focus on a weaker position (say, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) in the first few rounds and target Pena as a mid-to-late-round selection in mixed leagues.
By R.J. Anderson //
With only six weeks remaining, the National League East race is heating up. The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are the only teams with realistic shots at hooking the title, but both have endured a rash of injuries in recent weeks. But while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are now back for the Phillies, the Braves have lost Chipper Jones for the season and Troy Glaus is on the disabled list.
Counting on health with Jones and Glaus on the corners is like playing Russian roulette with a full clip. The Braves have responded by adding long-time Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee. A pending free agent, the Cubs received more value than they should have for Lee, but that aspect isn’t nearly as important for the short-term as what the Braves received.
Glaus owners in particular should be looking at adding Lee, as he’s still available in 6.5% of ESPN leagues. Lee’s seasonal line is a disappointing .247/.333/.410 with 16 homers and 65 runs batted in. One of the more telling differences between Lee’s magnificent 2009 season, in which he hit .306 with 35 homers and 91 RBI, and his 2010 campaign, is his strikeout rate. In about 100 fewer at-bats, Lee has struck out just five fewer times than he did all of last year. The soon-to-be 35-year-old is striking out at his highest rate since leaving the Marlins in 2003.
Lee is still walking and his non-home run power (22 doubles) is in line with 2006-2008 totals. The raisin in the sun is Lee’s batting average on balls in play. 29.1% of Lee’s balls in play are turning into hits, marking a career-low dating back to 1999 and more than 30 points below his previous low over the past five years. Batted ball data suggest a bit of a change in how Lee is hitting the ball, with a slight uptick in grounders over last year and a steady drop in flyballs. Lee is getting slightly fewer infield hits, but that comes with fewer infield flies too, a worthy trade-off in the big picture.
Graphic courtesy of Baseball-Reference
Being dropped into a pennant race could revitalize Lee’s spirit (and he has heated up lately) but do not expect him to hit like he did last year. Lee’s 2008 line of .291/.361/.462 line is probably a good best-case scenario for the last six weeks of 2010.
As for the other significant recent waiver acquisition, Pedro Feliz with the Cardinals, don’t bother unless you play in a fantasy league where the goal is to field the worst players. In that case, he is a keeper.
For more on Derrek Lee, Pedro Feliz, and other late-season adds, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
Ike Davis made his Major League debut on Monday night and he’s already a fan favorite. The new Mets first baseman has the luxurious job of replacing Mike Jacobs, who represented the lowest common denominator amongst big league first basemen before the Mets sent him packing. The Mets could put Charlie Brown there and the fans would respond by cheering the comic strip covering first base until the wind inevitably swept him deep into the Gotham night.
Davis has the lineage to be a successful baseball player. The 23-year-old – born Isaac – is the son of former big league pitcher Ron Davis. After a stellar career at Arizona State, the Mets nabbed Davis with the 18th selection in the 2008 draft – a few slots after teammate Brett Wallace was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals. Davis has since flown through the Mets’ minor league system, with an abrupt stop in Triple-A for all of 10 games. His 2009 Double-A statistics through 233 plate appearances were pretty solid: .309/.386/.565, but Davis’ overall minor league statistics were .288/.371/.467.
The obvious question is now whether Davis holds fantasy value in non-keeper leagues. Well, he’s the best fantasy option the Mets have at first base, which should give those in National League-only leagues reason to add him. For the rest, it’s worth waiting and seeing.
Along with the New York prospect hype, Davis hit two home runs in that short Triple-A stint. Do not buy into a sudden power surge though, since he previously hit 20 homers, with seven of those coming below Double-A. Remember, he was a college pick and a college first baseman at that. The expectation levels are higher than normal. Baseball America ranked Davis as the Mets’ fourth-best prospect. Noting that his swing has the tendency to become pull-happy and that his swing was rather long, leaving him likely to strike out quite a bit.
Those skills translate to fantasy leagues as:
– OK average
– Decent power
– No threat to steal bases
– Some chances for runs (both batted in and scored)
– Lots of strikeouts
That’s not to say Davis won’t eventually become a decent major leaguer. He might even be decent out of the gate. But the hype can mostly be explained by post-Jacobs depression alleviation. If the Mets fan in your local league is buying into it, then by all means, allow him to claim Davis first. He’s just not a great fantasy option right now for standard 10- and 12-team mixed leagues.
For more on upcoming young players like Ike Davis, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.
By this measure, Butler finished as the 170th-best player in baseball in 2009. Loney finished one slot below as the 171st player. Those six extra steals by Loney seem to have erased much of the advantage Butler had over him in the other categories.