First base looks weaker than last year. After the first three, there is a slight fall off. After 7, it becomes much more murky and things could go many different ways. There are veterans like David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez that continue to produce at strong levels and youngsters such as Justin Bour and Will Myers who have things left to prove. Strategy wise, if you miss out on the top three, I think it becomes imperative to grab someone ranked within the top 8. If not, perhaps the platoon strategy would be a worthwhile gamble. Pairing right handed crushers Adam Lind or Justin Bour with a strong left handed hitter such as Carlos Santana could yield strong value. It’s high risk-high reward. This list uses some advanced statistics to provide evidence. For those that do not know these stats, I recommend you head over to the FanGraphs Glossary. You can also comment; I will be happy to explain the stats in general. Personally, I prefer tiers to rankings because between a certain range (it could be 1-3, or 1-10), players are relatively similar and equal in value. At the same time, I also added rankings based on tiers if you prefer that. Here are the top 30 first basemen for 2015!
- Paul Goldschmidt: Goldy, as he is affectionately called, had a career year in 2015 as he produced well in each of the five standard categories. He continued to hit the ball exceptionally hard, hitting the 30 home run mark for the second time in his career. Goldy’s .321 average was largely supported by his .382 BABIP. His career BABIP is .355, and even with some regression, Goldy should hit at .300 or higher. Playing half his games in Arizona with a potent lineup, should continue to provide Goldschmidt with lots of runs and RBIs. I can’t see him getting to 20 steals again, but he should contribute in this category as well. Paul Goldschmidt is the best option at first due to his strong five-category production and his consistency. Goldy is in a league of his own this year; he’s up there with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as a potential number one pick.
- Miguel Cabrera: Jose Miguel Cabrera Torres continued his hall of fame career hitting .338 with 18 home runs. Cabrera was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his illustrious career. His average was propped up by his inflated BABIP, but like Goldschmidt above, he has a history of high BABIP seasons due to hitting the ball hard, and spreading it all over the field. With a decreasing ISO for the second consecutive season, perhaps Cabrera’s days of hitting 30 home runs are over. At the same time, his pre-injury ISO was .227 compared to his second half .138 ISO. If you believe the loss in power was due to his injury, then Miggy could very well reach 30 home runs again as he was on pace for that mark before the injury. His batted ball profile during this time was right in line with his career. Moreover, we saw a return to his patient approach that was lacking in 2014 as he posted his best walk rate since 2011. Cabrera will have a strong average (he’s won the batting title four times in the past five years), lots of runs and RBIs as the Tigers improved their offence with the acquisition of Justin Upton, and at least 25 home runs is likely with Miggy hitting 30 a possibility.
- Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo’s 2015 embodies what I expect out of him in 2016 with a fewer steals and a few more runs and RBIs. His BABIP was right around career norms and he posted an ISO similar to last year’s making 30 home runs another strong possibility. Rizzo is a rare combination as he hits lots of home runs but doesn’t strike out as much as other power hitters. Batting in the heart of the Cubs lineup, Rizzo should continue getting lots of opportunities to score or drive in runs. The two-time all-star stole a career high 17 bases. From 2012-2014, Rizzo stole 14 bases with a 56% success rate. In 2015, his stolen base success rate was 73%. I don’t think Rizzo steals more than ten bases on the basis of his past success rate. With John Maddon as skipper, Rizzo should continue seeing many opportunities however. Rizzo is an elite option at first base. His ability to steal bases at a position that doesn’t normally get steals will definitely increase his value.
- Edwin Encarnacion: Encarnacion had another productive year at the plate finishing one homer away from hitting 40 home runs for the second time in his career. After a slow start, Encarnacion was a force to be reckoned with. His BABIP, ISO, walk and strikeout rates are all in line with his past five seasons. His swinging strikeout percentage rose by a couple of percentage points as his zone contact % fell. If this trend continues, we could see an average closer to .265. Encarnacion will be batting in the heart of the Jays lineup with RBI opportunities aplenty making him one of the better options at first.
