Top 20 fantasy first basemen for 2011

Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position: Catcher

Welcome back everyone. I hope you enjoyed last week’s fantasy rankings article. Before I present/justify this week’s rankings (first basemen), I just want to remind everyone that these rankings are based on position eligibility. Hence, a Top Five catcher (e.g. Posey) with first base eligibility gets ranked based on his numbers in comparison to other first basemen. Accordingly, being low on one list and high on another just goes towards a player’s economic value by position. Thus, as you might see below, it would be silly to pay high for Buster Posey to play 1B when you can spend less (or draft later) on a comparable/better hitter (e.g. Billy Butler). Position eligibility and evaluation criterion for the purposes of these rankings is explained here.

And without further ado, 2011′s top class of first basemen:

Rank      Name              Team         Oliver Slash (2011)**
1         Albert Pujols     Cardinals    .319/.423/.616
2         Miguel Cabrera    Tigers       .311/.389/.579
3         Adrian Gonzalez   Padres       .290/.391/.536
4         Joey Votto        Reds         .301/.395/.535
5         Prince Fielder    Brewers      .278/.391/.524
6         Ryan Howard       Phillies     .263/.342/.516
7         Mark Teixeira     Yankees      .275/.370/.496
8         Kevin Youkilis    Red Sox      .289/.384/.513
9         Justin Morneau*   Twins        .293/.375/.523
10        Adam Dunn         White Sox    .251/.369/.508
11        Kendry Morales*   Angels       .289/.335/.510
12        Carlos Pena       Cubs         .214/.336/.444
13        Billy Butler      Royals       .297/.365/.467
14        Lance Berkman*    Cardinals    .262/.374/.443
15        Paul Konerko      White Sox    .266/.345/.455
16        Buster Posey      Giants       .300/.376/.480
17        Luke Scott        Orioles      .252/.331/.454
18        Mike Napoli       Angels       .257/.338/.507
19        Ike Davis         Mets         .260/.335/.441
20        Aubrey Huff       Giants       .265/.339/.448

*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them), being tendered a contract.
**Oliver’s 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective slash lines for my hitter rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for hitters, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here

Before I go off and explain why each player is ranked where they are, I want to make a point about first basemen unequivocally clear. First base, as a position, is as deep as it gets in fantasy baseball. As I noted last year (click the link in the previous sentence), first base is the absolute worst expenditure of one’s limited resources on draft day. Be it auction or snake draft, patience is a virtue. For example, before 2010 started, I noted that Paul Konerko was a strong top-20 value pick. I am not saying that I predicted Paul Konerko would have a career year. What I am saying is that first base has so many fungible/productive options, that paying a premium of $20+ for 10 extra home runs is better spent shoring up a scarce position like 2B or SS (especially in AL only formats).

Now granted, I am a huge hypocrite. I paid $26 for Joey Votto last season in one money league and drafted Ryan Howard with my #2 pick (#13 overall) in another. Regardless, I would do what I say, not what I do. I only paid for Votto because I had a lot of faith in his production and because I could later flip him for a pitcher (granted, I did so by shorting myself for an underperforming Dan Haren). I got home run drunk with Ryan Howard and have no excuse for him in my other league other than I learned my lesson. In 2011, unless Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder come my way for $25 or less, I am waiting until people fill their first base holes before buying up a first base guy (though there is a theory that you can pounce early/cheap on first basemen in expert leagues, where such players often become so overvalued that they become undervalued).

Let me drive home the point with a quote from my Game Of Inches article. “According to Roto Authority’s [2010] estimates, you can win a 14-hitter, 12-team league by averaging a .282 BA, ~12 SB, ~83 R, ~80 RBO and ~21 HR output per hitter.” In 2010, the average first baseman hit .263/.349/.451 with 25 HR, 85 R, 91 RBI and 3.5 SB. Get the point? ‘Nuff said. Let’s move on to the rankings themselves.

