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Building a Balanced Team: First & Second Base

Last week we started this series by looking at the (few) catchers who have the potential to contribute in all five categories, and also highlighted those most likely to help out in three or four categories as well. Today we turn to the first and second basemen. As a reminder on the methodology behind this series, I began this exercise by gathering data for each position over the past decade (plus a bonus year because why not?) to determine the average production for each hitting category. In order to eliminate outliers resulting from limited sample sizes, I used a 400-plate appearance qualifier for all positions with the exception of catcher, for which I set the threshold at 300 plate appearances. I also wanted to control for lost playing time resulting from unforeseeable injuries, so rather than calculate the average counting stat totals for each category, I calculated the ratio of plate appearances to each counting stat (e.g. 30 plate appearances per home run as opposed to an average of 20 home runs).

After calculating the baseline for each category and year, I tallied the number of players who met three or more category thresholds as a measure of positional scarcity. Finally, I calculated the average for each category and position over the 11-year period to reduce the noise and determine the baselines we will use to identify multi-category contributors in our draft. For those who have the time, I highly recommend creating your own player projections and comparing them against the following baseline calculations, but for this article, I am going to use the Steamer 600 projections provided by Fangraphs. For reference, current NFBC ADP figures for each player are listed in parenthesis.

So here’s how the first basemen stack up:

Firstbase 10 year

First base has remained relatively stable over the past few seasons, barring a few dips in home runs and stolen bases. In 2015, these categories showed improvements over the 11-year averages, with a 4% increase in home run output and a 25% improvement in stolen base production. Batting average also had a slight bounce-back, but it is still almost 20 points lower than it was 11 years ago, making first baseman who can contribute in this category even more valuable. The position has remained insulated from the player scarcity that we observed for catchers, and there have consistently been a number of five-, four-, and three-category producers available from which to choose.

If we convert the 11-year average ratios back to counting stats based on 600 plate appearances, we can compare the values to the Steamer 600 projections to identify players that meet each of our target thresholds.

Firstbase

Five-Category Contributors

Paul Goldschmidt (2.27) needs no introduction. He has been a roto stud for the past several seasons, and he took his game to a new level in 2015.  He blew each of the 11-year positional averages out of the water, posting 33 homers, 103 runs, 110 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and a .321 batting average. His stolen base production slowed down in the second half, but owners can reasonably expect double-digit bags for the next several seasons, which is more than enough to be a net positive in the category. Anthony Rizzo (11.23) surprised many in 2015 by pairing 17 steals with an already impressive stat line.  His fly ball-heavy batted ball profile means he isn’t likely to put up the eye-popping averages of his five-category cohort, but he still provides a solid foundation for your dynasty team.

Four-Category Contributors

Injuries have diminished Miguel Cabrera’s (15.70) production over the past few years, and at 32, he’s no longer a lock to play 160 games a season.  Still, his line-drive profile supports the league-leading batting averages that we’ve become accustomed to, and the power still plays relative to the 11-year average. Edwin Encarnacion (22.22) is usually good for at least one DL stint a season, which makes his home run totals over the past four years even more impressive.  He’s entering his age 33 season, but his exceptional plate discipline skills and steady isolated power output should forestall a significant decline in production. Jose Abreu (22.72) should see increases in his run and RBI production in 2016 with an improved White Sox lineup, but it may be difficult to continue to post 30 home run seasons hitting so few fly balls.  Still, even with a slight down-tick, he’ll still meet our benchmark. Chris Davis (25.32) has the potential to help you dominate the home run category while also torpedoing your batting average.  Assuming he maintains a 50% pull rate, his BABIP will likely fluctuate wildly over the next few seasons depending on how many hits he loses to the defensive shift.