- Jose Abreu: Jose Abreu’s second season was relatively strong. The power dipped as did the batting average but he was 6 RBIs short of 2014’s 107. Had he matched his home run output from 2014, he would have had a minimum of 107 RBIs! This is the big thing with Abreu: He has shown he can provide consistency. While Abreu’s walk rate fell, his swinging strike percentage decreased as well. Although the strikeout rate remained the same, these gains show growth and some potential for the strikeouts to decrease if he gets more calls his away. Making more contact was paramount to alleviate the regression he would inevitably see. A 23-point decrease in BABIP was due to his line drive rate dropping to something closer to league average. Abreu reminds me of Miguel Cabrera or Miggy lite. Both rely on hitting the ball hard and all around the field to maintain there high BABIP. Miggy hits a few more flyballs whereas Abreu hits a few more grounders. Both have similar power outputs as well. Jose Abreu will be hitting in a very good White Sox lineup. 2015 represents the most likely stat line with a few more runs likely as Todd Frazier will be hitting behind him.
- Chris Davis: With Chris Davis, it’s tough to know what to expect. His ISO from 2012-2015: .231, .348, .209, .300. As a result, he’s had fluctuating home run output. Davis strikes out at a ridiculously high rate: Since 2012, players with at least 2000 plate appearances; none have strikeout percentage greater than that of Davis. He has changed his swing patterns over the past couple seasons going from a pull heavy approach to an extreme pull approach. Davis HR/FB was higher than his career mark but he has posted high percentages here before. His BABIP fell likely due to pulling the ball more. Davis is a tough player to predict but he should be good for at least 30 home runs. Not many players hit the ball as hard as him and only Giancarlo Stanton had a higher average flyball distance. Davis carries much risk but the power upside cannot be denied.
- Joey Votto: The on-base percentage king of baseball bounced back after an injury marred 2014 campaign batting .314 with 29 home runs, scoring 95 runs and driving in 80. He added 11 stolen bases due moreso to Billy Hamilton than his own speed. Votto finished second to Bryce Harper in OBP by a .1 percentage point. Votto’s ISO was right around career average but his HR/FB was slightly inflated. Votto will likely hit closer to 25 home runs than 30. His second half was one of the best in years. Votto’s strong plate discipline should lead to another strong season. Only three players swung less than the Toronto, Ontario native, and no player swung outside the zone less than Votto. The loss of Frazier will hamper his run totals, unless Jay Bruce shows up (unlikely). Billy Hamilton will likely be leading off. If he can learn to hit better, there is a decent chance Votto’s RBIs will be at or slightly higher than his 2015 mark. Votto’s 2014 represents the most likely scenario his season takes this year with fewer runs scored. Votto is one of the smartest players in the game, selectively swinging at “his” pitches. If one is in an on base percentage league, Votto has much more value.
- David Ortiz: David Ortiz has yet to slow down as he salvaged a bad start into a solid season. With teams using the shift more often, Ortiz had his average rise somewhat from 2014, but he is unlikely to ever return to hitting .300. His lack of speed, pull approach with flyballs will lead to the BABIP hovering around .260. There are some concerns with Ortiz as his swinging strike percentage was the highest since 2010. During his torrid second half, it rose to 11%. Ortiz looks to have slightly shifted his approach hitting more flyballs than grounders since they are generally easy outs. His ISO was above his career and past four-year average. Ortiz will likely see a drop in home run output but it should be slight considering he still hits the ball with the best of them. His average flyball distance remained close to his previous seasons. With Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts batting ahead of him, Ortiz will have plenty of RBI opportunities. Big Papi has signaled 2016 will be his last season, and all signs point toward a productive fantasy season.
- Prince’s days of hitting 30 home runs are over, but his days of batting .300 may be upon us. A .305 average was helped by his career high .323 BABIP. Regression will render his average closer to .290 unless he continues to cut down on strikeouts and make more contact. Fielder posted his lowest average flyball distance of his career along with his ISO falling to career low levels. Fielder’s new approach to swing more resulted and hit grounders will help prop up that average. Fielder is a decent option at first, and he will get many RBI opportunities with Delino DeShields leading off a strong Texas Rangers lineup.
- Freddie Freeman: Freeman would be higher if not for the bad Atlanta Braves roster. Freeman struggled with injuries for some time this year. In each of his four full seasons, Freddie has at least 540 at bats while appearing in minimum 147 games per season. Health is not of concern with Freeman. Throughout, his ISO was back up to 2012-2013 levels that give credence to the idea Freeman could hit 25 bombs this season. Freeman’s average flyball distance remained strong throughout the season as continued to hit the ball hard (13 in Hard Hit %) while limiting soft contact (6th). To put it simply, Freddie is a good hitter. His BABIP will likely regress closer to .340. Freeman can sustain such a high BABIP due to his ability to hit line drives. No hitter over the past three seasons has a line drive percentage higher than Freeman. There is so much to like about Freeman but that Braves lineup is not good enough to get Freeman as many runs or RBIs as the three above.
