The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League First Basemen, Nos. 1-20
From the 21st of January to the 20th of February, the writers at TDG will be taking you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
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First base is a fun position to debate, and although the names run deep, the big ones shine much brighter than the mid or end-game versions. The recent quirk of the position (at least over the last couple of seasons) is that the minor league crop is especially weak. However, this is less consequential at first base, as the position gets just as much of an infusion from shifts down on the defensive spectrum as it does from the minor leagues. And with that shifting scheduled to continue (with potential names like Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer and others coming in 2015), things may continue to bulk up in the coming years anyway.
Now the 20 best first baseman in dynasty leagues, starting with a slugger who has elevated himself into near slam-dunk number one territory over the last 12 months:
1) Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 7)
Damn, son. That’s what Paul Goldschmidt’s 2013 made you say. And the best part about it for owners in dynasty leagues? It doesn’t look like anything he did was particularly fluky or unsustainable. He cut his whiff rate, walked a whole lot more, and turned a bunch of doubles into homers. His SB efficiency did take a hit, so maybe you get 10-12 bonus steals next season instead of 15-18. Outside of that minor inconvenience he’s entering his Age 26 season and he’s the best first baseman for your dynasty league team.
2) Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 61, OF)
In an era of diminishing power numbers Davis’ monster 2013 stood out like a really awesome sore thumb. He finished as the 3rd most valuable fantasy player last year, narrowly above #1 on this list. He’s #2 on our list for long-term value because there are some warning signs. It’s tough to bank on a repeat of his .286 average because he strikes out 30% of the time, and it’s equally tough to bank on him repeating his astronomical 29.6% HR/FB rate. Still, when a guy throws up a .348 ISO and remains firmly in the middle of his prime he’s plenty worthy of a top-dollar investment.
3) Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 1)
Votto’s on-base numbers are a sight to behold, and after leading the Majors in OBP for the 4th consecutive year in 2013 there’s a case to be made for ranking him first on this list in OBP leagues. For our purposes though he remains a top-tier option in standard 5×5 leagues on account of elite BA and R numbers. Outside of a random spike in his 2010 career year Votto’s also been a very consistent HR/FB producer, though it is worth noting that he did hit less fly balls than he’s ever hit last season. As a result it took him a league-leading 726 plate appearances to tally his 24 homeruns. It’s not enough cause for concern to knock him down our list just yet, but it’s certainly something to file away.
4) Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 2)
There shouldn’t be a ton of difference between Prince the Tiger and Prince the Ranger. He’s moving from one top-10 offense to another and a ballpark with a 110 HR park factor for lefties to one with a 108 rating. His performance last year does offer some causes for concern, most notably an almost 4 point drop in Z-contact % that may indicate some slowing of his bat speed. He also chased a few more balls out of the zone last season, and that led to a drop in his BB% and weaker contact. Prince should nonetheless retain his top-shelf power potential and counting stat opportunities for the next several years and continue to be a relatively safe investment in dynasty leagues for the time being.
5) Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 5)
After struggling for years in Cincinnati and Toronto to turn his raw power into the playable kind Encarnacion finally took “the leap” in the second half of 2011 and he hasn’t looked back since. He became a much more patient hitter, laying off balls out of the zone, working counts, and driving mistakes. His 2012 and 2013 seasons look remarkable similar with a notable plus that he cut his strikeout rate all the way down to 10% last season. That’s an elite number for his kind of power production, and given a strong lineup and one of the best parks in baseball for right-handed power E5 makes for a most appealing target.
6) Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 6)
When Hosmer’s sophomore slump of 2012 extended through May last year you could start to see some dynasty owners squirm. Hopefully you were able to pounce and acquire him at a discount during that window, because it may have been your last opportunity to buy low on the 24 year old. Hosmer rebounded with a strong final four months and looks poised to challenge the top 5 as soon as this season. He still hits too many groundballs to maximize his power potential, but if he can get the ball in the air more often he’ll add 20-25 HR pop to his already excellent contact skills and sneaky double-digit speed. The whole package is tantalizing for dynasty leaguers.
7) Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 19)
Hosmer v. Freeman was one of the more contentious debates in our office this winter, and on the surface it’s tough to argue against Freeman. He posted a breakout campaign last year in his Age 23 season that was third best among all first basemen, and he should be hitting in the heart of one of the better lineups in the National League for years to come. His season was fueled by a hefty (and very likely unsustainable) .371 BABIP though, and there’s still an awful lot of swing-and-miss in his game that may limit his AVG ceiling in less fortuitous seasons. Still, the pop is real and there aren’t many better long-term bets at the position.
8) Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 3)
It feels weird to talk about upside with an over-the-hill, future-Hall-of-Famer like Pujols, but bear with me. Yes, he’ll be 34 this year, and he’s coming off an injury year and a “down” year before that. The risk of ongoing decline and continuing injury issues is obviously significant. And sure, he’s technically in the midst of a 6-year OPS slide. But let’s not lose sight of something here: we’re talking about one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history. The post-prime injury risk version of Prince Albert is still as capable of slapping up a couple more .300+/30+/100/100 seasons as anyone on this list. And you very well may be able to get him on the cheap(er) this spring, making him an interesting little target for 2014 and beyond.
9) Allen Craig, St Louis Cardinals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 14, OF)
Craig can just flat-out hit. A career .306 hitter, he’s posted above-board BABIP numbers consistently enough now to where his expected range is higher than it is for most hitters. This is a good thing, as Craig is as solid a bet as any for a .300+ season. Add in that he’ll once again hit in the middle of a plush Cardinal lineup and you’ve got a good shot at top 10 RBI and R production as well. The big questions with Craig are health and power. The latter is particularly vexing, as he traded in too many fly balls for line drives last year and bottomed out at just 13 measly homers and a barely-league average .142 ISO. A redux of that power outage in 2014 will likely see him tumble down this list next year.
10) Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 4)
Gonzalez is a pretty boring name nowadays, but don’t mistake that for a lack of value. He overhauled his approach last season, making a conscious effort to pull the ball after seeing his ability to drive pitches to the opposite field fade with age. The new approach appears to have stabilized his power output, and when you couple his BA and RBI consistency with 20+ homers you’ve got a solid if unspectacular fantasy player. He’s also one of the safest bets on this list to accrue his counting stats, having logged at least 156 games played every year since 2006. That kind of above-average consistency has a ton of value even if it’s not sexy.
After starting off the year with a 50-game suspension, Singleton never fully recovered, hitting .230/.351/.401 in 390 plate appearances in Triple-A. Like a few of his top-20 mates, Singleton struggles against lefties and there are some mechanical flaws that must be addressed. He projects to be an average hitter with plus power – think in the 20-home run range.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the remaining 30 names that round out this list.
Commentary by Wilson Karaman and Alex Kantecki.