The “big controversies” of my rankings here, at least in my mind, are Justin Morneau, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Kendry Morales. As anyone who knows me knows, I have “an irrational hatred” of both Morales and Morneau. The former has to do with my non-belief in his AVG or power production (I see him as a .280 hitting, 25 HR first baseman, not a reliable 30+/.300 kind of guy) and my distaste for the quality of the hitters who surround Morales in the Angels lineup (limited RBI upside). With respect to Morneau, I have never liked him. I think he is an overrated, overdrafted first basemen whose most notable accomplishments involve stealing an MVP award and Home Run derby from infinitely more deserving parties (e.g., Derek Jeter and specifically Josh Hamilton, respectively). Before an injury-stiffled 2010 (concussion, which is always quite worrisome), Morneau’s career AVG sat at .277. That’s decent, but it’s hardly the .300+ AVG everyone seemingly expects from him year-in, year-out. Though I realize that Morneau is an annual “lock” for 30/100/100 when healthy, I just despise the fact that most of Morneau’s value comes from Joe Mauer. He’s the mooch of fantasy baseball, in my mind. Sure, he is probably better than I give him credit for, but again, this goes toward my “irrational hatred.” I know that if I ever draft Morneau, like the only time I drafted a catcher (Joe Mauer) early (2008), he’ll only do what I always say he will do: disappoint heavily. My ranking here can be justified by the type of injury (concussion) Morneau sustained, as such are lingering and teams are increasingly “taking it easy” with concust players. If you are a Morneau fan, I highly recommend you follow his health closely this offseason.

With respect to Howard, I have a few lingering worries about his age and future production. Howard has been playing like the left-handed half of a platoon for several seasons now and he’s only getting older. After hitting 45+ HR/136+ RBI for four straight seasons (with a 22 HR, 63 RBI half season in 2006), Howard barely eclipsed the 30 HR mark in 2010. Howard’s 2010 ISO of .229, while still quality, was a career low. His ISO had been .292+ each of the past four seasons and had never been below .279 before 2010. Howard’s walk rate (career low 9.5% in 2010) has also been on the decline for four or five years now. Granted, Howard was injured in 2010, but he still played 143 of his team’s games. These are all worrisome signs (injuries, declining power/walk rates) for a 32 year old signed to a negligently large contract extension. Like the Dodgers with Manny Ramirez in 2008, the Phillies are likely to regret the contract they handed Howard last year. Still, in 2011, Howard should rebound some and be quite productive. I am expecting a .270 AVG, 38 HR and 120 RBI if healthy.

You might also ask why Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder are so high on my list. With respect to A-Gon, I think he gets traded to the Red Sox by July, at which point he’ll hit that many more home runs*. In rudimentary form a year ago, I analyzed at how Adrian Gonzalez’s bat would play at Fenway over Petco Park. In hindsight, I realize the analysis is quite flawed, but the overarching point remains salient nonetheless. Whereas Petco Park suppressed home run production by almost 12 percent in 2010, Fenway bolstered such by a little over 8 percent. That huge swing in power numbers would easily launch Gonzalez into the top five by season’s end, even if he plays half a season for the Padres.

*UPDATE: Adrian Gonzalez has been traded to the Red Sox and his positional ranking has been adjusted accordingly.

Fielder is also quite high on my list, despite a down 2010, for two reasons. First, this is Fielder’s final season before he hits the open market. At age 26, Fielder is still quite young and though he’ll only be 27, he has the physique of Bartolo Colon, even as a vegetarian (those black bean burgers really hate home runs, don’t they?). If Scott Boras is going to convince a team to give Fielder Texeira/Howard/A-Gon money, he is going to need to prove he is still capable of big things to offset the worries that by the time he is 30, like his father, he will barely be able to trout around the bases on home run swings, let alone non-home run hits.

Second, Prince Fielder seems to alternate power seasons. He hit 28 HR and .271 in his first major league season, but smacked 50 while hitting .288 in his sophomore year. Fielder followed 2007 up with a slightly disappointing 2008 (34 HR, .276 AVG), but returned to form in 2009 (.299 AVG, 46 HR). 2010 was likewise “poor” by comparison (32 HR, .261 AVG), but the gambler’s fallacy compels me to hope for a rebound in 2011. In all seriousness, however, Fielder still hit 32 home runs in “the year of the pitcher,” a mark only bettered by nine other players (Bautista, Pujols, Konerko, Cabrera, Dunn, Votto, Cargo, Uggla, and Teixeira). That’s elite production and if you are going to pay big for a first baseman, Fielder may be the “value player” of the big boppers.

As always, leave your love/hate in the comments. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them. Just keep in mind that even if you do not get a “top 20″ first baseman, guys like Russell Branyan, Gaby Sanchez and Adam LaRoche (at least in the second half) could always prove to be useful options. First base is not a hard position to fill in fantasy (or real life, probably, though I am no General Manager) and one should economize accordingly.

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Comments

  1. this guy said...

    Some of you stat heads are truly clueless about the real game. Morales a 280 25 HR guy? Do you watch baseball at ALL?