Three-Category Contributors

We identified more of the usual suspects in this category, along with a few potential sleepers.  According to Steamer, Joey Votto (36.13) met all of our benchmarks with the exception of home runs and RBI.  Considering he has hit at least 24 home runs in each full season he has played, I’m not sure I agree with the projection. The RBI tally, on the other hand, is probably pretty close based on the talent (or lack thereof) around him. Prince Fielder (82.77) had a nice bounce back campaign in 2015, and he is a good bet to provide solid production across the board. The power has declined over the past several seasons, but he should still provide average home run outputs based on our benchmarks. Mark Teixeira’s (178.82) age and injury history make it unlikely that he ever makes 600 plate appearances in a season again, but he still posts impressive power numbers in limited playing time. He will likely come at a deep discount in dynasty leagues due to the uncertainty surrounding his future beyond 2016. Albert Pujols (93.38) is one of only a few 36-year-olds who I wouldn’t hesitate to target in dynasty leagues. It’s not unprecedented for future Hall-of-Famers to produce well into their late 30’s, and his current contract all but guarantees that he will be batting in the middle of the Angels’ lineup for many years to come. His 40 home run total in 2015 so far exceeded the positional average that even with regression he should continue to be a contributor in this category. Pedro Alvarez (305.29) is all but guaranteed to be a drain on your batting average, which is surprising considering his groundball-heavy profile. He has yet to find a new home for 2016, but the power will play anywhere, and the counting stats could follow if he is installed in the middle of a team’s lineup.

And now, for second base:

Secondbase 10 year

Second base has produced diminished returns across the board, with home runs, runs, and stolen bases experiencing a roughly 10% drop relative to the 11-year average. While 2015 saw a modest rebound in home run production from an 11-year low in 2014, stolen bases fell off of a cliff, resulting in the fewest per plate appearance since 2006. The decline of a number of perennial all-stars, including Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, and Brandon Phillips, has likely contributed to these trends and some of the recent volatility in the position. More troubling are the measures of positional scarcity, as we haven’t seen a five-category second baseman for the past two seasons. The position has historically provided modest contributions across all of the categories, but the tallies of multi-category contributors indicate that many of the options currently available in the player pool are providing greater value in fewer categories. So while players such as Dee Gordon aren’t considered specialists, rostering them will force you to compensate for their deficiencies elsewhere.

If we convert the 11-year average ratios back to counting stats based on 600 plate appearances, we can compare the values to the Steamer 600 projections to identify players that meet each of our target thresholds.

Secondbase

Five-Category Contributors

Zero. Zilch. Nada. The trend continues, as Steamer doesn’t project a single second baseman to meet or exceed the benchmarks for all five categories in 2016.

Four-Category Contributors

Outside of his outstanding 2014 season, Anthony Rendon (70.67) has struggled with injuries throughout his career, which resulted in uninspiring production last year. Either the market isn’t concerned, or it has already discovered the cold hard truth about this position, because his ADP doesn’t reflect the discount you’d expect after a subpar campaign. Assuming health, he has the potential to be a five-category contributor this year, but dynasty-leaguers will want to keep an eye on his eligibility.  With the arrival of Daniel Murphy, this may be the last year he qualifies at second base. What Brian Dozier (70.85) lacks in batting average, he more than makes up for in counting stats.  Unlike Rendon, he has been the picture of health for the past three seasons, averaging 678 plate appearances a year. At age 28, you’re staring at a more-imminent decline phase for dynasty league purposes, but the plate appearances should allow him to continue to compile counting stats for the foreseeable future.

