Midseason Positional Rankings Breakdown: First Base Tier 1:
1. Paul Goldschmidt- Arizona Diamondbacks: Goldschmidt has been unbelievably productive to date. He currently has 21 home runs, 63 runs scored, 80 RBI and 10 stolen bases. More importantly, heâ€™s doing all of this with a .314 batting average. Having a 30 home run season while hitting .300 is nothing to sneeze at; combine Â the addition of the 10 steals to his ledger and thereâ€™s no doubt that Goldschmidt is the #1 first baseman in fantasy.
Goldschmidt had above average skills against two of the three categories of pitches last season. He hit .306 with a .903 OPS against hard stuff in 2012, and .307 with a .886 OPS against off-speed pitches. The chink in his armor was a .227 batting average against breaking pitches and a .668 OPS.
This season heâ€™s maintained his success against off-speed pitches, improved against the fastball and most importantly, has improved against breaking pitches. Goldschmidt is hitting for less power against breaking pitches than he did in 2012. Heâ€™s made a modest improvement in OPS (now at .734), but heâ€™s hitting for a .277 batting average against those pitches. Perhaps most importantly is that heâ€™s cut his strikeout rate by five percent against breaking pitches in 2013. All systems go for Goldschmidt.
2. Chris Davis- Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis has without question had the most incredible half season breakout in recent memory. With 37 home runs and a .300+ average at the All-Star break, the 27-year-old Davis has broken out and then some. Davis is a career .237 hitter against breaking pitches despite an impressive .348 batting average on balls in play. For the record, Davis has a career BABIP of .353 against hard stuff, and .341 against off-speed stuff, so that BABIP of .348 on breaking pitches is normal for him.
Whatâ€™s not normal is his .571 BABIP against left handed pitchers breaking stuff in just 36 at-bats. Itâ€™s a small sample that includes a 53 percent strikeout rate. Overall this season, Davis is hitting .300 against all pitch types. Davisâ€™s OPS against breaking pitches in 2013 is an absurd 1.057.
Is it an unsustainable hot streak that Davis is enjoying against breaking pitches? After all, heâ€™s hitting just .148 on breaking pitches outside the strike zone. Â In 2012 he hit .182 on breaking balls out of the strike zone. This means that Davis is absolutely crushing hanging breaking balls and breaking balls that pitchers are trying to throw him for strikes. Davis is hitting .520 (26/50) against breaking balls in the strike zone in 2013. In 2012, he was 18/82, a .220 batting average on breaking balls in the strike zone. That is quite an amazing turnaround.
The verdict is that this is not an unsustainable hot streak.
Finally, Davis is enjoying an improved first pitch disciplinary attitude. This season, when not putting the first pitch in play, Davis takes the first pitch for a ball 48.77% of the time. He has improved his walk rate by a full six percent through 1-0 counts. Additionally, his strikeout rate has dropped by four percent through 1-0 counts as well. In 2012, Davis only took a first pitch ball 40.73% of the time. Davis hit ..309/.385/.548 through 1-0 counts. This season has been a massive improvement as Davis has mashed .379/.483/.828 through 1-0 counts. Thatâ€™s an absurd 1.311 OPS.Â If Davis continues to hit breaking balls well in the zone and continues to have a disciplined first pitch approach, getting himself into favorable counts, thereâ€™s no reason to believe he will slow down.
3. Edwin Encarnacion- Toronto Blue Jays: Following up on his career season of 2012 looked to be a tough task for the now 30-year-old slugger. Not only has Encarnacion followed up on it, heâ€™s lowered his strikeout rate to a career low 10.8 percent and now sports a walk rate which is greater than his strikeout rate. For Edwin, this circumstance is a career first for him. The reason we believe Encarnacion is a better bet the rest of the way than Joey Votto or Prince Fielder is because Edwin hits for more power (a scarce commodity in todayâ€™s game) and also sports some good batting average upside.
Encarnacion has hit .311 against off-speed pitches since pitch f/x data was first collected in 2007. This season heâ€™s hitting just .217 with a .196 BABIP and a strikeout rate that has gone unchanged against the pitch. If Edwin can find that skill again, not only will he hit .280 like last year, he could hit .300.
4. Joey Votto- Like Encarnacion, Votto has also struggled mightily against off-speed pitches. Unlike Encarnacion, Votto has less of a track record of success against off-speed pitches. Since 2007, off-speed pitches are Vottoâ€™s worst pitch category, hitting just .242 against them. In 2012 Votto hit .298 against off-speed pitches but with a .252 mark against them in 2011, the issue of small sample size is raised.
Vottoâ€™s peripherals are slightly off from last year when he recorded a 19.8% walk rate and just a 17.9 % strikeout rate. Those numbers have nearly flipped, as his current 19.6% strikeout rate is the highest of his career by just .10% (2009 he had a 19.5% strikeout rate).
Again, everything rests on his ability to start recognizing changeups early and laying off them. Vottoâ€™s whiff/swing rate (percentage of pitches that result in a swing and a miss, as a function of total swings) on the changeup is 32.84% this season. Last season it was a mere 17.44%. Unfortunately for Votto, 2012 was the outlier of the group, so this may just be who he is and that the 2010 Joey Votto is never coming back.
5. Prince Fielder- What in the world is wrong with Prince? We all assumed we could just write down another 35+ HR and .290-.310 batting average with a bevy of RBI. We were rational in that assumption, however the Prince has had other ideas.
At 11.7%, Fielder has his lowest walk rate since 2006. Additionally, Fielderâ€™s strikeout rate of 17.4% is his highest since 2010. His .181 ISO (Slugging minus batting average) is the lowest for a full season in his career. For reasons unknown, the fastball, typically the pitch Fielder crushes the most, has been his worst enemy this year.
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Heâ€™s Prince Fielder, so itâ€™s very likely things will turn around for him, but given the fact that this is such a strange about face against hard stuff, we are concerned there is possibly another factor in play here, thus moving him to the back of the top tier.