2016 Fantasy Baseball First Basemen Rankings

We are on to a much more exciting position now, generally the one with the most power, and we all know that chicks dig the long ball, right fellas? So make it a point to get some power at first base, but know that it’s not the end of your fantasy season before it even starts if you don’t get power here.

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL FIRST BASEMEN RANKINGS. Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016.

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.
  • Noted in some players’ “Quick Takes” is if they gain or lose notable value in points leagues that factor penalize hitter strikeouts and reward hitter walks.

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Iwakuma Tosses No-No (and other notes from 8/12/15)

Since returning from the DL with a lat strain on July 6, Seattle Mariners right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma had seen a mixed bag of results with a couple of really good starts mixed in with a couple of bad ones and a few mediocre ones to compile a 3.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 47 IP. However, in front of the home crowd on Wednesday, Iwakuma laid to rest any concerns by tossing a no-hitter with 7 strikeouts and 3 walks against the Baltimore Orioles.

Over the last few seasons, Iwakuma has been one of the more underrated pitchers in the game, which is probably due to his lack of strikeout appeal. Since Iwakuma came over to the Majors from Japan in 2012, the average strikeout rate for starting pitchers has been 7.24 K/9 and Iwakuma has posted a 7.52 K/9 in his career. So while he has been a bit above average in strikeouts, he’s surely not the master artist of the strikeout. But where Iwakuma comes up big in his game is in his precision control.

During that same time frame since 2012, the average walk rate among starting pitchers has been 2.76 BB/9, yet, for his career, Iwakuma sits nearly a full walk lower at 1.78 BB/9. Iwakuma also has a knack for limiting hits thanks to a strong 50.5% ground ball rate that induces a lot of soft/medium hit ground balls that go for easy outs. So Iwakuma’s exceptional walk rate combined with his ability to get a lot of ground ball outs has allowed him to post a 1.08 WHIP, which is the 5th lowest WHIP out of all pitchers in the Majors since 2012 (minimum 400 innings pitched). There probably aren’t many baseball fans who would have guessed that.

Now that Iwakuma has proven himself to be healthy and productive with this no-hitter, he should go on to perform just as he has over the last few seasons as long as he doesn’t incur another injury, and that is some incredibly useful fantasy material.

Now let’s check out the rest of Wednesday’s action.

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Hamels’ Potential Parting Gift to Philly (and other notes from 7/25/15)

Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels had been in the midst of a mostly bad run over his last 7 starts before Saturday, as he had 6.10 ERA and 1.57 WHIP since June 8. There were rumblings that the trade rumors surrounding him were adversely affecting his performance, but in what could be his final start as a member of the Phillies team that drafted him back in 2002, the lanky lefty put that notion to rest by firing a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

With the no-hitter, Hamels improved to 6-7 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 137 K/39 BB in 128.2 IP. While the ERA and WHIP are a bit on the high side in comparison to the rest of his career, his strikeout rate of 9.58 K/9 ranks as the best since his rookie season in 2006, and his current 3.14 xFIP would be the second best mark of his career (3.02 xFIP in 2011). Also, Hamels average fastball velocity is as high as it has ever been. So the 31-year old Hamels is surely showing that he’s still got the stuff to be considered an ace in this league and he should be treated like one for fantasy purposes as well.

Hamels is still under contract through the 2018 season, scheduled to make $22.5 million in each remaining season with a $19 million vesting option for 2019. So if the Phillies do end up dealing him, this is not just a 2-3 month rental like David Price or Johnny Cueto would be. So any team that does trade for him is likely going to have to still give up a nice haul of prospects to the Phillies as they enter a rebuild mode. And any destination that he goes to, he is likely to get a boost in value because he will finally get away from the poor run support of the Phillies offense, and he also will be leaving the hitter friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.

If I had to speculate on Hamels’ destination, I would look for the Los Angeles Dodgers to become heavily involved as the deadline approaches. With a starting rotation that has been marred by season-ending injuries to Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu, a current injury that Brett Anderson is dealing with, and getting very little production from a combination of Carlos Frias and Brandon Beachy in the 5th spot in their rotation, the Dodgers are surely in the market for a starting pitcher in a season where they have an excellent chance to go all the way. Also, acquiring Hamels, who is under team control through 2018, will give the team some insurance in the likely event that Zack Greinke exercises his opt out clause at the end of the year.