- Eric Hosmer: Eric Hosmer put together his finest fantasy campaign of his career batting .297 with 18 home runs and provided contributions in each of the five standard categories. Hosmer’s BABIP was inflated due to a career high line drive rate. He’s done this before in 2013 but expectations should be both dropping closer to career norms. He sprays the ball all over the field contributing to his above average BABIP. Hosmer posted the second highest ISO of his career and the highest HR/FB%. It’s hard to trust Hosmer to get to 20 home runs with his groundball heavy approach. Hosmer has some decent speed and will likely produce in each of the five categories once again.
- Buster Posey: I reviewed Buster in the catcher catcher rankings. His value decreases as a first baseman but he has a decent chance at being top ten in the position with top 15 the most likely and that’s if you play him at first. Most likely, you will be drafting Buster to be your anchor at catcher so it almost seems futile to put him here.
- Adrian Gonzalez: The 33 year old was inconsistent throughout the season. It may be anecdotal, but overall he did post another solid season. His BABIP, ISO, and strikeout percentage were near identical to last season. His line drive rate was higher than his career average. With that said, I don’t think he will hit .275 this season. He didn’t make as much contact outside the zone, but he also didn’t swing as much. Gonzalez’s second half showed some alarming trends as he struck out more often (increase of four percentage points), and his ISO waned. Nevertheless, Gonzalez remains a good option at first. With Corey Seager in the everyday lineup, and a Yasiel Puig bounce back likely, Gonzalez should have a season similar to last year.
- Brandon Belt: Belt has had some trouble staying fully healthy but he has managed 400 at bats in three of his past four seasons. Belt, like Freeman above, gets it done with an above average line drive rate which props up his average and BABIP. There are few players who hit the ball as harder than Belt. He posted his highest career average flyball distance. He could very well hit 20 home runs this season. He’s got some rare speed at first. Belt could very well put together a strong 2016 season or he could hit just like he did last season. He has more upside than downside in my opinion. As we get deeper into first, there are few players with five-category production at first base.
- Mark Trumbo: Playing at Camden as well as in a good offensive Baltimore Orioles lineup gives Trumbo good upside. Over the past couple of seasons, Trumbo has some encouraging signs as well as some not-so encouraging signs. His strikeout percentage dropped in 2014 and he has held those gains and he hit more flyballs. On the other hand, his HR/FB% dropped six percentage points in 2014 and showed no signs of rebound in 2015. His ISO continued to hover around .180-.190. Playing in the AL East should, in theory, help his power output. In 2014, Trumbo dealt with a foot injury that cost him half the season. In 2015, he played many home games at Safeco Field in Seattle, not exactly the best home run environment. The second highest batting average of his career coincided with the second highest BABIP of his career. A return to career norms is likely. Trumbo has 30 home run upside as well as a plethora of RBI opportunities. He might end up as one of the more valuable first basemen in relative to average draft position.
- Ryan Zimmerman: Is there a greater high-risk high reward pick at first than Ryan Zimmerman? Injuries have plagued Zimmer throughout his career making him a risk but he has produced well when he’s been healthy. Last season’s .249 average was an anomaly as his BABIP was .268 compared to his career .314 BABIP. Taking into account his age, his 2016 BABIP should be right around league average leading to a solid batting average. The power returned with Zimmerman’s ISO being the highest since 2009. Similar to the BABIP, some regression here could still see Zimmerman hit 25 home runs over the course of a full season. He hit the ball harder than his career average and had the second lowest line drive rate of his career. At the same time, his strikeout percentage shot up. This could be do to injuries, or a change in approach if not a combination of the two. Expecting Zimmerman to play the full season is foolish. When he does play, he has shown he can still hit. The 31 year old will be one of the depth options at first base. Other than the youngsters, can you really find more upside?
