The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League First Baseman, Nos. 1-20
Congratulations on surviving another off-season. Now that the new year is upon us, it’s time to spend the next month traveling across the positional landscape, labeling players with numbers that correspond to their value. It’s the very definition of freedom. A ton of hard work was put into these rankings, and will continue to be put in as we bring you just an ungodly amount of information over the next month. We hope you enjoy the product we’ve created, and if you’d like to show appreciation for that work you can do so through this link, or via the donate button on in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. All donations are truly appreciated.
We continue our assault on positional rankings with the highly productive, defensively challenged first basemen. As usual, the minor league representatives on this list are rather tame, but the position will remain deep as players slide down the defensive spectrum and settle in for a life of scooping errant throws and dodging Nick Punto head-first slides. As predicted last year, Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera get added to the list, but we did unexpectedly lose Chris Davis to third base.
Let’s get the 2015 first base rankings rolling with a repeat No. 1:
1) Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 1)
It will take more than a broken wrist to unseat the king. Before the injury, Goldschmidt was on pace for a slightly lesser version of his 2013 season, with a few less home runs and a drop in RBI. But outside a small uptick in strikeout percentage (2.6 percent) things stayed the same for Goldschmidt. The only player that can match Goldschmidt in HR, R, RBI, and AVG is Miguel Cabrera, but where Goldschmidt laps everyone is stolen bases. The past two full seasons Goldschmidt had stolen 18 and 15 bases respectively, and in 109 games in 2014 he was at 9, giving him a career average per 162 games, of 16. That is added value no one else on this list can even come close to matching.
2) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 1 – 3B)
In many ways Cabrera had become boring, and so when he slipped in 2014, the world briefly fell despite the fact that he went on to hit a pedestrian .313/.371/.524 on the season. Some of the slip was due to injuries that really hampered him down the stretch and some of it is that, at age 31, Cabrera was not the young player he used to be. Despite all the negatives, Cabrera is the only player on this list who could simultaneously give you a .340+ batting average and 40+ home runs, and that is not upside you toss aside.
3) Jose Abreu (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 15)
No one expected Abreu to set the world on fire quite like he did in 2014. The home run and RBI numbers should be huge going forward, and it wouldn’t be difficult to project him to lead 1B in home runs every year during his peak. The one thing that will likely return to earth is his batting average. Abreu put up a .356 BABIP in 2014 and as that reaches a more expected level, his batting average should be more in the .280-.290 range than .315+.
4) Anthony Rizzo (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 12)
It may be surprising to some, but Rizzo was second among all first baseman in wOBA, behind only Abreu. In 2014, Rizzo added power to his game seeing his home runs finally eclipse 30, and his BABIP return to a more respectable .311. From a fantasy perspective, there is still a ton of upside here as the Cubs lineup improves and you can see both RBI and runs starting to pile up for Rizzo. At only 25 years old Rizzo should be able to sustain this level for a while too. To top it all off Rizzo adds a nice little five stolen bases a year.
5) Edwin Encarnacion (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 5)
The pity with Encarnacion is that he has only averaged 140 games a season the last three years, including only 128 games in 2014, because the Blue Jays first baseman has averaged 44 homers per 162 games. Encarnacion marks a step down in this list where you don’t get to have everything you want, instead you get to have a couple of really nice things. Here you get power and RBIs, especially in a lineup that now features the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson. Encarnacion could see a spike in counting numbers in the near future and that is something you want a part of.
6) Freddie Freeman (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 7)
Continuing the theme of flawed players, with Freeman you have to give up power, and for now you have to give up a good supporting cast. At only 25, the supporting cast is less of an issue, as you are buying a franchise cornerstone who will get you something close to a .300 batting average with 20 HRs and near bankable consistency. Freeman is not going to win you your league on his own, but he’ll help keep you close.