The Dodgers and Phillies are familiar trade partners as they completed a deal in the off-season that sent long-time Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins to Los Angeles. And the Dodgers surely have a strong enough farm system to put together a package that the Phillies would accept, but the question is if the Andrew Friedman led regime would be willing to part with their top prospects such as shortstop Kyle Seager or pitching phenom Julio Urias. The Phillies would likely want any deal to start with Urias as a future replacement to Hamels for their rotation. But the Dodgers could also try to attract the Phillies with a Major League talent like third baseman/outfielder Alex Guerrero who has a bat that’s great enough to be a Major League regular. Of course, more players would have to added on along with Guerrero to get a deal done, but something definitely could be worked out.

Now let’s take a look at Saturday’s slate.

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Presto for Preston (and other notes from 7/22/15)

Preston Tucker is an outfielder that was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 7th round of the 2012 draft as a four-year standout at the University of Florida, and he’s been a player in the Minors that has shown a nice power stroke and a bit of an advanced plate approach. After beginning the year at AAA and hitting .320 with 10 HR in just 25 games, the Astros promoted Tucker to the Majors in early May after George Springer landed on the 7-day DL with a concussion. At the time, it was unclear whether or not the Astros intended to keep Tucker on the roster once Springer was ready to return, but Tucker began to hit and the Astros kept him on as a left-handed bat since they were in 1st place in the division and in “win now” mode.

Tucker eventually hit a prolonged slump once the calendar flipped over to June as he had a .189 AVG for the month, but the Astros stuck with him, which shows the confidence that they have in him to be the type of player that they feel he can be (side note: The Astros also drafted Preston’s younger brother Kyle Tucker with the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft). And to even further show the Astros’ faith in Tucker, he has been hitting out of the 2-hole since July 3 after Springer suffered yet another injury that landed him on the DL, and Tucker has responded very well in that role.

On Wednesday, Tucker belted 2 home runs and is now hitting .264 with 8 HR, 26 RBI, and 26 R for the season, and .321 with 4 HR, 9 RBI and 9 R since being inserted into the 2-hole. Springer isn’t expected back for about another three weeks barring any setbacks, so Tucker seems likely to continue to be placed in a very favorable spot in the Astros lineup on a regular basis and he’s got the skills to keep on improving his overall triple slash of .264/.324/.466. And in the Minors, he has a 25 HR and a 24 HR season to his name, so he definitely has the type of pop that can make him a useful fantasy commodity.

Along with the power potential, Tucker has shown an advanced plate approach in the Minors that I alluded to previously. Currently, Tucker has a walk rate of 7.6% and a strikeout rate of 20.0%. Neither number is terrible as they are actually right on par with the league averages of a 7.5% walk rate and a 20.1% strikeout rate, and his 20.0% strikeout rate is actually lower than average for a player with his type of 25+ HR power. But in his Minor League career, he had a 9.3% walk rate and a 16.4% strikeout rate. However, his strikeout rate in 420 plate appearances in AAA is 21.9%, so perhaps he won’t get too much better than his current rate there, but he’s still just 25 years old and can develop those skills with more experience in the Majors. Just know that the potential is there for improvement in this area and this is something that makes him someone to monitor for now and for the future.

Another aspect of Tucker’s Minor League game that hasn’t yet translated over to his Major League career so far is his ability to left-handed pitching. For the season against southpaws, he is hitting just .218/.259/.255 with no home runs in 55 AB, and this poor hitting performance for a lefty vs. left-handed pitching is not atypical for many players. However, according to Minor League Central, Tucker actually hit left-handers very well throughout his time in the Minors at .321/.377/.512. That line is actually better than his line against right-handed Minor League pitching. So while he may not be hitting Major League lefties all that well at the moment, there is some definite capability of improving, and is probably the reason why manager A.J. Hinch is not being afraid of putting him high up in the batting order against lefties.

