Owners Don’t Need Home Runs From First Base …

… they need Production. That’s it. If anyone says differently, they’re wrong. I’m tired of hearing owners say they want 35+ home runs from first base. It doesn’t matter where the production comes from. Owners don’t get extra points because the home run was from first base or from their shortstop. Home runs are just one category. Other hits, besides home runs, keep the AVG high and can also generate Runs, RBIs, and stolen base opportunities. Home runs don’t have monopoly on run scoring. Owners need to stop tying home runs (or any other stat) to a position and just pick the most productive players.

Today’s rant is being brought to everyone by my Twitter followers. Yesterday I asked them why Eric Hosmer was getting no love with his low NFBC ADP.

The big winner is power from first base. I’ve never gotten this philosophy of targeting a single stat, like stolen bases or home runs, from a set position. This is especially true early in a draft. In the first 100 picks or so, all the players are average or better. Accumulate as many of these above average talents as possible and then fill in the voids. If the team needs stolen bases, find them now later. Or batting average. Or heaven forbid, home runs.

It’s not that I don’t like home runs but an overemphasis on them can lead to a team to completely neglecting batting average. The main reason I get for ignoring batting average is that home runs will automatically create a Run and RBI. But batting average doesn’t? JMizzle stated this idea yesterday in a Twitter discussion on Eric Hosmer’s value

While some argument details are missing like the home runs for the “.310-AVG Guy” and the AVG for the “36-HR Guy”. The point to remember is that the extra hits from hitting .310 will also generate Runs and RBI’s.

Simple study time. I adjusted every hitter’s (2015-2017) HR, RBIs, and Runs to 600 PA (min 300 PA) and found how much AVG and home runs affect Runs and RBIs. The r-squared for just home runs to the combined Runs and RBI values is .47. Decent. With AVG to Runs and RBIs, it’s .18. Not so good. If I use both inputs in a linear regression, the r-square jumps to .65 (random coincidence the individual r-squares equal overall, usually the combined value will be smaller).

The equation for 600 PA works out to: 2.34 * HR + 481 * AVG -39 = Runs +RBI

To keep things simple, a difference of .010 AVG will generate close to the same number of Runs+RBI as 2 HR for a player with 600 PA. Now the mix can change depending on lineup position or surrounding talent but the totals are close.

Here is an example going back to the “.310 AVG guy” and the “36-HR guy”. Assuming “36-HR guy” hits a .240 AVG, the “.310 AVG Guy” would need to hit around 22 HR to get the same number of Runs+RBIs. There is always a balance point.

For another example, take Edwin Encarnacion (57 ADP) and Eric Hosmer (69 ADP – nice). Steamer projects “E5” at .252 AVG and 34 HR while Hosmer projects for a .290 AVG with 26 HR. So they have a difference in 8 HR which creates a multiplier of 4 (8 HR/2). Hosmer almost exactly makes up the difference in batting average from Encarnacion (.290-.252 = .038 ~ .010 * 4). Hosmer is likely to have a few more steals, so he should be getting valued higher, but he’s not.

I saw this bias against AVG with both Manny Machado and Starling Marte in my article yesterday. Remember, batting average and home runs both contribute to the other two counting stats. Owners must take each into account when valuing players.

Now back to first baseman needing to provide a team’s power. Normally, first basemen hit the most home runs and last season was no different with the position bettering right field by ~150 dongs. Owners should expect to get home runs from their first baseman. It’s almost hard not to.

Owners can go crazy if a player provides some other stat besides a position’s “traditional” stats like J.T. Realmuto’s half dozen catcher stolen bases or Brian Dozier’s middle infield home runs. They all go into the same pool.

I will continue emphasizing the concept of Production over Position to start off a draft. Get the most talented players to start before the talent begins to blend together. With no position scarcity, besides at catcher, owners can wait for the talent to level off and then fill in their team’s voids. If an owner really needs home runs, they can be found. Chris Davis and his projected 33 bombs has an ADP of 248. Why overpay for early home runs when they can be found later?

Owners shouldn’t lock themselves into just one strategy for a draft or auction. They should be ready to pounce on undervalued assets as they become available. Owners who lock themselves into needing 70 home runs or 40 stolen bases from their first two players may pass up on great values. Locking in a position plan is even dumber since every position has a range of players from great to replacement level (and worse). For those who have never value drafted, try it and compare the results. For those who have always value drafted, continue to dominate your leagues.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Thanks for the strong article. Wondering how the math shifts in OBP, where the variance seems smaller.

Jonathan Sher

Hosmer’s variance might be less with OBP but so is his performace; since 2011 when he debuted, Hosmer’s OBP ranks 98th while his batting average ranks 62nd. That said, his walk rate the past three years has been both more positive and consistent.