The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League First Basemen, Nos. 1-20
It’s the time of the year where we offer congratulations to those of you brave dynasty league owners that survived the offseason. The greatness that 2016 will surely offer is upon us and that means we’ll be spending the next six weeks moving our way through the positional landscape, offering thoughts on the respective values of roughly 700 players throughout the process.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy the countless hours of hard work that went into these rankings and continue to support The Dynasty Guru by showing your appreciation through this link or via the splendid ‘donate’ button located on the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.
Players are ranked where they played 20 or more games at during the 2015 season at their highest position on the defensive spectrum, e.g. Chris Davis played 30 games in the outfield, meaning he’s an outfielder for our purposes. We can’t assume that a player will have eligibility at a position in the future (so no Hanley Ramirez at 1b for these rankings) or that a player will lose eligibility at a position in the future. This should clear things up for all non-Javier Baez/Jurickson Profar players, and we’ll do our best to explain where those players are ranked when the time comes. All DH types, such as Evan Gattis and David Ortiz, appear on the 1B rankings, as we will not be doing a UTIL rankings list.
We move (thankfully) from catchers to a look at the top-20 first basemen, featuring the prototypical fantasy first baseman leading off the rankings:
1) Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 28, Rank: 1)
The perfect fantasy first baseman. Goldschmidt does everything you can hope for. He is a five category stud and probably the favorite for the NL MVP Award in 2016. His 5×5 stat line of a .321 batting average, 21 stolen bases, 33 home runs, 103 runs scored and 110 RBI was spectacular and there is every reason to expect he will be just as good again this year. There are no weaknesses in his game. He’s pure, fantasy gold (schmidt). Not too bad for a guy who was never on the prospect radar as a minor leaguer. Goldy is heading into his age-28 season in 2016 and right in the middle of his prime.
2) Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 4)
Rizzo’s 5×5 line looks very similar to Goldschmidt’s, with his .278 batting average being the only significant difference. Last season was the first time Rizzo’s stolen bases provided major value. His 17 steals nearly tripled his previous career high of six. We probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of the steals, a double digit total should be within reach in the future. Rizzo’s 31 home runs were one less than his career high, while his 94 runs and 101 RBI were both career bests. The Cubs offense is loaded, so we should expect to see 100+ runs and RBI in 2016. Rizzo is two years younger than Goldschmidt and that difference helps bridge some of the dynasty value gap between the two players but is not quite enough to vault Rizzo to the top spot. Rizzo’s youth indicates we have yet to see the best out of this potent slugger.
3) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 2)
Cabrera suffered through an injury-plagued season last year, playing in only 119 games, but when the future HOFer was on the field, he was just as sensational as ever. In fact, his rate stats exceeded his career averages. Despite his advancing age, we have yet to see any degradation of his skills. If he is on the field, he will be a superstar, as Cabrera excels in every fantasy category except stolen bases. His batting average is elite. His power is elite. His trade value is elite. Expect similar numbers to Goldschmidt but minus the steals (.320+ AVG, 30+ home runs, 100+ runs and RBI).
4) Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 7)
Votto reasserted himself as a fantasy stud last year with a tremendous bounce back season after his 2014 campaign was derailed by a knee injury. His .314/.459/.541 slash line resulted in a gargantuan 172 wRC+, which was second in baseball to Bryce Harper. The only negative for Votto is he plays on a terrible team that is not going to score many runs, which will have an adverse effect on his runs and RBI. We probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of his 11 stolen bases either. Votto is a beast in OBP leagues, as his lifetime OBP of .423 is the highest of any active player by a very wide margin. The Canadian is getting a little bit older, but is still in great condition and his skill set should age well.
5) Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 3)
The Cuban import was not able to match his stellar 2014 rookie season, but dynasty owners shouldn’t have been too disappointed with the 30 home runs, .290 batting average, 88 runs and 101 RBI that he delivered in 2015. The runs scored were the only statistic that Abreu improved in 2015–everything else across the board was down noticeably even though he played in nine more games. Moving forward, it seems prudent to expect numbers more along the lines of 2015 (129 wRC+) than 2014 (167 wRC+) in terms of batting average and home runs, but his runs and RBI might tick upward a bit as the White Sox improve their team offense as a whole.
6) Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 5)
Encarnacion has been amazingly consistent (and good) for the last four seasons. He has averaged 37 homers per season, despite missing about 20 games each year. While playing half of his games at the Rogers Center, he can be safely relied upon for a .275 AVG, 90 runs and 100 RBI in each season as well. He doesn’t steal bases and he doesn’t offer defensive value, but the bat is undeniably excellent. His 149 wRC+ over the last four seasons is seventh best mark in baseball, which means he has been a perennial first-round quality player in fantasy drafts that was rarely actually drafted in the first round. He is rapidly approaching the age when most players start to see their performance tail off, but E5 has shown no signs of that yet at all. If your team is a contender, he is exactly what you need. If your team is rebuilding, you may want to patiently shop him around, as his value may take a slight hit if he leaves Toronto after the season.
7) Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 6)
Freeman missed 44 games last year due to injury, which obviously harmed his counting stats severely. His rate stats were very close to his career averages, which is good and bad. On the good side, it means his injuries and vision issues haven’t taken a permanent physical toll. On the bad side, it means he didn’t take that next step toward stardom that we have been hoping for. Freeman is a solid fantasy player that can help a good roster, but he needs to show some real improvement if he is going to live up to projections. Perhaps the biggest word of caution regarding Freeman’s dynasty value is the lineup the Braves have surrounding him. Yuck. The Braves are really bad, which has the potential to hurt Freeman’s fantasy counting stats quite a bit over the next couple years. Freeman should safely deliver you 20-25 home runs and a .280 batting average. He doesn’t steal bases and his runs and RBI are likely going to be few and far between in 2016.
8) Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 8)
Gonzalez is the very definition of a professional hitter. The guy isn’t spectacular and doesn’t wow you with anything he does, but he is an extremely productive hitter and valuable dynasty asset. Gonzalez has slowly declined from his glory days as a fantasy MVP with the Padres, and although he is no longer highly desirable as your starting 1B on a championship contender, he is still great to have as a Corner Infield or Utility starter. AGon is another aging player, but he should be plenty productive for another couple years. He is one of the dying breed of sluggers that can bring you plenty of home runs and RBI without crushing your team batting average.
9) Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 10)
Last offseason saw a lot of speculation that Fielder’s career could be over, as he was coming off a 2014 season that was lost to neck surgery that threatened his ability to continue playing at a high level. His 2015 season largely put those concerns to rest, as Prince played in 158 games and came to the plate almost 700 times–typical for Fielder prior to 2014. It’s probably not a good idea to expect any more monster first-round caliber seasons, but much like Gonzalez, we can expect Fielder to hit 25+ home runs without hurting your AVG. In fact, Fielder is actually a strong asset in batting average despite his girth. The career .287 hitter scored a .305 AVG last year. Fielder will turn 32 in May, and sooner or later his bad build is likely to catch up to him, but enjoy the production while it lasts as he approaches his mid-thirties.
10) Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 13)
Hosmer has been a frustrating player to own over the years, as you never know what to expect from this up-and-down hitter. He has alternated good and bad years throughout his career, even in the minors. He was the third overall pick of the 2008 draft, but didn’t start off his pro career well. He later revived his prospect stock big time and became an elite prospect. When Hosmer reached the majors in 2011, he was inconsistent and looked like he was not going to live up to expectations. His wRC+ marks have fluctuated over his young career; from 113 in his rookie year in 2011, down to 80 in 2012, back up to 120 in 2013 and it crept back down under league average (99) in 2014 before rebounding to a solid 125 mark in 2015. Will he live up to his track record and have a down year in 2016? I don’t think so, but you can see the inconsistency. The 2015 season was his best season yet (.297 AVG, 18 home runs, 98 runs, 93 RBI and seven steals), but even then it left fantasy owners wondering if he may have another gear to reach. I think he will settle in as a solid starting first baseman in fantasy as he reaches his peak, but his owners may always be left a little bit of disappointment.
11) Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 36, Previous Rank: 9)
The 2015 season saw the return of vintage Pujols power, as he hit 40 home runs on his way to posting his best isolated power mark (.236) since joining the Angels. While an unlucky .217 batting average on balls in play resulted in a career-low .244 batting average, Pujols continued to make quality contact, and with a full recovery from offseason foot surgery, owners can expect a modest rebound. Entering the 2016 season at the age of 36, he will likely be passed over in dynasty leagues for younger and more exciting options, but don’t be too quick to dismiss Grandpappy Albert. It’s not unprecedented for players of his (HOF) caliber to remain productive well into their late-thirties, and there is no reason to think that he can’t continue to provide a relatively inexpensive source of power and counting stats for the foreseeable future.
12) Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 16)
Belt rebounded from a disappointing 2014 campaign and displayed the skills that he has demonstrated many times throughout his five year career: strong line drive rates accompanied by plenty of hard contact. He sustained the third concussion of his career this past September, but he is expected to make a full recovery and has been cleared to resume offseason activities. Concussions can derail a career in any sport, and Justin Morneau serves as a cautionary tale for Belt’s prospects of avoiding future head injuries. However, many of these concerns are baked into his rank, and with health, he could present one of the best values on this list. Entering his age-27 season in 2016, there is still plenty of upside left. Think Freddie Freeman with more stolen bases.
