First base tiers for Draft Day 2014
You've heard of two-catcher leagues? How 'bout one that lets me start two first basemen?
In every draft, regardless of format, I find myself wishing I had room for one more. A utility spot alone doesn't cut it. Even a corner infield spot in a Rotisserie league fills up all too quickly.
Tiers are designed to deliver the most efficient draft possible by
using player rankings to reveal the distribution of talent at each
position. A new tier begins whenever the next player down in the
rankings has a vastly different projected outcome from the one
preceding him. Reducing a position to five or six tiers instead of
30 or more individuals gives you a blueprint to follow as your
league's draft unfolds. Naturally, the position to target is the one
whose active tier is closest to completion. -- SW
While to some degree, that's an indication you can wait at the position, it's a fine line. Sure, you'll find plenty of studs at first base, both potential and proven, but if you pass up all the proven ones in the early rounds, you're left with only potential ones. And the thing about potential is it isn't always met.
In short, the stakes are higher at first base. If by some unfortunate development, everyone ends up with a stud there but you -- which is entirely possible considering the top two tiers go 10 deep (excluding Posey and Santana, who are sure to be drafted as catchers) -- you'll be at a disadvantage even if the player you start there is decent in his own right.
Notice I include David Ortiz here, as well as other DH-only players like Billy Butler and Victor Martinez . You can't actually play them at first base, but since your utility spot would likely go to a first baseman otherwise, tiering them with the first basemen gives you a better concept of when to draft them. I've marked them with an asterisk (*) in case you prefer to keep your utility spot flexible.
The Near-Elite: Albert Pujols , Freddie Freeman , Buster Posey , Eric Hosmer , Carlos Santana , Allen Craig , David Ortiz *
The Next-Best Things: Mark Trumbo , Adrian Gonzalez , Anthony Rizzo , Jose Abreu , Matt Adams , Billy Butler *, Brandon Belt
The Fallback Options: Mark Teixeira , Victor Martinez *, Mike Napoli , Brandon Moss , Kendrys Morales
The Last Resorts: Nick Swisher , Corey Hart , Adam Dunn , Ike Davis , Ryan Howard , Chris Carter , Justin Morneau , Adam Lind
The Leftovers: Justin Smoak , Adam LaRoche , James Loney , Logan Morrison , Yonder Alonso , Lucas Duda , Jon Singleton , Darin Ruf , Mark Reynolds , Mitch Moreland , Garrett Jones , Mike Olt
See what I mean about the proven studs? I'm perfectly fine with Pujols as my starting first baseman (his per-game production before shutting it down last year was actually quite good, though not up to his usual standards) and love the strides Hosmer made over the course of the year, but you can't wait half the draft and expect to get any of The Near-Elite. No matter how much you believe in a breakout for Rizzo or trust in the scouting reports for Abreu, you're most likely drafting your top first baseman in the early rounds.
In fact, the first round is the only way to assure yourself one of the heavyweights at the position. If you've studied the mock drafts, you know they're all gone by the middle of the second round. Just because Goldschmidt is part of a deep tier doesn't mean you shouldn't consider taking him third or fourth overall. That pick may be your only chance at one of The Elite at the position.
The third tier, The Next-Best Things, is the most interesting one. Gonzalez, Trumbo and Butler don't really do anything for me. We've already seen the full extent of their potential, and it's exactly what you'd expect for a middle-round pick. But Adams hit .315 with eight home runs and a .952 OPS as an everyday first baseman in September, and some of the scouting reports for Abreu make him out to be a stud. Sure, you could wait to get both, trusting one to break through as a must-start first baseman, but you leave yourself with no recourse if someone else beats you to the punch. My preferred approach is to draft a first baseman from either The Elite or The Near Elite and then wait to get whichever of Adams and Abreu -- typically Abreu -- lasts the longest. Knowing where they stack up at a deep position buys me some time at utility, allowing me to stock up on starting pitchers earlier than I otherwise would. It's a way to take advantage of the depth at the position while still guarding against the worst-case scenario. Unlike first base, not everyone is going to have a stud at utility.
By the time you get to The Fallback Options, so many first baseman have gone off the board that if you haven't selected one yet, you've basically conceded the position. Yeah, in Head-to-Head points leagues, Martinez is still pretty valuable because of his low strikeout rate and doubles potential, and Teixeira may be able to salvage something yet. But even in a best-case scenario, they won't give you the high-end production everyone else in the league has already secured at the position. In Rotisserie leagues, which typically require a corner infielder in addition to a first baseman and utility player, the tier obviously matters more, but you'll probably find comparable options at the shallower third base position at that stage of the draft.
Among The Last Resorts, Dunn, Howard and Carter still matter in Rotisserie leagues because of their home run potential, but if you have to resort to one of them, you've done something wrong. They're liable to kill you in batting average, assuming they keep their jobs.