Ranking first basemen for 2015
Starting our 2015 position-by-position rankings, we start with the deepest -- first base.
The first of the bases in our hearts also happens to be the first of the bases in number.
It's the first in our hearts because it's the first on our minds because it's the first in statistical output, generally speaking.
And it's the first in number because ... it's where the batter runs first?
It's not important. What is important is that the first of the bases in our hearts, on our minds, numerically and statistically is also the first of the bases to be ranked for 2015. By me. Right now.
I had my Twitter followers assist me with the trouble spots -- those clumps of players who are so close in value that they're nearly impossible to rank. And while I wouldn't say I yielded to the majority, I took it into consideration. Drafting against the grain doesn't pay, usually.
You may notice some of the mainstays at the position are nowhere to be found. Yeah, that's what happened all right. It was painful but necessary because of the depth, which probably says something about your approach to the position next year.
But we have the whole offseason to debate that. For now, let's just consider how it stacks up against itself.
Top 10 first basemen for 2015:
1. Miguel Cabrera , 1B, Tigers
2. Paul Goldschmidt , 1B, Diamondbacks
3. Jose Abreu , 1B, White Sox
4. Edwin Encarnacion , 1B, Blue Jays
5. Anthony Rizzo , 1B, Cubs
6. Freddie Freeman , 1B, Braves
7. Victor Martinez , 1B, Tigers
8. Albert Pujols , 1B, Angels
9. Carlos Santana , 1B/3B, Indians
10. Todd Frazier , 1B/3B, Reds
I should probably explain my stance on Cabrera again since ranking him first at the position has become mildly controversial -- and not just because he's no longer eligible at third base. Goldschmidt, Abreu and Encarnacion are also first-rounders for me, so it's not like Cabrera is in a different stratosphere from everyone else. But we know he has the potential to be. We saw it the previous two years.
Pujols' career arc has everyone assuming the worst for Cabrera, but for a corner infielder, 32 isn't so old, really. Martinez put together the best season of his career at 35, and Adrian Beltre is still going strong at the same age. Absent any sort of explanation for this year's decline, I'd have my own reservations about Cabrera, but he said at one point during the season his muscles weren't functioning properly following offseason groin surgery. The fact he did as well as he did speaks volumes of his ability. I'll invest in a partial rebound, happy to settle for a repeat of this year's numbers if he falls short.
Speaking of Martinez, you could make the case he was the best player in Fantasy in 2014 -- especially in points leagues, where his 42 strikeouts were like something from another lifetime. But now what do you do with him? Not only was his season an outlier in a career of good but less-than-elite production, but he's at an age where decline is expected. Even if he was as good as he's been this year for the last 10 years, you'd wonder if you could trust him to do it again.
My solution is to rank him behind all the players on the verge of elite status but in front of everyone else. (OK, so maybe Pujols still has that kind of potential somewhere deep inside him, but given the way he's trended the last few years, he seems even less likely than Martinez to tap into it.) Ultimately, I may pass on him there myself depending on what's available at other positions, but at some point, not putting enough stock in his 2014 season becomes just as irresponsible as putting too much stock in it.
For the rest of the top eight, the numbers pretty much speak for themselves. After Pujols is where it gets tricky, namely because you have to account for the players who qualify at other, weaker positions.
Third base may not be the weakest position heading into 2015, but it's on the other side of the spectrum from first base, thereby boosting the value of Santana and Frazier. No, I never ranked Santana this high when he still qualified at catcher, but I am now, which says more about his production with the position change than the position change itself.
To be more precise, settling in as the everyday first baseman in Cleveland (after playing enough third base to become eligible there as well) made him an offensive force. It began when he returned from a short DL stint for a concussion June 6. In 365 at-bats since then, he hit .266 with 21 home runs and a .872 OPS -- performing about on the level of David Ortiz , in other words.
Now, as bad as he was over the first two months, batting .159 with a .628 OPS, you could argue he's just a streaky player doing what streaky players do. But considering he's only 28, I wouldn't rule out this hot streak being something more, especially since it coincides with his move to a less demanding position.
Because walks contribute so much to Santana's value and stolen bases contribute so much to Frazier's, I might flip-flop the two in Rotisserie leagues. And even if I wanted to take a pessimistic approach to Santana, the most I could justify dropping him is four sports.
Next 10 first basemen for 2015:
11. Buster Posey , C/1B, Giants
12. Joey Votto , 1B, Reds
13. Adrian Gonzalez , 1B, Dodgers
14. Prince Fielder , 1B, Rangers
15. Lucas Duda , 1B, Mets
16. Matt Adams , 1B, Cardinals
17. Joe Mauer , 1B, Twins
18. Chris Davis , 1B/3B, Orioles
19. Brandon Moss , 1B/OF, Athletics
20. Mark Trumbo , 1B/OF, Diamondbacks
That's right: four spots, which makes the quartet of Santana, Frazier, Posey and Votto the first of those trouble spots I mentioned in the opening. They all have their shortcomings -- the inconsistency for Santana, the lack of track record for Frazier, the mounting injuries for Votto and ... well, I guess Posey is kind of like Santana, only from season to season rather than month to month.
Coming off major neck surgery, Fielder's injury concerns aren't as straightforward as Votto's, which puts him definitively behind that quartet as well as Gonzalez, but it doesn't make him any less intriguing. Yes, when Peyton Manning had a similar surgery some thought it could mean the end of his career, but it didn't. In fact, he's come back as strong as ever. Fielder has been an early-round fixture basically since the time he broke into the big leagues, so even though ranking him this low is justified, he's something of a sleeper there. Considering the injury cost him strength in his shoulder, you can excuse the poor production before the surgery.
Duda's season went much like Santana's. From June 1 on, he hit .261 with 23 home runs and an .869 OPS in 357 at-bats. He doesn't have the track record to back it up, but he was playing out of position and less than every day before this year. As one who famously whiffed on Duda a couple years ago, making him out to be the second coming of Paul Konerko , I'll call this version of him legit.
Rounding out the top 20 are five players with big ceilings but something more to prove. Adams, the up-and-comer of the group, fell short of everyone's expectations in walks and especially home runs in his first year as a full-time starter, yet because of his performance in other areas, he didn't exactly disappoint either. Davis certainly did, more or less confirming that his breakout 2013 was too good to be true, but because of his power potential, grouping him with Moss and Trumbo seems appropriate. With power in short supply, all three could leapfrog Mauer in Rotisserie leagues, but the former catcher has the most impressive track record of the three and could turn in an elite season in Head-to-Head points leagues on peripherals alone.
Early-round fixtures Jose Bautista and Lucroy were eligible at first base for much of 2014 but didn't get the 20 games necessary to retain eligibility for 2015. The same goes for Michael Cuddyer , Chris Carter and Brian McCann , but given the depth at the position, they probably wouldn't have made the cut anyway.
Speaking of cuts, the many from this top 20 included more high-profile types than I can remember having to leave out at any position prior to this year. How's that for depth? The toughest were Eric Hosmer , Brandon Belt , Adam LaRoche and Justin Morneau . LaRoche and Morneau were two of the most productive players at the position this year, with each averaging more Head-to-Head points per game than Todd Frazier and Lucas Duda , to name a couple. But both are nearing 35 and hadn't performed at that level for years. That's not to say either is washed up or undraftable, but given the alternatives at the position, anticipating some kind of regression is reasonable.
As for Hosmer and Belt, if they do end up going this late, both will be on my sleepers list next year. I still like their upside and have seen enough of it to believe more is in store for both. Scoff all you want, but hey, Duda finally came around, didn't he?
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