Once Springer is ready to return to the lineup Tucker will probably get bumped down in the order and also lose some playing time, but he appears to be showing enough to be given a good amount of consideration for both season long fantasy leagues and in DFS. At the very least, it’s looking like Tucker can at least be on the strong side of a platoon, and Adam Lind is a good example of the type of player that we might see Tucker develop into in the future. Provided that he doesn’t make too much noise from now till the end of the season, Tucker could enter the 2016 season as quite a sleeper.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Wednesday’s action.
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A Ray of Light for the Diamondbacks (and other notes from 7/7/15)

Just who is Robbie Ray?  You may remember has as part of a 3-player deal that occurred a couple months after the 2013 season ended where the Washington Nationals received Doug Fister from the Tigers in exchange for two pitching prospects, Ray and Ian Krol.  At the time, it looked like a pretty nice fleece job done by the Nationals to acquire Fister’s final two arbitration seasons for a couple of pitching prospects that were pretty decent but didn’t have overly impressive numbers in the Minors up to that point.

Ray spent most of the 2014 season for the Tigers at AAA, but did log 9 appearances and 6 starts for the Major League squad.  However, the 8.16 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 28.2 IP along with an unimpressive AAA performance must have been enough for the Tigers to have seen from the lefty, as they then shipped him over to the Diamondbacks in a 3-team deal that netted them Shane Greene upon the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Ray arrived with the Diamondbacks and was assigned to AAA out of Spring Training where after 9 starts, he had a 3.67 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, and 57 K/27 BB in 41.2 IP.  Ray struck out a lot of batters, but he also issued a ton of free passes and got hit pretty hard as well.  So when the Diamondbacks called him up when the need arose, not much was to be expected of the 23-year old lefty, especially after his huge disappointment in Detroit.

With the strong 7 inning performance where he did not allow an earned run against the Rangers on Tuesday, Ray improved to 3-4 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 38 K/12 BB in 50 IP.  Those are some quality numbers and at first glance at his career numbers both in the Minors and Majors, it would be easy to dismiss this performance as a fluke.  However, three things that we need to look at are his pitch velocity, arm slot, and pitch arsenal.

Last season, Ray’s average fastball velocity according to PITCHf/x data was 91.3 MPH, and that was with a few relief appearances worked in there (pitchers generally throw harder in relief because they don’t have to “save” their arm for the whole game).  But this season in his time with the D-Backs, he’s averaged 93.3 MPH — a full two ticks higher on the radar gun.  We see it so often how pitchers with increased velocity from one year to the next go on to have more success for the simple reason that harder thrown pitches are generally harder for batters to hit.  Then looking at FanGraphs, we can see his release point from last year was higher and closer to his head than this year.  In other words, he is pitching the ball from a lower arm slot that is more of a 3/4 motion than overhand.  So perhaps Ray is finding much more comfort from a lower arm slot, and maybe it is even the reason why he is generating more velocity.  But whatever it is, it seems to be working for him and is likely more than just a coincidence.  Lastly, his pitch arsenal from last season had him throwing his slider just 3.5% of the time and his changeup 27.1%.  But this season, he’s using his slider much more often at 17.1% while his changeup is down to 9.2%.  Also, his slider appears to be much harder with a 4.2% velocity increase from last season.

So looking at these things, we are seeing a different Robbie Ray than before, which could arguably be the reasons why Ray is having much better luck this season.  And while Ray is bound to regress from his excellent ERA and WHIP numbers that he is posting right now, he may not completely implode.  His BABIP currently sits at .255, which is lower than the league average around .300, but as a fly ball heavy pitcher he should be able to post a lower BABIP as long as he’s not giving up a ton of line drives (which he’s not).  Then his strand rate of 73.2% is slightly above the league average, but it’s certainly not crazy high.  But where his regression should come primarily is in the form of more home runs allowed.  As a fly ball pitcher, he can post below a below average BABIP, but that also should mean that he should allow home runs at a higher rate than his current 0.36 HR/9 mark — especially pitching his home games in a hitter friendly park at Chase Field.  If he maintains his current strikeout and walk rates, then I could see Ray finishing the season around a 3.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, which would be much more than anyone expected from him.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s action!

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Miguel Cabrera to the DL for First Time (and other notes from 7/5/15)

For the first time ever in his 13-year career, on the 4th of July, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has landed on the DL with a calf strain that he suffered as a base runner taking off from first to second base.  The injury is expected to sideline Cabrera for 6 weeks.  It’s nothing short of amazing how Cabrera has gone so long without ever incurring an injury that he was unable to play through, but he is now 32 years old and with this calf injury and the ankle injury that he played through for a good portion of the 2014 season, there appear to be some chinks in his armor at a time where we should be expecting him to exit his offensive prime anyway.

