Second look: Top 30 fantasy first basemen for 2012

Over the next week or so, in an attempt to catch up on fantasy season, I am going to do a top 20 or so list by position for the players who will either be eligible at that position under Yahoo! default standards to start the season or who are projected to gain eligibility within the first month of the season (e.g., Miguel Cabrera and Jesus Montero). The rules of eligibility for Yahoo fantasy leagues:

The following conditions apply to a player’s position eligibility:
1. A player’s position eligibility will not be adjusted prior to the beginning of the season. (If a player in spring training is playing a “new” position, that position will not appear until a player has met the criteria for a change.)
2. Players will not lose eligibility at a previously established position at any time. (For example, if a catcher-eligible player begins to play first base exclusively, he will remain eligible at catcher for the entire season.)
3. It is not possible to customize this setting within Custom Leagues. All leagues are subject to the same constraints.

Gaining eligibility at a new position:
If a position player makes five (5) starts or 10 total appearances at a new position during this season, he will become eligible to play that position in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball. Pitchers need to make three starts to become eligible as a starter and five relief appearances to qualify as a reliever.

ESPN imposes a more rigorous default position eligibility standard (e.g., 20 games played at the position last season, 10 games played in the present season), so you may have to do additional research if you play ESPN fantasy to verify that players listed in these articles are in fact “position eligible” in your league.

These rankings are based on 5×5 standard Yahoo! Roto leagues. Rankings are not based on real-life value but fantasy value. Hence, players like Juan Pierre tend to have value for you closer to what Kenny Williams is willing to pay him in real life. Projections listed below are courtesy of Brian Cartwright’s Oliver projection system. I recommend that you purchase a subscription, as the pre- and in-season updates are an invaluable fantasy tool.

My rankings are not exclusively based on Oliver’s projections, however. Rankings are primarily determined based on total production by category, balance in production, and scarcity of production level. Because I am ranking players by position, positional flexibility is not taken into account in my rankings (though you should absolutely consider positional flexibility at the draft board).

Tiers represent groups of relatively fungible players, guys who if you traded me the guy at the bottom of that tier for the top guy would not require you to add “too much” value to pull off a trade. In other words, guys within a tier are relatively easy to trade for one another.

If you have any specific questions about my rankings, please post them in the comments.

Here are my top 20 fantasy first basemen for 2012.

Tier 1
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
1         Albert Pujols        ANA       .307/.393/.578
2         Miguel Cabrera       DET       .327/.415/.564
3         Joey Votto           CIN       .314/.412/.548
4         Adrian Gonzalez      BOS       .320/.406/.550

Tier 2
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
5         Prince Fielder       DET       .290/.402/.520
6         Mark Teixeira        NYY       .255/.349/.479
7         Paul Konerko         CHW       .285/.364/.498
8         Mike Napoli          TEX       .272/.355/.519

Tier 3
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
9         Eric Hosmer          KCR       .292/.348/.457
10        Michael Morse        WAS       .287/.344/.493
11        Paul Goldschmidt     ARI       .272/.347/.523
12        Pablo Sandoval       SFG       .300/.351/.498

Tier 4
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
13        Billy Butler         KCR       .298/.365/.464
14        Michael Young        TEX       .302/.349/.447
15        Lance Berkman        STL       .270/.380/.459
16        Carlos Santana       CLE       .248/.362/.451
17        Ike Davis            NYM       .271/.351/.462

Tier 5
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
18        Joe Mauer            MIN       .313/.385/.458
19        Kevin Youkilis       BOS       .278/.382/.488
20        Adam Dunn            CHW       .226/.343/.445
21        Bryan LaHair         CHC       .267/.338/.501

Tier 6
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
22        Kendrys Morales      ANA       .291/.337/.501
23        Michael Cuddyer      COL       .288/.349/.482
24        Freddie Freeman      ATL       .281/.343/.450
25        Adam Lind            TOR       .257/.309/.451

