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February 25, 2013 posted by Albert Lang

2013 Fantasy Baseball Head-to-Head First Basemen Rankings & Preview

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Paul Konerko, CHW

For a brief tutorial on how to use my head-to-head ranks, please visit here. For all of my in-depth rankings breakdowns, please visit http://fp911.com/author/albertlang/. For spreadsheets of rankings visit here.

As noted elsewhere in this series, my rankings value consistent players who have put up numbers for the past three seasons. As such, it should be no surprise that I am, once again, one of the highest on Paul Konerko (#27 Hitter, #5 1B). Since 2010, Konerko is tied for the eighth most HRs, has the 14th most RBIs and owns the 14th best batting average among all qualified hitters. Of course, he is living off a pretty impressive 2010 (39 HRs) and has seen his HR total decline from that high to 31 to 26 last season. Not surprisingly his HR/FB rate has been on a downward trend as well, while his ground balls have been increasing. Still, he has posted two of his best line drive rates the last two seasons, meaning the batting average likely isn’t a mirage. Konerko, oddly, got 40 less plate appearances last season despite appearing in just five fewer games than in 2011. While Konerko’s age might put him as a health risk, he has played between 144-152 games in each of the last four seasons, so he has been incredibly healthy recently. In addition, 2011 should be more of his floor. If he can play 145 games, he should get a few more plate appearances and you’ll see those RBIs get back to triple digits. He also owns a .283 career batting average and has exceeded that mark by a decent amount recently. Konerko will bat .290 easily and add in 28 HRs. There isn’t much elite here, but will he be that far off Prince Fielder?

Some seem to have written off Ryan Howard (#68 Hitter, #11 1B) based on his horrid platoon splits and difficult 2012. However, he was battling back from injury last season and still hit 14 HRs in 71 games (a 31-HR pace). The batting average hasn’t been good since 2010, but 2012 was the first that it was Mark Reynolds bad. It was also the first time since 2008 he had a BABIP under .303. He can’t hit lefties, that’s an absolute stone cold fact; however he can still mash against righties. If healthy, Howard should be his same old self: 30 HRs in the bank with 100+ RBIs. He will hit under .250, but it won’t be as far off as you think. In addition, in head-to-head, you can absorb that crappy average as long as you are getting elite production somewhere else and Howard should provide elite HRs and RBIs.

It’s been an odd odyssey for Lance Berkman (#112 Hitter, #26 1B) who has gone from Texas to New York to St. Louis and back to Texas since 2010. During his travels, he has been superb (2011), bad (2010) and injured (2012). He has maintained impeccable plate control, posting impressive BB% and has posted a .275/.391/.483 line since 2010. In fact, his 162-game average during this span is 26 HRs, 87 RBIs and 82 runs. Of course, Berkman has never played 162 games in a season and has topped 136 just once since 2009. It’s hard to prorate or put a games played projection to Berkman because, if an injury comes, who knows exactly when it will sting? That said, the move to Texas (which is a far better run environment than Busch Stadium) should mitigate a little of these concerns. Berkman is an excellent choice in shallower formats, as he’ll be far easier to replace when/if he hits the DL. Still, he seems to be an afterthought on most draft boards and can probably be purchased for under $10 which makes him solid in deeper formats. As long as you aren’t allocating a ton of resources to Berkman, he’ll provide a nice return.

It was a dismal year for Mark Reynolds (#118 Hitter, #27 1B, #16 3B) until the calendar hit August. Before August 1, Reynolds batted .208/.324/.367 with eight HRs; after, he batted .237/.349/.510 with 15 HRs. It truly was an odd season, as his HR/FB rate was 13.5% in the first half but 21.3% in the second (he has a career 20.6% HR/FB rate). In addition, he really struggled against lefties in the power department (.370 slugging percentage and .143 ISO), whereas he has been far better in the past (career .490 slugging percentage and .250 ISO). Reynolds had a somewhat low slugging percentage against lefties in 2011 (.454) but his ISO was right at the career average (.246). Unfortunately, it is unclear if lefties have figured out how to limit Reynolds’ power. If so, Reynolds has very little value for fantasy. If not, however, 2012 was just a blip and he’ll get back to his prodigious power (albeit with craptastic averages)—Reynolds did average 38 HRs from 2009-2011. Reynolds has also been a far better commodity in OBP leagues (and last season saw him cut down on his K rate while maintaining a solid BB%), so reach for him a tad more in those formats. Reynolds, like Ryan Howard, is a player that makes a lot more sense in a head-to-head league, where you can worry about average later as long as you’re getting elite power. If the move away from the friendly confines of Camden Yards hurts him and/or lefties continue to confound him, simply drop him. It’s not like you’re taking him super early or paying a significant amount of your budget for him. I’m treating his 2012 lefty anomaly as just that and expect the power to come back.