With his ankle injury last year, he still was able to hit .313 with 25 HR, 109 RBI, and 101 R, but remarkably, that was his lowest batting average since 2009 and his lowest HR total since 2006.  This season he is batting what would be a career best of .350, but with just 15 HR before the injury, he was once again on pace for one of his lowest HR totals and with the injury, it’s all but guaranteed that it will be one of his worst HR outputs of his career.

Cabrera is still obviously a great hitter and he will have several more years left in the league where he will produce much better than the average player.  But here is what I said about him in the pre-season rankings:

“You know how we saw the beginning of the decline of Albert Pujols in his age 31 season in 2011 when he “only” hit .299/.366/.541 with 37 HR, 99 RBI, and 105 R?  Well, we saw something similar from M-Cab last year in his age 31 season.  Perhaps it can be contributed to the bum foot that he was playing on, which has since been surgically repaired.  Even so, there is a decent chance that he continues to experience an assortment of injuries as he is now on the wrong side of 30.   So I’m pretty sure his best days are behind him, but of course he still is a better hitter than most of the league.”

So let’s go ahead and categorize this into the “assortment of injuries” column.

The Tigers will surely miss his bat, and it will be interesting to see how the offense responds to Cabrera’s absence.  With J.D. Martinez so hot right now, it’s possible that he can shoulder the load to carry the team.  But at some point, the Tigers offense should experience some rough times without Cabrera.

For fantasy squads, it’s nothing short of heartbreaking to lose a 1st round pick to the DL for a significant amount of time. First it was Giancarlo Stanton a couple weeks ago and now it’s Cabrera.  Their production simply can’t be replicated, so you just have to make due with what you can.

Let’s check out Sunday’s action now.

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All-Star Game Roster Predictions: National League

Predicting the All-Star teams can sometimes be a hopeless exercise due to the unpredictability, but it is all fun and games. The first pieces that come into play for the All-Star rosters are the fan submitted votes where the leading vote getters at each position (three in the outfield) are automatically named to the All-Star team as a starter.  Next, the players vote for 8 pitchers (5 starting pitchers and 3 relief pitchers) and for a backup at each position (if the leading vote getter amongst the players was already voted in by the fans then the second leading vote getter amongst the players is named as an All-Star reserve).  Then the managers of the All-Star teams select the remainder of the roster until the roster has 33 players. Finally, there are then 5 players from each league that are put on the “final man ballot” to be voted on by the fans for the 34th and final spot on each league’s respective roster.

The National League fan voting isn’t as odd as the American League, as the fans are getting most of the situations right. What you’re about to read isn’t who I think should be All-Stars, but rather it is what I think will happen with both the fans and the players/manager votes. Continue reading

C. Heston From the NRA to the NHA? (and other notes from 6/9/15)

So we know that Hollywood legend Charleton Heston was the president of the NRA (National Rifle Association), but there’s a new Heston in town by the name of Chris Heston who became the 238th member of the NHA (No-Hitter Association) on Tuesday.  Heston of the Giants managed to no-hit the Mets while recording 11 strikeouts in the process.  What spoiled the perfect game wasn’t a walk or an error, but rather Heston beaned three separate batters.  This sounds like a job for the Elias Sports Bureau, but this might be the most hit batsmen recorded by a pitcher who completed a no-hitter.  Whoever had Heston in the “first no-hitter of the season” pool has to be a rich person, but one sick individual to make such an adventurous pick.

Heston is a 27-year old rookie and he has been one extremely tough pitcher to figure out this season.  It seems as though he is either really good or really bad.  He has 5 starts this season where he has given up at least 5 earned runs, but then the other 7 starts he has made he has gone at least 6 innings allowing either 0 or 1 earned run.

Initially, I thought that maybe he was just a pitcher who did some really good home cookin’ while struggling on the road, but with his clunker last week at home versus the Pirates and this no hitter on the road versus the Mets, that theory can be safely laid to rest.  The fact of the matter is that Heston has just had a couple really bad starts at Coors Field that have negatively skewed his overall stat line.  I hate to cherry pick certain games out of a player’s stat line, but taking those Coors Field games out does make a big difference as he would have a 2.71 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 60 K/15 BB in 63 IP (compared to a 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 66 K/18 BB in 74 IP including the Coors Field starts).

