First Base is Rough This Year

Last year was an ugly season at 1B. It’s usually a power-focused position, filled with homers and RBIs aplenty, both categories often coming from several players. The 30+ HR hitters at first base were sliced in half last year, dropping to just seven after 14 in 2017. The number of 100+ RBI guys at the position has been dwindling for a while now but sank to just three in 2018. There were a whopping 13 in 2009 followed by 9, 9, 8, 7, 7, 6, 5, and 5 before only Jesus Aguilar, Edwin Encarnacion, and Anthony Rizzo reached the mark last season.

Batting average isn’t always something you always expect at first base, at least not these days, but it got really bad in 2018. After eight 1B-eligible players hit .300+ in 2017 (min. 500 PA), just two (Freddie Freeman and Jose Martinez) achieved the feat in 2018. Even lowering the threshold to .270 saw a major dip. There were 15 players in 2017, but just eight in 2018, a 10-year low. These drop offs in key categories has left the 1B pool feeling light as we head into 2019. Let’s take a deeper look.

I’ll break them up using the ADP for NFBC Draft Champions leagues since January 1st.

The Studs

These are the bona fide superstars and they’re being treated as such. I don’t really have any qualms with this group, even Bellinger, who swiped 14 bags to salvage his 2018 value despite the big HR and RBI drops. If you get one of the four, you’re sitting pretty at the position and then can wait a bit on corner infield, assuming you even want a 1B for that position. This group is not only great, but fairly priced, too.

The Contributors

This second tier already starts to show the lack of depth at the position. None of these are bad players, but it’s a relatively flawed group to be the second tier at a position known for big offense. If we assume Carpenter is going to be relatively healthy (140+ games) for 2019 – which isn’t an unfair assumption given that he has averaged 150 games played and has just one DL stint since 2013 – then he’s probably a bit of a bargain at 72.4, but the rest of the group has major questions.

  • Will Votto’s power return (12 HR in ’18)?
  • Is 29-year old Aguilar more than a one-year wonder?
  • Can Abreu stay healthy (128 games in ’18) and hit tool return (-39 pts in AVG to .265)?
  • Will Olson add AVG, HR, or both to match his underlying skills?

That said, these are still viable picks to be your primary 1B. The real problem is from here on out. After these eight, it gets really cloudy on finding a reliable 1B. Olson is my favorite from this group.

I knew he wouldn’t come close to keeping up his home run rate from the 59 games in 2017 (24 HR, 41% HR/FB), but I did expect a mid-30s output. He fell shy with just 29, but he was 6th in average exit velocity, tied for 9th in flyball rate (23rd when accounting for ties), and tied for 11th in pull rate (61st with ties… there are lots of ties here). This is a mid-30s HR profile for me and I’m happy to get him outside the top 100 or even as high as 92 min pick.

The Flawed Assets

If you thought that second tier had questions, check out this group! Now, we are getting into the 8th-10th rounds of drafts so the lockdown superstar pool has dried up, but am I crazy to think that most of this group feels like 11th-15th round-type picks?

Profar finally had his breakout year, but the price is high for a buy back if you believe in a repeat (*cough* Marwin Gonzalez *cough*). The positional flexibility helps and he’s likely to be used at SS or 3B more often, but maybe his 1B eligibility should be favored more despite him not being a true bopper in any sense. Back-to-back 40 HR seasons have helped Gallo outrun his putrid batting averages (.209, .206 the last 2 yrs), but you need to plan to draft him or else you’re sunk in the AVG category. With the NFBC having an overall contest, you cannot punt a category and expect to truly compete.

Two late-20s 1B broke in 2018:

  • Player A, Age 29 (in ’19) – .274/.352/.539, 35 HR, 80 R, 108 RBI, 0 SB, 10% BB, 25% K in 566 PA
  • Player B, Age 28 – .263/.391/.582, 35 HR, 75 R, 79 RBI, 3 SB, 16% BB, 27% K in 481 PA

As you may’ve guessed since I’m going in order in these sections, one of them is Muncy, but the other guy is going 50 picks earlier! It’s Jesus Aguilar. If I’m betting on an out-of-nowhere breakout to sustain, why wouldn’t I get the younger (albeit just one year) guy more than three rounds later when the pair just wasn’t that far apart with their numbers? Muncy adds 3B eligibility, too.

Encarnacion isn’t a terrible bounce back bet at this price. He is headed into his age-36 season and he’s hemorrhaging batting average points the last three seasons (.246 in ’18), but that’s built into his price as he’s about 80 picks cheaper than last year. Plus, Safeco really isn’t much worse for righties than Progressive Field when it comes to power. Our park factors aren’t updated for 2018, but looking at the 2017 numbers, the HR factor for righties is one point apart favorite Cleveland (99). Statcorner actually has Safeco with a 6-point advantage (104).

Did you realize Desmond went 20-20 last year? Despite hit brutally awful .236/.307/.422 line, he managed to pop 22 HR and log 20 SB in his 619 PA. That said, he has just a 77 wRC+ in 992 PA with the Rockies. Even if you believe the park adjustment is a bit harsh for Coors (as I tend to believe), that’s still unquestionably awful. He’s become a full on groundball hitter – 62% as a Rockie – which puts his homers in question and the ugly .314 OBP since ’17 could curb his SB count, especially if they put any sort of harness on his attempts.

All those flaws haven’t kept Desmond from tracking as a starting 1B in the 15-team NFBC leagues as the 14th one off the board, and it could be higher if one of the mult-positional guys is slotted elsewhere (Bellinger, Carpenter, Profar, Gallo, and Muncy). Desmond himself has OF eligibility and might be better used there if you get an early 1B, but the whole point of this piece is the lack of depth at 1B so that luxury just might not exist unless you plan around it.

The “I Waited Too Long” Group

So you’ve decided to wait on getting a 1B. Well done, you played yourself. Do you want to bet on Cabrera staying healthy? Do you want to bore yourself to tears by following 665 PA of a Hosmer season? Are you just dying to get fewer than 20 HR from 1B? Gurriel is your guy! Voit and Martinez aren’t locked in starters and Santana’s a much better fit for OBP leagues.

The top 20 1B from last year all went by pick 170 last year, but this year they’re ranging into the early-200s. Make no mistake, the latter portion of the top 20 last year had their flaws, too, as you would expect at just about any position. The bigger issue is that the top 10 just isn’t that great. The top 10 last year all went in top 70 picks and while they didn’t all put up numbers worthy of such a pick, no one in the group truly flopped (Goldschmidt, Votto, Freeman, Bellinger, Rizzo, Abreu, Rhys Hoskins, Encarnacion, Wil Myers, and Hosmer).

There are some fun gambles at the position. Some of my favorites include Justin Smoak, Tyler White, Josh Bell, Ryan O’Hearn, Ryan McMahon, Justin Bour, Ronald Guzman, and Hunter Dozier. Of course, I don’t want them in my starting lineup right away. I might put a couple in the CI slot, but definitely not as my starting 1B.

How do you feel about the 1B pool we’ve got for 2019? What’s your strategy going to be for getting a starting 1B? Who are some of your favorite gambles (16th or later, post-225 ADP)?

NFBC ADP (set to 1/1/2019 and choose Draft Champions)

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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3 years ago

Was Yonder Alonso excluded because he didn’t have a team right away? Figured he would slot in somewhere toward the back of that last tier.

3 years ago
Reply to  bsgoldberg

Is Hoskins considered tier 1 once he gets eligibility?