  2. David Wade said...

    You know, I look at 1B differently.  I understand you can get mediocre production further down the rankings and live with that at first, but I guess I value the top 5 guys a lot more than you do.  IMO, one of those 5 is worth the extra dough to have a key part of your offense.  Who else out there can give you a such a high percentage shot at 40 homers with a good average?

    That said, the rankings seem fair, just nitpicking that 1B is ‘the worst expenditure”.  That’s still starting pitching, in my book…

  3. Edward said...

    I find it laughable that you think Jeter EVER has deserved an MVP award in any season…

    You could plug Jack Wilson into that Yankees lineup the year Morneau won and get Jeter like stats from him..

    Derek Jeter is perhaps the most overrated player of all time..

  4. Andrew said...

    Agree for the most part. I think you’re undervaluing the reliability of Teixeira; I like him 4th. I realize C Pena was unlucky last year, but I think you’re giving him too much credit. I also feel LaRoche is a top 20 1B, although that may change depending on where he ends up this offseason.

  5. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @This Guy,

    We all know that baseball is not in fact played by persons with heart, but cold, calculated machines who run regressions and probability scenarios 1000 times to smooth out variability and create the most logical outcome.

    In all seriousness, however, Morales is not a 30 HR hitter in my eyes because he is a “late bloomer” whose minor league numbers are only pretty solid, not anything worth salivating over. His MiLB career ISO is .196. If he had an MLB ISO of .196, he’d have 25-30 home run power. However, MiLB numbers rarely directly translate. He may be capable of hitting 30, but I wouldn’t be one to bet on it.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @David Wade,

    I understand the argument that 1B tend to be of the top 5 in “total production”—however, I like to distribute my resources to stay rounded and deep. If you get a top 5 guy and he disproportionately makes up for your team’s total value, what do you do when he goes down? Economizing helps insure against risk in that regard.

    But sir, you are correct.

    Re: Pitchers, however, I have an irrational affinity for having 3 bonafide studs and 3 high risk prospects. Last season my “prospects” panned out big (Lewis, Gio, Hughes), but my studs flopped (Haren, Nolasco, Beckett)

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Edward,

    Why didn’t Jeter (+6.2 WAR in 2006) deserve the AL MVP in 2006? The only better player in the AL that season was Grady Sizemore (+7.3 WAR). Morneu only put up +4.3 WAR that year and wasn’t even as good as Joe Mauer (+5.9 WAR).

    Jeter may be overpaid and overrated at this point in his career, but Jeter was one of the best offensive shortstops in the history of baseball. His career wOBA (.371) is top 10 in the history of baseball amongst players who played shortstop the majority of their career.

    His career WAR total of +70.4 is 11th all time at the position and if he plays 3 more years of 3 WAR baseball, Jeter will be #6 overall, with a chance to be to 4 by the end of his career (ahead of Luke Appling)

    So please, Edward, explain to me how Jeter’s career is overrated.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Jacob,

    Thanks for catching that. I had to redo the table an hour ago because of a formatting issue. I appreciate it. Fixed

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Andrew

    I like LaRoche much, but I cannot justify him over the names in this list. Especially not with his recent years’ numbers. He’s a good second half pick up, however (though not in 2010 in Arizona, go figure)

  10. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @David Wade,

    The best way to explain my position is that Albert Pujols + a 6th round drafted SS is much worse in composite value than Hanley Ramirez + a 6th round 1B

  11. SBG said...

    Now that you’ve clarified that Jeter was merely INFINITELY more deserving, I can see how much more reasonable you were.  I’m pretty sure that Morneau won the Home Run Derby based on the rules of the contest.  But, hey, Hamilton shot his wad in the first round, so let’s change the rules and give him the trophy in an exhibition that happened a couple of years ago.  And what, exactly, does the home run derby have to do with anything?  It’s almost as meaningless as Jeter’s Gold Gloves, which pretty much every other shortstop in the league was infinitely more qualified to win this year.

  12. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @SBG,

    I meant to say that Morneau stole it from more deserving players. Excuse me if I was not clear above. I think I’ve made myself perfectly redundant in the comments.

  13. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @SBG, Andrew,

    I’m not saying Morneau did not win the contest by the rules, just that in my eyes, Hamilton was the real home run derby king of that year. I’m not the only one who seems to think thusly—when advertising the HR derby this year with clips of past years, they used the derby winners for every year advertised…except 2008, where they clipped Hamilton’s performance (not Morneau’s).

    Not that I like having ESPN agree with my opinions, but let’s perpetuate the fiction of Hamilton’s 2008 win!

