Looking at our evaluation of the tiers at the first base position, two things come to mind pretty quickly. If the final mixed-league tier includes players as interesting as Billy Butler (86.14 ADP) and Derrek Lee (85.56), you know the position is deep. The second thing you might notice is that once you factor in average draft position, there aren’t many values in this position. Four first basemen go in the first round (Albert Pujols (1.11), Mark Teixeira (7.31), Prince Fielder (8.13) and Miguel Cabrera (10.20)), and it’s hard to call a first-rounder a ‘value.’
But go down into the meaty portion of the position – the middle tier – and you may uncover a nice sleeper. Lance Berkman (59.89) has to be considered one of the more valuable players available in the fourth and fifth rounds. I know he’s coming off a bad year, but let’s play around with his stats in a less-than-scientific way, why don’t we? Look at Berkman’s batting average and BABIP since 2002. It’s sort of remarkable:
Don’t know about you, but by the theory of Alternating BABIPs in Berkman’s Career, I think it’s a stone-cold-lead-pipe lock that Berkman puts up a BABIP well over .300 and therefore a batting average over .300 (talk about some serious P-value on that ‘research’). Also, Berkman missed time and if you pro-rate out his home run total, you get the Steady Eddie 30 home runs that you can usually expect of the Astros’ first-sacker. I’d rather have Berkman in the late fourth or early fifth than Justin Morneau (38.78) in the late third or early fourth, for example. They are very similar first basemen.
In the all-power no-batting average mini-tier, there’s a surprising result. it looks like Carlos Pena (76.35) is the new Adam Dunn (55.95). It used to be that the bad batting average pulled Dunn down too far, making him under-rated and a value pick. Now that he’s a fifth-rounder, though, that might not be the case any longer. Why not just wait and get the other Dunn two rounds later? (That which we call a Dunn by any other name would swing as big.) Maybe Penas’ peaks and valleys in batting average and ISO power have been more extreme than Dunn, but that can cut both ways. Pena could easily outperform Dunn this coming year, for example.
The late-round values litter the fantasy landscape like brown crusty snow days after a blizzard (I’m not bitter, I promise). Adam LaRoche (201.68) represents the safest option, but he probably also tastes like un-marinated tofu. If .275 and 25 home runs is all you need out of your first baseman, go ahead and pick him late. But if you want tofu, why not take Paul Konerko (211.73) the next round? Sure, his ISO and walk rates are trending downwards, but his contact rates are steady, and even in a reduced form he mostly features better power than Laroche. If you want a little upside, Chris Davis (159.89) has power (.230 career ISO), that much we know. If he can pull that strikeout rate back down to the high twenties (he had a 24% k-rate in the minors), and push that walk rate up (8% in the minors), maybe he’ll make Bill James proud. (And I bet he tastes like a big old Texas T-Bone.)
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.