7) Joey Votto (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 3)
Votto still remains a bit of a conundrum in 5×5 leagues, there isn’t the power you want, the RBI totals are mediocre, and his 16 stolen season isn’t coming back. Coming off injury and and a poor season it is fine to question Votto going forward. But, 2014 was the first time he ever hit below .297, and he still has his amazing plate discipline. There is not a huge statistical argument I can make that Votto will return to his old form, but you are betting on one of the most talented hitters in recent history to just be 90 percent of his former self, to have a really solid first baseman going forward.
8) Adrian Gonzalez (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 10)
Gonzalez might get the award for the most boring first base option of them all. The power finally came back (due to a continued increase of his HR/FB rate to peak levels), and he just completed his 8th straight season with at least 99 RBI. He doesn’t get on base enough to have the 100 run seasons of his youth and the batting average went the opposite way of the power. However in a lineup that added Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, you can almost ink Gonzalez in for 25 HRs and 100 RBI right now.
9) Albert Pujols (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 8)
Baseball tried to bury Pujols, but in response he got healthy and is having a second fantasy career as the version of Gonzalez that is also 3 years older. Gone is the high batting average, the 40 HRs, the chance at 16 stolen bases, and a 120 run-120 RBI season. Instead we have the age-35 model of Pujols who might get up to 30 HRs with a .270 batting average and knock in 100 runs thanks to Mike Trout. Pujols obviously won’t be your cornerstone, but if you can get him cheaper than a top young first baseman, he could give you better numbers than a Freddie Freeman as long as you don’t mind starting the search for his replacement now.
10) Prince Fielder (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 4)
Do we all remember the guy who averaged 161 games, 36 bombs, 111 RBI, and a .288/.395/.535 line before then getting traded to the best offensive park of his career? That guy will only be 31 on opening day, is still in Texas, and should be healthy to start the 2015 season. There is a chance that he is never the player he was (and his power numbers had already begun to slip), but there is also a chance you get the first baseman who was second in home runs and RBI from 2007 to 2013, and 3rd in runs. It is a risky gamble, but one that could pay off big time.
11) Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 36, Previous Rank: 23)
Let’s start with the easy part: Martinez won’t hit 32 home runs again. 2014’s total was seven more than his previous career high, the 16 percent HR/FB was well above his career average, and he’ll be hard pressed to defy Comerica’s difficulty on LHH again (he swings both ways but hit 8 HR from left side at home). On the plus side, Martinez remains one of the best pure hitters in baseball and will finish among league leaders in average and OBP, while hitting in the middle of a potent lineup. Don’t be deterred by the seasoning. His skill set will continue to age well and he’s missed only 13 games since sitting out all of 2012.
12) David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (Age: 39, Previous Rank: 11)
What’s left to say about this guy? All Ortiz did in his age 38 season is record his highest homer total since 2007 and knock in another 104 runs. His average slipped due to poor BABIP luck but he continues to defy conventional wisdom. One of these years he’ll play Wile E. Coyote to Papi Time’s Road Runner and the cliff’s edge will be behind him. Until then, I’m not betting against Ortiz finishing outside the top 50 hitters.
13) Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 6)
The book on Hosmer is not complete but same-age peers Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman are entrenched in the top 10 of our rankings and Hosmer is backsliding. He slashed .302/.353/.448 in 2013 with 17 dingers and 11 steals, an excellent season for a 23 year old, if underwhelming relative to unrealistic expectations. His 2014 was simply bad; he set a career high strikeout rate, batted .270, and made no impact elsewhere. The 20+ HR aren’t coming without a radical change in his batted ball mix and a resurgence in his batted ball distance. The double-digit steals Hosmer offered each of his first three seasons shrunk to four last year. Perhaps you can cling to his .351 postseason average if you’re still a believer. Just be careful to buy the real Hosmer, not the one we all thought he would be.