Heston doesn’t come as heralded as some of the other rookie pitchers because of his age and the fact that he’s not a hard thrower topping out around 90 MPH.  But with a sinker, curveball, and changeup arsenal, he is able to generate a ton of ground balls at 56.2%, which is the 6th highest in the league, and he also has above average control with sneaky strikeout potential (career rate of 7.96 K/9 in the Minors).

Earlier in the season when I was still trying to figure out what to make of Heston, I suggested the possibility of him being this year’s Matt Shoemaker as the old, non-glamorous rookie pitcher who falls into a rotation spot and outperforms expectations with great control and the sneaky strikeout potential.  The more I see of him, the more I think that Heston will be that pitcher and he is worthy of a fantasy play as long as he’s not playing at Coors Field.

Let’s see what else occurred on a full Tuesday slate of action…

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DONG-aldson Alert (and other notes from 5/26/15)

Josh Donaldson had an incredible night at the plate as he took the first offering that he saw from John Danks way beyond the left field fence for a solo dong in the 1st inning.  Then he ripped a double off Danks in the 3rd inning, which put the fear in Danks to walk him next time in the 5th.  Donaldson then came up in 7th and knocked a single up the middle off Jake Petricka.  And for the grand finale, he took David Robertson deep to the opposite field for a 3-run walkoff DONG-aldson home run.  Overall, Donaldson finished the night 4 for 4 with 2 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, and 1 BB.  The perfect night put him at a .315 AVG, 12 HR, 33 RBI, 40 R, and 2 SB in 48 games as he is proving to be a fantasy juggernaut in his first season as a Blue Jay.

Heading into the season, it was much assumed that the home park switch from Oakland to Toronto would give Donaldson a boost to his HR total, but he is on an absolutely torrid pace right now as he is hitting .380 with 9 HR and 21 RBI in 100 AB at the Rogers Centre.  And not only is he obliterating pitchers when he is at home, but as I have mentioned several times, he also makes left-handed pitchers want to curl up into a ball and die in the corner of the dugout.  Versus lefties this season, Donaldson is hitting .474 with 4 HR and 9 RBI in 36 AB.  So Donaldson facing a left-handed pitcher at home is just about the most optimal situation for any hitter in the Majors.

At a .338 mark, Donaldson’s BABIP may seem a little high at first, because his line drive rate is pretty low at 15.5%.  However, his hard hit rate is up at a career best pace, and he is spraying the ball to all portions of the field instead of being primarily a pull hitter like in years past.  Those are some great indicators that he is doing things differently and well, and it gives some hope that he will be able to have a BABIP that’s higher than his career mark and subsequently hit for a nice average.

I think that we all knew that Donaldson would be able to put up some solid numbers this season moving to a hitter’s park and being a part of one of the most powerful lineups in the Majors.  But he is delivering so well on his potential that Billy Beane has absolutely got to be second guessing trading him away when he still could have been under team control for 3 more years.

For the rest of the season from May 27 onward, I will give Donaldson a line of:  .284 AVG, 23 HR, 71 RBI, 71 R, and 4 SB

That means that I am projecting him to finish the season with a final overall line of:  .292 AVG, 35 HR, 104, RBI, 111 R, and 6 SB.  That is a fantasy monster.

Now let’s check out the rest of Tuesday’s slate…

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Year to Date (5/6/15): Fantasy First Basemen

Just to continue to make up for the lost time during my hectic April, let’s review some first basemen so far this year.  We’ll take a look at some surprises, disappointments, injuries, and players to keep an eye on.

FIRST BASEMEN

Surprises:  Stephen Vogt, Joey Votto, Kendrys Morales, Mark Teixeira, Mark Canha

First, I am going to touch on a player who doesn’t qualify as a surprise, but has an interesting statistic that I want to point out.  The player is Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs.  Now as a mid-late first round pick in fantasy leagues this spring, A to the Rizzo was expected to mash and be a superstar and he is doing just that as he continues to be able to handle left-handed pitching, which was a former weakness of his.  However, what is a surprise is his total of 7 SB.  Here is what I said about him in my pre-season rankings: “The supporting cast around Rizzo consists of players that also are improving and they should be able to provide him a boost.  Then insert Joe Maddon as his new manager and that is also another positive as Maddon managed some Tampa Bay teams that were aggressive on the base paths.”  I cautiously projected Rizzo for 8 SB, but knew that he had 15 SB breakout potential and it seems that he is well on his way to accomplishing that.  Now on to the surprise first basemen… Continue reading

Top 25 First Basemen for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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