13) Lucas Duda, New York Mets (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 14)
Duda came into the 2015 season among the league leaders in hard contact and fly ball percentage. While most of us expected that to translate into plenty of power, no one anticipated the impressive gains he made against left-handed pitching, hitting .285 against southpaws in 2015. He should continue to receive plenty of plate appearances with the improved platoon splits, and his 3 year isolated power trend hints at bigger home run totals in the future. His batted ball profile will never support a useable batting average but you’re not rostering him for batting average. You’re rostering him for bombs and fantasy team names inspired by The Big Lebowski. The Duda abides.
14) Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 33)
Outside of an abbreviated 2014 season that resulted from a qualifying offer debacle, Morales has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. He saw marginal improvements across the board this year, including a career best walk percentage. His batted ball profile also improved, as he turned ground balls into line drives and fly balls, helping to boost his isolated power to a five year high. That being said, he hasn’t completely reformed his free swinging ways, and this is not a skill set that tends to age well. He may have a few more productive years, but anything beyond that should be considered a bonus.
15) Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 16th at 3B)
Carlos Santana: “Oye como va?”
TDG: “I’m sorry Carlos Santana, I don’t speak Spanish. But since you’re here, let’s talk about your deteriorating contact skills. Last season, from the left side of the plate, one out of every five of your at-bats resulted in an infield fly ball. From the right side of the plate, you hit the ball on the ground more than 50 percent of the time, making you a slow, swollen version of Cameron Maybin. The result was a .395 slugging percentage, which may be acceptable for a catcher, but it’s not going to cut it now that you’re strictly a first baseman. Your on-base skills continue to be elite, and you contributed a surprising number of stolen bags last season, but you’ll need to re-discover the swing that made you a promising dynasty option as recently as 2013 if you want to move up this list.”
16) Evan Gattis, Houston Astros (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 8th at C)
Gattis showed some improvement in his plate discipline in his first season in Houston, swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone while reducing his overall swinging strike and strikeout rates. Unfortunately, his ground ball rate spiked while his hard contact rate dipped, which capped his power potential and resulted in the lowest home run per plate appearance ratio of his career. However, Gattis is young enough to reverse the power trend, and the loaded Astros lineup should continue to provide him with plenty of RBI and run scoring opportunities. His transition from catcher/outfielder to first baseman/designated hitter now complete, he should continue to receive the plate appearances necessary to support the increased counting stats that he produced in 2015, particularly with Chris Carter no longer in the picture.
17) A.J. Reed, Houston Astros (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 39)
The Dynasty Guru’s love of A.J. Reed is very well documented, so I won’t rehash Jake’s excellent analysis. The only thing I’ll add is this: we all had the friend in high school that excelled at any sport he played, but you’d never peg him as a naturally gifted athlete just by looking at him. A.J. Reed may not have the chiseled physique, the wheels, or the lightning-quick bat speed, but he can play baseball. This is a guy who pitched on Friday nights in between hitting bombs for the University of Kentucky. When in doubt, bet on natural talent.
18) Greg Bird, New York Yankees (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 29)
By most measures, Bird had a very successful major league debut. In only 178 plate appearances, he launched 11 home runs and pos ted a .261/.343/.529 triple slash line. Much like Lucas Duda, he achieved these results with a ton of hard contact and fly balls. While no one questions the power and on-base skills, those who are expecting a repeat in batting average are likely to be disappointed. With a batting average on balls in play that was unusually high for this batted ball profile, a 30 percent strikeout rate, and a poor zone contact rate, Bird is more Adam Dunn than David Ortiz. Regardless, a player who has the potential to hit 40 homeruns is a very valuable fantasy asset.
19) Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 26)
Well, I didn’t see that one coming. Perhaps his dip in power over the past few seasons was the result of a right wrist injury that required surgery in 2013, but there’s still a significant difference between a rebound and resurgence and Teixeira tore the cover off of the ball in 2015. He posted the best isolated power of his career last season on his way to launching 31 home runs. His campaign was once again cut short by an injury, and it’s probably unrealistic to expect anything more than 500 plate appearances per season moving forward, meaning fantasy owners will want to roster a capable backup. However, when he is on the field, he is doing his best Ivan Drago impression. Anything he hits, he destroys.
20) David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (Age: 40, Previous Rank: 12)
This ranking is more of a reflection of Ortiz’s upcoming retirement than his performance last season. In 2015, Big Papi once again eluded Father Time and posted a 30 homer, 100 RBI season. With his track record of steady production, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he repeated these numbers again in 2016, even at the age of 40. If you’ve rostered him in a dynasty league, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to trade him for equal value, so you may as well sit back and enjoy the most consistent production in the game one last time. Besides, you wouldn’t want to miss out on all of the festivities and hoopla surrounding his big farewell tour throughout your league’s fake fantasy baseball stadiums this season.
Commentary by Nick Doran and Eric Erhardt