Tier 7
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
26        Mark Reynolds        BAL       .226/.326/.482
27        Mark Trumbo          ANA       .250/.295/.440
28        Lucas Duda           NYM       .267/.346/.455
29        Carlos Pena          TBR       .214/.338/.436
30        Ryan Howard          PHI       .269/.350/.509

Tier 1

This tier goes without explanation. Albert Pujols and Joey Votto are five-category studs, offering .300/30/100/100/5 or more. Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, on the other hand, offer bankable elite four-category production. Everyone in this tier should at least reach the .300/30/100/100 mark this season, though Votto probably has the “least” power of the group (which he more than makes up for with stolen-base upside). If you get someone in this tier, you’re absolutely golden.

Tier 2

Tier two features some pretty productive names, but there’s either a flaw or question looming around each player. Prince Fielder has legitimate power and is in a pretty strong lineup, but how much better is batting around Cabrera than Ryan Braun when you’re moving to an arguably harder division in a less hitter-friendly park? Fielder’s batting average has always been a wild card, and he does not steal bases.

Fielder is a guaranteed 30/100/100 player with elite production, but the question of whether he’ll be a three- or four-category guy this year is what keeps him outside the top tier, which is reserved for the guaranteed four/five category guys.

During his three seasons as a Yankee, Mark Teixeira has 111 home runs, 341 RBIs and 306 runs scored. Like Fielder, he’s almost guaranteed elite three-category production. Also like Fielder as well, he does not really steal (though it is worth noting that Tex amassed four stolen bases last season). But where Fielder has batted .299 in two of the past three seasons (bookmarking a .261 batting average campaign), Tex has seen his batting average trend in the wrong direction over the past four seasons, from .308 in 2008 to .292 in 2009 to .256 in 2010 to .248 in 2011.

Tex is now 32, so how much “rebound” we can expect from his batting average is questionable at its most optimistic. Last year’s .239 BABIP was a career-low mark that will likely see some regression, and his xBABIP last season was close to .300, but older players do not run as well as the “league average” and Teixeira is one of the slower baserunners in baseball (meaning the likelihood he “underperforms” his xBABIP is high). I think he should hit around .270 next year, but the days of Tex as a four-category elite first baseman are over.

Paul Konerko is patently underrated. Over the past two years, he’s hit .300/30/100, and in six of the past eight seasons he’s hit 30 or more home runs. In the other two seasons, 2008 and 2009, he hit 28 and 22. And in ’08, when he only hit 22, injuries limited Konerko to 122 games.

A career .282 hitter, Konerko is one of the hard-to-find guys who can hit for power without killing your batting average. I still do not buy his late-career resurgence as a “high average” hitter, but the rest is totally legit.

Oliver sees Konerko hitting .285/.364/.498 this season with just under 30 home runs and close to 100 RBI. That seems right on the money. The loss of Quentin in the lineup might affect Konerko’s RBI and run totals, but an expected rebound from Dunn and Rios (though how much both with improve is questionable) should at least offset that. Konerko is a rock of three-category production with strong runs score performance, as well.

First and foremost, we need to note that if you draft Mike Napoli, you sure as heck are not going to use him as your first baseman (the same is true about Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana and, if he gets first baseman eligibility, Buster Posey as well, all of whom I will skip in my subsequent tier analysis). Still, he qualifies for the position, and assuming he finally gets regular full-time playing time, Napoli should be about as valuable as Konerko.

Tier 3

Tier three consists of the three-category guys with plenty of upside but no real “bankability.” A .290+ campaign with 25-home run upside out of the middle of the order makes Eric Hosmer an intriguing option, but that’s really the upside, and there’s no real track record here. Downside should be Billy Butler-like power numbers and an above-average (.280-something) batting average. Hosmer could be the next Votto in a few years. Until then, he has .300/20-25/5-10 upside, which is rare enough for a first baseman.

Michael Morse was one of my trendy early-season sleeper picks last year, and he really broke out in a big way after a questionable start to the season when Adam LaRoche went down with an injury. Morse, like Hosmer, has the ability to hit for power and average. There’s no stolen-base upside here, however, which is why Morse is ranked below Hosmer despite having a little more power upside in a slightly better lineup.