  14. Vasya said...

    Jeffrey, your change to “e.g., Jeter” is simply a misdirection.  By specifically naming him instead of Sizemore (who you admit was better than Jeter) or Mauer (who you’re admitting was – at the VERY least – Jeter’s equal), you’re still suggesting Jeter was the rightful winner.

  15. lieiam said...

    Wow, Vasya, I think you need to get over this! He’s already clearly explained why he did what he did. I mean, I agree that Jeter is overrated and I get tired of hearing about him, but I really don’t think the author did anything ‘wrong’ here.

  16. Vasya said...

    lieiam, I’m simply pointing out how Jeffrey’s trying to be slippery on this subject.  His explanations aren’t exactly substantial, and he’s trying to wriggle out of criticism using weasel words.

    Pardon me for pointing out the inconsistency of his argument and I’ll pardon you for assuming I’ve got some sort of personal vendetta against the guy.  I’ve been reading THT for five years, and this is the first time I can remember a THT writer saying he “irrationally hates” a particular player, only to try to rationalize that hatred when somebody calls him on it.  That’s not a trend I’d like to see continue.

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Vasya,

    I can assure you I am not trying to justify my “irrational hatred” of Justin Morneau. You are getting lost in a side tangent to the point. I’ll concede I was not properly clear, but I explained my intent thoroughly in the comment section. I do not know what else I could possibly do to make you happy without conceding that 2006 Jeter < 2006 Morneau, which I will never do.

  18. Vasya said...

    Give me a break, Jeffrey.  Morneau may have not been the best MVP choice in 2006, but you’re smoking Fruit Loops if you think Jeter was the rightful winner.  By both b-ref and FanGraphs WAR Sizemore was the more valuable player, and Mauer topped Jeter in b-ref WAR and nearly equaled him in FanGraphs WAR, despite that metric not sufficiently crediting catchers for their defensive responsibilities.  Please explain to me how a mediocre shortstop with an inferior slash line should get the MVP over a very good defensive catcher who was the first catcher in MLB history to lead the entire majors in batting average, was the first AL catcher to win a batting title, and posted a higher OBP and SLG than said shortstop.  Let me guess – because Jeter posted 118 RBI to Mauers 84?

    According to b-reference, Jeter was the sixth-best choice for 2006 MVP behind Sizemore, Mauer, Johan Santana, Carlos Guillen, and Vernon Wells.  So spare us the mock outrage on Cap’n Jetes’ part, will you?  THT must be falling on hard times.

    Also, exactly how can one steal the Home Run Derby from somebody else?  That derby was Hamilton’s to lose, and lose it he did.

  19. Jeffrey Gross said...

    What is “mediocre” about a .399 wOBA that was 45% better than the league average player with park factors considered?

    Jeter’s defense (-7.3 FRAR) was weak in 2006, but that is compensated in WAR. Sure, an arguement could be made for Mauer over Jeter and I think it is clear that Sizemore outperformed all of Jeter, Mauer and Morneau. Still, the point here is that Morneau did not deserve the award. I agree Sizemore was the more valuable player. Still, MVP voters tend to like playoff teams and Jeter was the more valuable choice over Morneau. The Jeter-Mauer debate is close, it is not clear cut. No WAR system is perfect, no defensive evaluation is consistent or exact. B-ref WAR gives Mauer a +0.6 WAR edge, while Fangraphs WAR gives Jeter a +0.2 WAR edge. It’s a close cut no matter how you slice it. Accordingly, to assume I am “smoking Fruit Loop” is purely an inflammatory distraction from the point.

    Josh Hamilton hit more home runs in the first round than Morneau did the whole set. That’s why Morneau stole it. Hamilton put on the best HR derby performance since Sammy was smacking 500-600 foot roided dingers back in the day. It was also a top 3 HR derby performance in my life time.

  20. Jeffrey Gross said...

    And let’s be specifically clear in what I said above, before we take it out of context:

    “With respect to Morneau, I have never liked him. I think he is an overrated, overdrafted first basemen whose most notable accomplishments involve stealing an MVP award and Home Run derby from infinitely more deserving parties (Jeter and Hamilton, respectively)”

    Note that say that Jeter was “infinitely more deserving” of the MVP than Morneau, NOT that Jeter deserved the MVP.

  21. Vasya said...

    So why name Jeter first instead of Sizemore, or pointing out that Morneau wasn’t even the best MVP choice on his team?  You deliberately singled out Jeter, as if his case was the strongest from which an attack on Morneau could be launched.