I’ve been a bit down on Ike Davis (#123 Hitter, #28 1B) in the past, but there’ no getting around the awesome second half he had last season: .542 slugging percentage, 20 HRs, and .287 ISO. It’s likely he finally got over Valley Fever and his ankle injury from 2011. Even when he was on a tear in the second half, his BABIP was just .260, so it’s a bit unclear whether he can duplicate his averages on balls in play from 2010-2011 which netted solid averages. The biggest issue with Davis will likely be batting average – however it won’t be as bad as last season. Still, the likelihood it’s anywhere near .280 seems minimal – Davis swung more last year than ever before, got behind in the count more and swung and missed more. He also benefited from a 21.1% HR/FB rate – while it isn’t outlandish, anything over 20% is a bit suspect without a track record. For the moment, Davis seems to be a bit under the radar – he shouldn’t be, as he’s clearly capable of 32-35 HRs and a .255 average. He walks a good bit (which will help in OBP leagues) making 85 runs a possibility. He’ll end up with 100+ RBIs as well.

In 2010, Tyler Colvin (#139 Hitter, #30 1B, #73 OF) appeared in 135 games and hit 20 HRs. In 2012, he appeared in 136 games and hit 18 HRs. In between, he appeared in just 80 games in 2011. It’s possible this trend continues itself, as Colvin is blocked by Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer, Todd Helton and Jordan Pacheco. With playing time, a duplication of last season’s HR pace seems likely – he didn’t have a ridiculous HR/FB rate. That said, he did have a .364 BABIP, which, even for Colorado, is probably a bit high. He’s not a .290 hitter and sometimes struggles against lefties. View Colvin as more of a .260 hitter with 20 HR upside. If he can carve out some playing time, he’s worth picking up immediately. In deeper leagues, he’s worth a buck or so just to see if he gets any sort of consistent playing time.

While playing time isn’t 100% certain for Chris Carter (#211 Hitter, #48 1B), there are enough moving parts in Houston to ensure Carter gets ample playing time. In just 67 games last season, Carter slugged 16 HRs. He didn’t hit overly well (.239) and struck out a ton – which mirrors his minor league production: great power but poor averages. That said, in OBP leagues, Carter gets a decent bump as he has posted impressive BB%s in the minors and in his small sample MLB career. Surprisingly, last season in Oakland, Carter managed a 25.4% HR/FB rate, which would be high anywhere – but seems astronomical for an Oakland player. Of course, Carter got into a few more away games and posted a far better slugging percentage and ISO on the road. There won’t be much to the batting average, but he could come close to the power production of Mark Reynolds. As long as the price remains light, grab him late in drafts and see if he gets the at bats needed to hit 30+ bombs.

Of course, one of the impediments to Carter accumulating plate appearances is Brett Wallace (#247 Hitter, #56 1B), who looked pretty good in his own 66 games last year (.253/.323/.424 with nine HRs). He didn’t have the fortune of Carter, but his 16.4% HR/FB rate certainly seems more sustainable. He did benefit from what looks like, on its face, a beneficial BABIP (.331); however he does have a .332 mark for his career (792 plate appearances) and has been similarly successful in the minors. Still, even if the BABIP is real, it’ll be hard to envision him pushing his batting average above .255. Wallace will get the at bats, though, and could be a couple of gusts of wind away from 20+ HRs. It’s not exceptional, but 70 runs and RBIs and 20 HRs isn’t chump change in a deeper league.

Before the Red Sox brought in Lyle Overbay and Mike Carp, Mauro Gomez (#412 Hitter, #80 1B) seemed like a decent bet to get some at bats in Boston. With Mike Napoli’s health in the air and the ability to platoon Carp and Jonny Gomes in left, there is still a path to some at bats for Gomez. Gomez doesn’t do anything exceptional but has been incredibly consistent in the minors. He held his own in his first taste of the majors last season, but relied on a bit of an inflated BABIP (.347). That said, it was a small sample and he hit a good amount of line drives and you’d expect his HR/FB rate to improve – although a 25 HR pace seems pretty optimistic to me. Gomez could be a .280 hitter with 20 HR pace pop – it’s just a matter of playing time.

Albert has been playing and arguing about baseball and fantasy sports since 2002. Since 1982, he has also been largely miserable (here’s looking at you Armando Benitez) because of the Orioles and Eagles. Albert has won leagues and lost leagues, but he has the most fun debating player values. Albert typically plays in several baseball and football leagues a year. He also is an avid baseball card collector and writes about older players and their historical value relative to the Hall of Fame and their peers/current players. When not harassing league mates with trades and analyzing what categories his team performs poorly in, Albert is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner. He has an awesome puppy named Charlotte. You can find all of Albert's work at http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/.
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