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Now that we are well past the halfway mark of the season, it's no secret that the depth at first base is not what it once was. The position is still rife with productive hitters among the upper ranks, as Kris Bryant, Edwin Encarnacion, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt and Wil Myers are all among the top 15 hitters in Fantasy ponits. Not far beyond the position's top producers, though, are hitters who have been frustrating for owners to start.
Possibly the most frustrating first baseman over the past month has been Miguel Cabrera. Over the last 30 days, Cabrera has hit only .227 with five extra base hits. Even with that extended slump, Cabrera is a top 12 first baseman for the season to date, and as a player who went within the top 15 picks overall in most drafts, he deserves some benefit of the doubt.
However, Cabrera is not the only first baseman who is being started almost universally despite flagging production. Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu and Freddie Freeman are all currently active in more than 90 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, even though Hosmer is outside the top 10 in Fantasy value at first base and Abreu and Freeman are outside the top 15. Adrian Gonzalez and Brandon Belt are being started in more than 75 percent of leagues, even though they have combined for one home run in the past month.
So why are so many owners putting up with so little production from their first baseman? Simply because there aren't many reasonable alternatives. Any of these five (again, excluding Cabrera) would be worth benching for Mike Napoli, but he is already owned in 79 percent of leagues. Kennys Vargas (17 percent owned) is available to far more owners, though starting him requires a leap of faith that he will come closer to his recent level of production rather than the level reflected in his career numbers. Also, several potential replacements with multi-position eligibility, like Yangervis Solarte, Howie Kendrick, Steve Pearce and Tommy Joseph, could be even more valuable if used at another position.
Since, in all likelihood, you feel stuck with these not-s0-fabulous five, the best you can do is hope that they discover their prior form. We don't just have to blindly hope that all will be well with these first basemen. We can look for explanations for their struggles and signs of impending improvement. If those signs are absent, it may be time to get "unstuck" from them.
Note: Stats are current for games played through Tuesday, July 19.
Hosmer has been a cipher of late, notching only three extra-base hits and driving in three runs in 14 July games. Yet even with this meager production, Hosmer is on pace to have a similar season to the one he had last year. The one area where he is lagging is run-scoring, as he will fall 11 runs behind last season's total of 98. Hosmer should be able to reverse his recent power decline and increased ground ball rate, but there's not much he can do about the Royals being a lower-scoring team than they were a year ago. Even so, this version of Hosmer is close enough to the one we've seen over the course of the last two seasons that you can't afford to bench him, especially given the lack of alternatives.
Just when it looked like Abreu was finally turning his season around, he has turned cold again in July. That sounds worse than it is, because the All-Star break wiped out four days from the schedule, and Abreu's slump is really all of 11 games old. If he doesn't do much between now and next week's lineup lock, I wouldn't be opposed to benching him for someone like Pearce or Vargas, but I don't expect that will be the case. This could merely be a bump in the road after a productive 35-game stretch during which Abreu hit .307 with five home runs and 12 doubles.
Freeman hasn't exactly been slumping, as his .854 OPS from the past month is higher than his year-end marks from both 2014 and 2015. It's also only two points shy of his current season-to-date OPS. Still, Freeman's recent production in points and categories leagues hasn't been enough to put him within shouting distance of the top 20 players at his position over the past 30 days. Freeman has been hitting for power, but his skyrocketing strikeout rate has hurt him in both formats. So has the paucity of run-producing opportunites, as Freeman has scored only 11 times and driven in eight runs during this period. Even if Freeman can start making more frequent contact, a lack of runs and RBI could continue to be an issue. If you have a decent alternative, it makes sense to bench Freeman, at least until he cuts back on his strikeouts.
Gonzalez is no longer universally started, as owners have grown impatient with his diminished power numbers. That has been a constant this season, but lately, Gonzalez has been sharpening his plate discipline. In the past month, Gonzalez has struck out only nine times in 97 plate appearances while walking 12 times. You would think that would boost his value in points leagues, but he ranks just 19th in Fantasy points at first base over the last 30 days. Gonzalez is displaying a skill set not unlike Yonder Alonso's, and the A's first baseman has actually been the more prolific points producer over the past month. Until he shows some power, there is no reason to start Gonzalez in any standard mixed league.
For much of this season, Belt looked like a 28-year-old having a breakout campaign, adding power and improved contact skills to his proven ability to get on base. What initially appeared to be a breakthrough now looks more like an aberration, as Belt has struck out 30 times in his last 106 plate appearances while not hitting a single home run. He has continued to walk and hit doubles, but that just gets Belt back to Square One. Drafted far later than the other first basemen featured here, Belt began the season as a fringier option. He can't be trusted to be anything more than that now, so there is no harm in benching him in order to play the hot hand.