- Kendrys Morales: The other Royal has had quite the interesting career. From defecting from Cuba, to his horrid 2014, Morales played an integral role in the Royals World Series win. Morales hit .290 with an above career average BABIP. He will settle back in around .270 as that and his line drive percentage revert back to career norms. His power showed no signs of decline as his ISO, HR/FB% are all consistent with his career thus far. Morales increased his walk rate and cut down on his strikeouts. Morales may not get past the 100 RBI mark this season, but he will bat in the heart of the Royals order leading to many opportunities.
- Albert Pujols: King Albert proved his detractors wrong as he hit 40 home runs for the first time since 2010. 13 of those came in June with 26 in the first half. I can’t see Pujols doing it again. His HR/FB% was right in line with his career, but his previous three years with Angels have shown us the new Albert. The same story is told in regards to his ISO. Moreover, his hard hit percentage dropped. Pujols low BABIP led to the lowest average of his career. With a depressed line drive rate, and the beauty of regression to the mean, his BABIP will likely come closer to .250. His pull heavy approach does not favours in this regard. Pujols, for the third consecutive year cut down on swinging strikes (albeit slightly), and he still makes good contact in the zone. Pujols had a great season but with his ISO and HR/FB% likely regressing, he’s gonna top out at 30 home runs. His average may rebound slightly. He will be 36 (or older) when he begins the season; it looked like father time had caught up to him, maybe it was just a year delayed.
- Carlos Santana: Losing catcher eligibility really hurts Santana leading to him being waiver wire fodder in standard 12 team leagues. He has more value in OBP leagues. His 2015 was a lot like his 2012 season. Santana’s posted a .231 average for the second consecutive season. The pull heavy approach does not lead to a high BABIP so I have a tough time believing Santana will ever hit higher than .250 without any major adjustments. Santana somehow stole eleven bases after stealing a career high five in 2011 and 2014. His HR/FB% was below his career average as was his ISO. Santana should be able to top 20 home runs for the fourth time in his career but a low average helps limit his value in standard 5X5. Santana dealt with a bad back all year; if he can continue to remain fully healthy, he could put up quite a bit of counting stats.
- Victor Martinez: By wOBA, V-Mart’s 2014 season was the best of his career at the ripe age of 35. He followed it up with the worst campaign of his career. The 37 year old carries an inherent risk with his age. Last season could be the new norm for Martinez. Digging a little deeper, you see his BABIP was almost 60 percentage points below his career average. A return to league average BABIP would have him hit around .290. Martinez’s 2014 power output was an anomaly. The HR/FB% and the ISO have never reached the levels they did in his career and the years preceding exhibited a trend of decreasing power. Injuries hampered some of Martinez’s production throughout the year. This likely affected his strikeout rate that rose to its highest level since 2009. He struggled to make contact outside of the zone relative to his previous four seasons. Martinez is a risky pick due to his age, and horrendous 2015 campaign. He will be drafted late and may be worth a late round flier because the BABIP rebound would lead to an average around .290 and with the potential to hit 10-15 home runs.
- Lucas Duda: This is Lucas Duda: A .250 hitter with 25 home run capability. Duda was one of the streakiest hitters this past season and must have been frustrating to own. Duda made improvements against lefties batting evidenced by his .375 wOBA in 2015 compared to a .297 wOBA throughout his career. Some regression here is expected (.378 BABIP vs Lefties!) which only hinders Duda’s case. Duda continued to mash the ball, as aside from the RBI drop-off, he was fairly consistent year to year. Duda is a safe option late at 1B, you know what you’re getting and hopefully he’s more consistent.
- Adam Lind: When I first started my first base rankings, I thought Adam Lind would be in the top 12. No joke, he mashes righties and was one of the more valuable first baseman last year. Then I remembered, he’s at Safeco Field now and will likely be in a platoon. His BABIP, ISO, HR/FB% is right in line with his career. He walked at a career high rate. He might not hit 20 home runs with 15 being more likely, but the average should still be solid. Lind is the perfect player to use the platoon strategy with. Pair him with Carlos Santana and you might just get some strong value at 1B if you miss out on the top 12.
- Mark Teixeira: Mark Teixeira had a surprising 2015 season as he eclipsed the 30 home run mark for the ninth time in his career. He’s still got the power but he doesn’t have health on his side as Teixeira has struggled with injuries the past few years. Teixeira’s ISO and HR/FB% were both the highest of his career. The seasons before showed a trend signifying decreasing power output. Teixera turned back the clock in a big way. His pull heavy approach lends its self well for hitting homers. Mark’s BABIP has been hovering around .250 for a few seasons. A low BABIP will keep that average low and it could range between .220-.250. Teixeira provides a solid basis for home runs late in drafts and but he comes with injury risk and a low batting average.