Three-Category Contributors

Steamer doesn’t buy the power Jose Altuve (11.75) demonstrated last season, which disqualified him from the four-category tier. However, there were some encouraging changes to his batted ball profile last season that indicate a change in his skillset, including increased pull and fly ball rates. If he maintains his new approach, he could continue to contribute in the home run category, making him not only one of the elite options at the position, but in all of baseball.  If that were to happen, he may actually be slightly undervalued based on his current market value. Robinson Cano (53.93) may be entering the twilight of his career, but he is still projected to meet the homerun, RBI, and batting average benchmarks. The Mariners didn’t pay him $240 million to bat at the bottom of the lineup, so I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be able to post at least 75 runs a season for the foreseeable future. At 33, he’ll likely be somewhat discounted in dynasty leagues, making him a smart buy-lower candidate. Rougned Odor (103.68) showed glimpses of his potential after rejoining the big league club in June, and Steamer is projecting a full repeat in 2016. He fell two runs and one batting average point shy of meeting all five of the 11-year averages. At only 22 years old, he has tremendous upside, and even if he doesn’t continue to grow, he won’t hurt you in any single category. His combination of youth, projection, and potential for growth make him an excellent target in dynasty leagues. Dustin Pedroia’s (172.45) litany of injuries over the past three years has really hurt his production. Players typically don’t get healthier at age 32, so a best case scenario is that he plays most of the season and posts a similar stat line to Odor.  However, it appears that the market is currently discounting him based on the uncertainty surrounding his health, which will give savvy dynasty owners who are playing for the short term an opportunity to acquire a potential five-category contributor for pennies on the dollar. Javier Baez (274.48), Dilson Herrera (613.59), and Arismendy Alcantara (698.14) don’t have clear paths to playing time, but they all have time and diverse skill sets on their side. If Baez can make enough contact, he should secure a starting role for a major league team, giving him the ability to contribute to all four counting categories.  Dilson Herrera has demonstrated a solid all-around game, but is currently waiting for an opportunity with the big league club.  With Neil Walker’s contract expiring at the end of the season, that chance may come as soon as next year.  Like Baez, Alcantara has had a difficult time sticking in the majors due to his poor contact rate.  He doesn’t offer the same power potential, so he is a longer shot to make a fantasy impact in the future.  Regardless, all three are under-the-radar targets for those who are building for the future.

First base has been relatively stable over the past 11 years, making it a safe investment in dynasty leagues. It has also offered an abundance of multi-category contributors, giving fantasy owners a variety of options when building a balanced roster. In addition to the obvious five-category contributors, we have a number of players in the four and three-category tiers that have the potential to join Goldschmidt and Rizzo. Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto may be getting a little long in the tooth, but savvy dynasty-leaguers will use this to their advantage in negotiations. They are excellent targets for teams that will be contending over the next several years. There is a fair degree of uncertainty surrounding Pedro Alvarez, but he provides a cheaper alternative to the big names in super-deep leagues.  If he can secure regular playing time, he could return significant profit relative to likely cost.

Conversely, second base has been the scarcest position as a whole that we have reviewed so far, and it has experienced declines in production across the board. In attempting to identify five-category contributors, the closest we came was a player who is unlikely to be qualified at the position next season (Rendon), and another whose track record is limited to half a season (Odor). The vast majority of the players we identified will contribute to most of our hitting stats, but have significant downside in at least one category, making this an incredibly difficult position to fill when building a balanced team. For those of you who are worried about the future of the position, I have two words for you: Yoan Moncada. He is still in the early stages of his development, so he represents is a wide range of outcomes. However, if he does realize his potential, he has the chance to reverse the recent trends at the position and provide contributions to all five hitting categories.  Considering the current state of the position, I would be willing to break the bank to acquire him based on potential alone.

Next up, we’ll evaluate the positional averages and measures of scarcity for third base and shortstop, and identify some players to target in our quest to build a balanced roster.

The Author

Eric Erhardt

Eric Erhardt

5 Comments

  1. February 18, 2016 at 2:02 am — Reply

    Why no Freddie Freeman?

    • February 18, 2016 at 8:58 am — Reply

      Hi Mark – Freddie is one of my personal favorites, but Steamer 600 has projected him for 23 home runs, 74 runs, 78 RBI, 3 steals, and a .283 average, so he only met two of the thresholds. The players that I’ve identified are only going to be applicable if you agree with this projection system. I think the benchmarks are far more useful when compared to your own projections, because I know that I personally don’t agree with all of the Steamer 600 projections. If I were using my own, Freddie definitely would have made the list.

  2. […] the last several weeks, we have identified catchers, first basemen, and second basemen who have the potential to contribute to three or more hitting categories. Today we continue our […]

  3. March 25, 2016 at 2:00 pm — Reply

    […] the last several weeks, we have identified catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, and shortstops who have the potential to contribute to three or more hitting […]

  4. March 30, 2016 at 2:00 pm — Reply

    […] the last several weeks, we have identified catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, and outfielders who have the potential to contribute to three or more […]

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