You might think I am overrating Paul Goldschmidt, but I’m worried about underrating him by putting him just outside the top ten. Goldilocks won’t hit for a high average (but he should be able to hit for a respectable enough average (.270?)), but he is the most likely player outside the first tier to reach 30 home runs and 10 stolen bases this season.

Goldschmidt’s power is absolutely legit, and he’ll get middle-of-the-order-slotting. In 2011, he stole a combined 13 bases between Double-A and the major leaues, and I have an unproven theory that rookies tend to run more to “add to their value” and show their team that they deserve to stick. That’s not to say Goldschmidt necessarily will steal double digit bases this season, but I am absolutely buying Oliver’s forecast of a .270+/30+/5/100+ season.

Pablo Sandoval‘s weight regain heading into spring training worries me. Should I look at 2011 and 2009, or should I be concerned about 2010? You’ll notice I’m cautious in my ranking of him in the third basemen rankings as well. I like Fat Panda in theory, but when he’s not in shape, I do not know what to expect.

Tier 4

Butler showed more of the “power upside” he was once touted to have, though playing in Kaufman Stadium will always limit Butler’s home run upside potential. With an upgraded offense due to the infusion of Moustakas and Hosmer, Butler should be able to reach the 180 R+RBI plateau this year. And 22 home runs with a .300 batting average is underrated production. Another couple of stolen bases would be nice as well, but don’t expect it.

Michael Young is a player that I want, with all my heart, to rank lower, but I just can’t. First basemen with teens home run power upside are so boring, but Young has the potential to hit for a +.300 batting average with five-to-10 stolen bases out of the middle of one of baseball’s best lineups, which makes 190 R+RBI very likely.

Every year I hate on Matt Cain and Young, and every year, they do more than I claim they will. Maybe this year—the year I finally rank them where everyone else does—will be the year they prove my gut right. Alas, assuming Young can repeat his 2010-2011 performance, he’s a top-flight, albeit non-traditional, first-base option.

Lance Berkman had a big bounceback campaign last year, but he tapered off in a big way in the second half last season.

Ike Davis‘ Valley Fever worries me. The fungal infection absolutely derailed the career of Conor Jackson. But Davis was only technically diagnosed with Valley Fever symptoms and is being treated as if he has the illness. The Mets are being quite cautious and, from what I have read, it seems the Mets caught whatever it is Davis has very early on, which makes successful treatment without the horrible derailing effects that much more likely.

Though I wish him the best and healthiest recovery, this makes Davis a wild card. Consider Davis a high-risk, high-reward draft pick at this point. He has .280 batting average, 25-plus home run potential and would get middle-of-the-order slotting if healthy. His upside is too good too ignore. If you draft Davis, however, you absolutely need to draft a handcuff like Lucas Duda or a potential replacement like Bryan LaHair.

You’re not drafting Carlos Santana to be your first baseman. And if you do, trade him to someone who needs a catcher.

Tier 5

You’re not drafting Joe Mauer to be your first baseman. And if you do, trade him to someone who needs a catcher.

This might seem like a low ranking for Kevin Youkilis, but I just don’t trust him to stay healthy. Adam Dunn, on the flip side, might seem ranked a little high given his Carlos Pena-like outlook for 2012. Maybe I am putting too much stock in the effects of his appendectomy, but I think Dunn can at least perform at the .230-batting average, 30-home run, 80-plus-RBI level next year with the potential to return to his pre-2011 form (which would make him much more valuable than Mark Reynolds).

And then there’s Bryan LaHair, from whom I expect a major breakout this year. Unlike most Cubs prospects (largely because they weren’t the organization that drafted him), LaHair takes a walk. Like a lot of Cubs prospects, unfortunately, he’s old for his level. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be productive.

PCL numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but LaHair did lead the league with 38 homers. He had another two, in 70 at bats, with the Cubs in addition to a .220 ISO in a brief 20-game major-league stint. Call me overly optimistic, but despite the high strikeout rate, LaHair is legitimately capable of a Goldschmidt-like season without the stolen-base upside.