- Justin Turner: A late bloomer, Turner has been very good over the past two seasons. A change in approach has yielded strong results. More flyballs have led to more home runs and his average remains solid due to his above average line drive rate. He could be a solid pickup plus he plays at third too.
- Justin Bour: Bour is a power hitter who managed a decent .262 average and 23 home runs. The BABIP is fair and so is the ISO as he hit these marks in the minors. His HR/FB% is likely to drop but he has 20 home run power. He hits right handers very well, but struggled against lefties batting .221. This gives some concern that he could be a platoon only batter. With the fences coming in slightly, Bour has a good chance of hitting 20 home runs and he will have a lot of RBI opportunities with Gordon, Yelich, Stanton, and maybe Ozuna hitting in front of him.
- Daniel Murphy: Murphy makes mor contact in the zone than almost all major league regulars. His BABIP was depressed and he still managed to hit .281. A return to career BABIP levels could make Murphy a value pick because he can hit .300 with lots of runs if he is hitting near the top of the Washington Nationals roster. The steals are pretty much gone, and he’s likely to hit a maximum of ten home runs.
- Will Myers: Myers has not yet played a full season. In his rookie year, he showed good promise but hasn’t been able to replicate that success since. Myers has good speed for a first baseman and his ISO around .180 suggests he’s got enough juice to hit 20 home runs. With his BABIP right around league average last season, something around the .253 average last season is pretty realistic for this upcoming season. He cut down on his the strikeouts last year showing some more encouraging signs. Myers will be drafted near the end of the draft. He hasn’t been healthy but he’s got 20/10 upside.
- Mitch Moreland: Fairly consistent, 20 home runs and a .260 average are attainable goals. He hit 23 home runs for the second time in his career and had a career high in RBIs.
- Byung Ho-Park: Park is a tough one to project as he comes over from the Korea Baseball Organization. He has lots of power in his bat but he also strikes out a whole lot. He could go the way of Pedro Alvarez or prime Mark Trumbo.
- Matt Adams: Adams was hurt for part of the majority of the season. His .240 average was uncharacteristic due to his BABIP being below career average. In addition, Adams ISO was below his career average. He hit the ball harder than the previous season but he also struck out more. There are some good signs and some bad. He will also be battling Brandon Moss, and to a lesser extent, Stephen Piscotty for playing time at first. I think Adams wins out, but he does come with playing time issues.
Others to Consider
- Stephen Piscotty: A BABIP drop will leave his average around .260 and it doesn’t look like he has 20 home run power just yet. If you draft him, you’re banking on a breakout. Brandon Moss is another option also on the Cardinals. Low average with 15-20 home runs is a realistic expectation.
- Pedro Alvarez: He could be a steal if he can find a team for his services. Alvarez has lots of raw power but he struggles to make contact. His HR/FB% coming down won’t do him any favours. The power makes him enticing however.
- Brian McCann: He will be a catcher on most teams if not all similar to Posey. Low average, good home run totals are realistic expectations.
- Adam LaRoche: It looks to be the end of the line for LaRoche. The BABIP wasn’t too low relative to the previous two seasons however the line drive rate was. ISO was down as was hard hit. His strikeout percentage was the highest of his career. A bounceback at 36 is unlikely.
- Chris Colabello: Yea, that .411 BABIP won’t last. Moreover, he will be splitting time with Justin Smoak at first. He got blessed with a 25% line drive rate but he did cut back on the strikeouts. Colabello should only be drafted in the deepest of leagues.
This concludes my first base rankings. I hope you enjoyed reading the piece. Looking back, I seem to be high on Trumbo and Zimmerman. I like Trumbo’s chances at succeeding at Camden Yards and Zimmerman has some positive things going for him aside from the injury bug. Daniel Murphy looks lower than I expected as does Albert Pujols. First base has some good top 7 options, after that things become a bit messy. There is some consistency, but each player has more risks whether it be do to regression, age, or playing time battles. Victor Martinez could also be a steal. First base will be an interesting position this season for sure.