    You’re right, no defensive adjustment or WAR system is perfect.  The more you think about it, though, which system is more credible:

    - the one which claims a bad-glove SS who didn’t hit as well as a great-glove catcher as the better player

    - or the one which says, “You know, playing catcher is by far the hardest position on the diamond.  Playing it at a high level and hitting like a corner outfielder is pretty damn special.”

    You don’t need a system to spit a stat at you when simple logic tells you who is the most valuable player.

    As for the derby, sure, Hamilton hit more homers than Morneau, but under the rules of the derby it didn’t matter.  If Hamilton hadn’t showboated early he might have had enough left in the tank to hold off Morneau.  The loss is Hamilton’s own fault, and if it upsets you so much that you have to vituperatively cling to an irrational fear of Morneau, well, I’m not sure there’s much helping you.

  22. Vasya said...

    What would make me happy, Jeffrey, is you explaining why you singled out Jeter as being “robbed” by Morneau when two better candidates than he were more egregiously neglected, and whose mention would have only served to strengthen your critique.

  23. Josh Shepardson said...

    It also stands to reason, that pointing out the second place vote getter in the 2006 season, Derek Jeter, would make logical sense.

  24. Andrew said...

    Question: Why even include Buster Posey and Mike Napoli in this list?  No one would ever draft them with the intention of playing them at 1B (as you mention). It seems like it would improve the exercise if you disregarded them altogether here, or at least add a couple of 1B at the bottom so that it’s a “real” top 20 fantasy 1B list.

    Also, Nick Swisher no longer has 1B-eligibility, and it’s “without further ado” not “adieu”.

  25. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I always screw up the Ado/Adieu. I am forever striking it from my vocabulary.

    Re: the 1B, im just ranking them as they would rate by position. It helps show where a player is most economic. Sure, in the sense of posey, it may be obvious, but like in 2010 with a 2b/3b eligible Beckham, its good to know where a player ranks by positional peers

  26. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Matt,

    Very possible Butler does, but everyone’s been expecting those 50 doubles to = HRs for some time now, with no avail. It will likely happen one day, but until then, the risk of it not happening is what dictates his position here.

    Re:Swisher, it’s just that his contact skills will decline rapidly with age and lowered bat swing likely. Lower contact guys tend to decline quicker

  27. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Paul,

    Thanks. I plan to do a top 100 ranking of all players sometime in March, as the season gets closer. Stay tuned!

  28. Matt said...

    I think Butler’s poised for a breakout this year, and some more of those doubles might turn into home runs.

    I’m also somewhat surprised that Oliver is down on Swisher.  He is 30, but that’s a quick start to his decline.

  29. Paul said...

    Thanks for the rankings Jeffrey,

    don’t worry too much about the ‘hate’ comments (it’s probably not, but just comes across like it in written form smile

    I was thinking about the rankings, and while i could quibble with a few of them, i don’t really disagree too vehemently.  There are certainly various warts associated with each player after no.8 (maybe even higher considering Fielder/Howard have large ranges for performance) so pick your poison.

    What I think could improve them, is a ADP type range, or a round they are expected to be taken, or a top 100 ranking because then you can see who you are passing up to take the 1B/C/2B etc.

    So Pujols (1-3); Carbrera (3-6?); Votto (1st round); Teix – Gonzalez (2nd round).  It might help, because looking at the ranking, I would be happy getting the 7th best 1B Teix, but i still have to pick him with one of my 1st 3 picks.

    Have to say, I don’t see a 2010 Votto anywhere on this list, the young guy with breakout MVP type potential

  30. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Vasya, I merely picked the first name off my head of the many who had higher WARs. Sorry I do not remember all WARs by season. As my comment above notes and recognizes, “The only better player in the AL that season was Grady Sizemore (+7.3 WAR). Morneu only put up +4.3 WAR that year and wasn’t even as good as Joe Mauer (+5.9 WAR).”

    I clearly acknowledge repeatedly above that Sizemore was better than Jeter. I never say Jeter deserved it over Sizemore. I just say and was trying to say that he was more deserving than Morneau.

  31. Andrew said...

    (psst…as mentioned before, Nick Swisher doesn’t belong on this list as he no longer has 1B-eligibility in Yahoo leagues.)

  32. Jeffrey Gross said...

    With Adrian Gonzalez officially traded to the BoSox, I have updated this list.

    Berkman’s position on this list has not changed, but I am considering bumping him below Pauley since he will now call St. Louis his spacious home field…

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