14) Lucas Duda, New York Mets (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 40)
Not much changed for Duda last year except opportunity. Two weeks after Opening Day the Mets dumped Ike Davis on the Pirates and Duda finally had a steady gig. He proceeded to mash 30 taters over almost 600 PAs, good for 11th most in the league. With the second highest fly ball percentage in baseball, a batted ball distance just outside the top 20, and Citi Field about to become friendlier to left handed power, Duda is a good bet to hit another 30. He’ll struggle to hit .250 but with power getting scarcer by the minute, you can live with that.
15) Matt Adams, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 18)
Fantasy owners who drafted Adams expecting him to hit 25-30 HR in 2014 were likely disappointed but there are some encouraging signs in the profile. Improved contact ability led to a five percent decrease in his strikeout rate and a .288 batting average, fueled by a .338 BABIP. It seems unlikely that a player built like a pinniped can sustain that kind of BABIP. Then again, he hits a whole mess of line drives and achieved a similarly high number in 2013. Adams is entering his physical prime and has a track record of home run power, so I’m willing to look past the precipitous drop in batted ball distance for now.
16) Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 16)
Belt changed his grip in the middle of 2013 after talking to noted hitting expert Dominic Brown and proceeded to bat .326/.390/.525 in the second half. There was plenty of optimism heading in to 2014 and the buzz got louder after seven April big flies. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the season was washed out due to injuries. When he was in the lineup, Belt struggled with strikeouts, walked well below his career average, and murdered every worm on the right side of the infield. There’s still 20+ home run power here and if he can get those strikeout issues turned around, Belt will make for a good value pick in 2015.
17) Justin Morneau, Colorado Rockies (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 27)
Morneau relied on an aggressive, contact heavy approach in 2014 and won himself an unlikely batting title. His 10.9 strikeout percentage was a career best and the .319 average was his highest since a concussion-shortened 2010. Hitting fly balls at a career-low rate is not what I would advise for a former 30 homer threat playing his first season in Coors but there was still enough power in the stick to hit 17 bombs. 15-20 more in 2015 seems reasonable provided he gets the at-bats. He’s played three relatively healthy seasons in a row but the struggles against southpaws and a lurking Wilin Rosario may push him closer to platoon territory.
18) Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 4, C)
An important skill in fantasy is the ability to separate the name from the player evaluation. With that in mind, ask yourself if you want a 1B who put up a 60/4/55/3/.277 5×5 line last year. Sure, some time on the DL depressed the counting stats but the once elite hit tool has deteriorated and the Joe Mauer you used to know is gone. 2014 was the fourth consecutive season that his K rate increased and his average was a career-worst despite a characteristically high BABIP and a grounder- and liner-heavy batted ball mix. He’ll still hit for an acceptable average for the position and his run total will be passable because of the high OBP but forecasting even double digit home runs is probably too optimistic.
19) Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 33)
LaRoche isn’t exciting but damn is he steady. Excepting his rookie season and an injury shortened 2011, he averages 25 round-trippers per year with very little deviation. Last year he hit 26 long balls and early projections like him for 25 in 2015. That seems realistic, as the negative effects of aging should be offset by a shift to The Cell, a far more favorable offensive environment than Nationals Park. A likely sub-.250 BA will be a drain but Chicago’s lineup is sneaky good and will provide opportunity for adequate run and RBI totals.
20) Chris Carter, Houston Astros (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 25)
Carter was one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball in July and August, when he smashed 20 long balls in 52 games and slashed .278/.340/.629. He was atrocious to that point (.184 average through June) and gave some gains back in September, so he is a tough player to evaluate going forward. Carter is a prototypical three true outcome hitter, with an ISO since his 2012 promotion that puts him in elite company but is accompanied by a 33.7% strikeout rate that is the highest in baseball over that same period. The home runs will be there and the context is improving in Houston but your willingness to speculate on Carter should depend on whether the rest of your roster can offset an average that will likely rate somewhere between catastrophic and poor.
Commentary by Matt Winkleman and Greg Wellemeyer