LaHair’s past three season MLEs are pretty strong and trending upwards (.769 OPS in 2009, .806 OPS in 2010, and .910 OPS in 2011). I think he’s pretty capable of the .267 batting average, 25-20 home runs per 600 plate appearances, and 90 RBI that Oliver forecasts for him.

I only projected LaHair for 311 plate appearances this year because I am uncertain of what happens with Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano down the stretch. As you might have noticed, the Cubs have Rizzo and Brett Jackson coming up quickly with Marlon Byrd penciled in to center field in the last year of his contract, David DeJesus comfortably plopped in right for a couple of seasons, and Soriano entenched in the left-field spot with one of baseball’s most bloated contracts.

Because of this logjam, it’s likely Jackson won’t see full-time/regular playing time in the outfield until 2013 because, even if the Cubs manage to move Soriano, Rizzo is likely to push LaHair to left field (or get traded). LaHair will probably get full time playing time in 2012 as either the Cubs’ first baseman, right fielder or another team’s first baseman or designated hitter around the trade deadline—assuming he produces this year.

LaHair is a medium-risk, high-reward play for 2012. I just couldn’t justify putting him in the top 20 without being called too much of a homer (especially when you see where I have ranked Ian Stewart among third basemen for 2012).

Tier 6

Kendrys Morales is pretty risky since he ha almost two years of rust on him and is only now just starting to run the bases after one of the flukiest injuries in baseball history. Still, I think he’s less of a risk for 2012 than Justin Morneau was heading into 2011, for what that’s worth.

If healthy and not too rusty, Morales certainly has plenty of fantasy relevance as a 20-plus home run capable hitter with a moderately useful batting average potential. Plus, the addition of some guy named “Albert” can’t hurt R/RBI potential (though it does create a positional logjam).

Michael Cuddyer seems to disappoint every other year, so maybe this is just a baselesly low ranking. A 15-20 home run capable hitter with five-plus stolen bases is certainly valuable, but but unless Cuddyer can hit above .289, he’ll just be a two-category guy with modest other-category offerings, at best. The move to Coors certainly legitimizes his likelihood to repeat 20 home runs next season. Cuddyer’s real fantasy tool is his positional flexibility.

Call me overly bearish on Freddie Freeman, but I just don’t see him as anything more than a 2007-2011 Derrek Lee type: 20-ish home run power, low/mid-.280s batting average, and maybe a few stolen bases. The Braves’ offense is not fearsome enough to even bank 85 RBI with a Freeman pick. He’s a solid late-round flier corner infielder, but I wouldn’t want him as my starting first baseman.

Adam Lind: feast or famine? He started out the 2011 season hot and seemingly returned to form, but then he fizzled out. Lind’s 20-25 home run power is still there, but the days of hoping for an elite batting average too are likely behind us. He offers minimal speed but good lineup slotting. Lind can give you a .250 batting average, maybe 23 home runs and 90 runs batted in as a corner infielder or utility option for 2012.

Tier 7

Mark Reynolds’ upside is 30-something home runs with a horrible batting average. That’s Carlos Pena with a little more power and positional flexibility. You’re probably using Reynolds as your third baseman before your first baseman, however. The Orioles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so Reynolds is pretty much a lock to get his playing time as long as he’s hitting above .210.

Assuming he gets his playing time, and assuming you don’t play in an on-base league, Mark Trumbo is a solid low-average, high-power producer as a corner infielder, and he’s third-base eligible. The Angels offense is pretty potent, so Trumbo should get plenty of RBI opportunities.

Lucas Duda is the mandatory handcuff for whomever drafts Ike Davis, but Duda has 20-plus home run power with decent batting average skills if he can just find regular playing time.

Carlos Pena is what he is. A 25-plus home run guy who struggles to hit .230. He’s the epitome of cheap power and has a lot more use in on-base percentage leagues.

