Deep League Draft Targets – First Base

In our last edition of Deep League Draft targets, we took a closer look at three catchers who, perhaps overlooked in standard leagues, represent attractive draft day targets in deeper ones. Today, we move onto first base.

By this point in the off-season, I have my favorite deep league targets at each position. Whether in the process of draft prep, keeper decisions, or evaluating players during Ottoneu’s trading period, I have a pretty clear picture of those players going outside of the top 15 at their positions that I want on my team. It’s actually in the early rounds where I still have to do my homework. With that said, let’s take a look at the first basemen currently sporting the highest public league-NFBC draft position discrepancies to see if any deep league-relevant players might be going a bit later than they should.

First Base ADP
NFBC Rank Player Team Avg Pick Yahoo Avg Pick CBS Avg Pick Yahoo/CBS Average Delta
17 C.J. Cron LAA 225.12 233.3 267.14 250.22 25.1
20 Chris Carter NYY 244.47 239.5 291.33 265.415 20.945
16 Tommy Joseph Phi 216.24 250.2 200 225.1 8.86
11 Eric Hosmer KC 104.19 94.6 124.11 109.355 5.165
6 Freddie Freeman Atl 26.25 35.4 26 30.7 4.45
19 Greg Bird NYY 240.1 250.1 237.25 243.675 3.575
18 Mike Napoli Tex 226.29 214.5 243.78 229.14 2.85
5 Edwin Encarnacion Cle 24.42 28.9 24.56 26.73 2.31
12 Carlos Santana Cle 120.1 117.1 127.33 122.215 2.115
1 Paul Goldschmidt Ari 5.81 7.4 7 7.2 1.39
13 Albert Pujols LAA 135.32 118.4 153.67 136.035 0.715
15 Brandon Belt SF 166.93 162.1 173 167.55 0.62
3 Miguel Cabrera Det 15.24 13.8 15.89 14.845 -0.395
2 Anthony Rizzo ChC 12.9 12 12.89 12.445 -0.455
7 Wil Myers SD 58.64 56.7 59.44 58.07 -0.57
8 Jose Abreu CWS 64 57.1 69.11 63.105 -0.895
10 Hanley Ramirez Bos 82.25 77.9 84 80.95 -1.3
4 Joey Votto Cin 24.25 22.2 22.89 22.545 -1.705
9 Chris Davis Bal 81.2 66 92.22 79.11 -2.09
14 Adrian Gonzalez LAD 166.25 123.1 192 157.55 -8.7
21 Justin Bour Mia 310.5 264.3 303.4 283.85 -26.65
22 Lucas Duda NYM 333.04 264.1 346.5 305.3 -27.74
23 Brandon Moss KC 335.62 241.6 353 297.3 -38.32
26 Steve Pearce Tor 403.11 234.8 491.5 363.15 -39.96
25 Ryan Zimmerman Was 394.85 227.9 460.5 344.2 -50.65
24 Mitch Moreland Bos 345.26 237.3 332.67 284.985 -60.275
27 Joe Mauer Min 407.91 240.5 404 322.25 -85.66
30 Marwin Gonzalez Hou 450.89 244.4 400 322.2 -128.69

That’s an interesting group at the top. It includes several players in C.J. Cron, Chris Carter, and Greg Bird who, until recently, were personal deep league favorites. In some cases, they’re going far earlier in NFBC drafts than in public leagues. However, with the Angels’ signing of Luis Valbuena, I have concerns over Cron’s playing time. And with Chris Carter’s arrival in the Bronx, there now persists an ugly muddled mess of 1B, DH, and corner outfield parts jostling for position on a deep Yankees depth chart. Personally, I want no part of the Carter/Bird situation until more clarity emerges.

In fact, among those favored by NFBC drafters, Tommy Joseph is the only deep league option, I’d feel comfortable rocking as my starting first baseman. I wrote about Joseph in a Deep League Waiver Wire piece last season and much of what I wrote then remains relevant now. At some point around the end of July or early August, Joseph improved his plate discipline in a dramatic way. He cut his chase rate and improved his contact, particularly in the zone, on his way to a strong finish.

From August through the end of the season, Joseph hit .254/.326/.483 with 7 homers in 135 plate appearances. He boasted an improved 8.1% walk rate and struck out less frequently than league average. These numbers may not jump off the page for a first baseman but they intimate the type of growth we like to see of young players.

We see a spike right in strikeouts at the expense of walks right around game 70 but nevertheless the trend is clear. Joseph became more selective as the season wore on.

Impressively, Joseph improved his plate discipline as the situation dictated. In two-strike counts, he laid off pitches far off the plate while swinging more aggressively at those in the zone. In fact, in counts where Joseph either fell behind or faced a strikeout, the improvement was stark.

Behind in the Count or Facing a Strikeout
Plate Appearances BB% K% wRC+
Joseph Pre-July 140 3.60% 33.60% 64
Joseph Post-July 88 8.00% 31.80% 106
League Average 125410 6.70% 31.10% 64

Obviously, I want to caution against reading too much into a mere 88 plate appearances, particularly when 30% of those came against opposite-handed pitching. Though he should receive more playing time against both righties and lefties, Joseph won’t enjoy quite the same platoon advantage in 2017 he did last season. Still, his plate discipline in difficult counts is another data point to pair with broader gains that elucidate a maturing and evolving skill set.

From a batted ball perspective, Joseph earned his power, placing in the upper ranks of most Statcast metrics.

Tommy Joseph Statcast
Avg. EV Avg. FB/LD EV Avg. Batted Ball Dist. Avg. HR Dist. Brls/BBE Brls/PA
League Avg. 88.7 mph 91.8 mph 214.5 ft 395 ft 4.24% 3.50%
Joseph 90.9 mph 94.7 mph 235 ft 409 ft 12.50% 7.80%
Joseph Percentile 79th 83rd 88th 83rd 94th 97th
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
League average among players with min. 30 BIP

Obviously, without Ryan Howard in his way, I’m bullish on Joseph in 2017. When it comes time to fill that corner infield position in standard leagues, he should be one of the first off the board. And deep league managers missing out on one of the top 6 first basemen would be wise to keep the young Philly in mind.

Setting our sites a little lower, I also like Justin Bour. Lacking a clear platoon partner, he’ll enjoy a more uninhibited path to playing time though that means he’ll have to learn to hit lefties better. I should mention Bour owns a career .223/.273/.291 line against southpaws. That said, prior to an ankle injury that derailed what appeared to be a breakout, he slashed .268/.347/.526 with 15 bombs in 242 plate appearances.

While Bour still hits a few too many grounders for my liking, he’s improved significantly each year from a 53% ground ball rate in a handful of plate appearances in 2014 down to 48% in 2015 and then 44% last year. Playing in a cavernous stadium like Miami’s, it’s vital that Bour continue that trend because unlike Christian Yelich, he’s not Christian Yelich.

Steamer projects Bour for a .334 wOBA in just over 490 plate appearances, the latter of which feels a little light given the Marlins’ plans to play him, at least initially, against left-handed pitching. It also sees him giving back a little of his plate discipline gains ultimately resulting in a .265/.338/.454 line. But that’s production I’ll gladly take with the 300th pick of the draft.


Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.

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I think Bour hit for a higher average than .238 prior to the injury. He’s a guy I had last year for cheap power and plan on going after again this season…so, I’ve done my homework on him. I believe he was hitting around .268