I do not expect Ryan Howard to play in the majors until July. But half a season of 15-home run power with a .250 batting average and above-average RBI production, when paired with a Duda type or some other fantasy league-average first baseman for the first three months could collectively result in top-20 production. Just don’t overpay for Howards’ services at draft day just to stash him.

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. lexomatic said...

    I’ve read that Teixeira’s average problems started when teams played him with a shift. If that’s true, he hasn’t figured it out in 2 seasons, so I wonder how much regression there is if he doesn’t change his approach. What I find strange is I never see mention of the shift in pre-season analyses.

  2. Wally794 said...

    No Mitch Moreland? In that park, with the lineup he is in, is at least better than a half year of Howard. Plus, he’s supposedly healthy now. Not a world beater, but still..

  3. Jeffrey gross said...

    Wally794,

    He is no better than Gaby Sanchez in my mind and Howard plus anyone of those guys is more valuable than any of them individualy, which is why Howard is ranked above them (greater use)

    Roger Pille,
    Sanchez would rank 31 or 32 so he just missed the cut. 20/.270/85 isn’t the most impressive upside and the guys above him have more likely value

  4. Mark Himmelstein said...

    Duda is going to play even if Davis is fine. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is hurting, so the next best options in RF are Juan Lagares and Adam Loewen. Its just a question of if he’s going to get pulled late in games for defense or how often he’ll be benched against lefties that’ll be the difference between 500 PAs and 600 PAs. The other problem is his upside isn’t that much higher than Gaby Sanchez—he has more upside in average and power, but not a whole lot, and Sanchez could contribute a couple steals. Duda also has outfield eligibility, which is a nice bonus and makes him a great handcuff type play like you suggest, since even if the other part of the handcuff pays off, Duda should still be useful enough to keep on your roster as a guy who could either provide versatility off your bench (especially in three bench spot formats) or make a decent cheap CI or 5th outfielder.

  5. Jeffrey gross said...

    Id agree
    With that mark but I think duda has power ad avg upside over Sanchez, who hasn’t done a whole lot of stealing save for one minor league stop. The 3ish sb he offers are so marginal

  6. Jeffrey gross said...

    Tom,

    There’s no indication belt gets a regular role and you’d have to also roster huff as a handcuff (handhuff?) too which wastes roster resources since its not a “platoon” in the self strategizing sense (like rostering Seth smith plus John Mayberry to maximize matchups)

  7. Mark Himmelstein said...

    Agree with menthol and Jeff on Belt. The problem is, while his upside is similar to Eric Hosmer, the risk is anything for a poor average to less than 300 PAs. Even with 600 PAs, 30 HR isn’t as likely as a .250ish average. He strikes out more than people realize and even if the Ks come down a bit he doesn’t have Goldschmidt’s pure power and plays in a much tougher park to hit balls out. He’ll chip in a few steals, but there are more first baseman that’ll do that this year than usual (Votto, Hosmer, Goldschmidt). I have no problem with taking a flier on Belt, but even his best outcomes are only averagish for a first baseman.

  8. papasmurf said...

    Cuddyer’s value comes from his 2b eligibility. If he qualifies only at 1b or OF, I would pass on him unless he slips far.

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    papasmurf,

    True, but a potential .285+/20/5 campaign has useful value. It’s just not huge value out of 1B.

  10. jake said...

    Is Ryan Howard for $3 overpaying? Have Pujols and Ike Davis, just figured $3 for Howard was a steal even if he misses til July (1 DL slot)

  11. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Tom Higgins- I differ from the rest of the THT writers. I believe Belt should be in that tier with Duda. And having Bryan LaHair two tiers higher than these two guys is almost hilarious Jeffrey. I’m going to make you pay that much for him in the THT draft.

  12. Metsox said...

    Thanks for this. In a keeper obp/slg league. Had the eighth pick, missed on Miggy, Pujols, Votto, Fielder, and Agon. And missed on Teixera also in the second round. With Konerko, Hosmer, Berkman and a bunch of other guys kept, this list is going to come in handy.

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