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Here is a look at the value of first basemen over the past season in OPS fantasy leagues. This is not meant to be a ranking so much as adding a lens to illustrate their relative value with OPS as a component. They are listed from highest to lowest OPS. Note that I only included players with at least 300 plate appearances in 2012.

The Top Ten

Joey Votto – His .337/.474/.567 line is insane and his 1.041 OPS was a career high. I’ve continued to be impressed with his incredibly increasing walk rate: 12.9% in 2009, 14.0% in 2010, 15.3% in 2011, and 19.8% in 2012. I expect him to continue to remain an elite OPS player and potentially league leader in OBP.

Edwin Encarnacion – Despite his sparkling .280/.384/.557 line this year, I’m likely staying away from him in 2013. This year’s .941 OPS looks like an obvious outlier when considering that he hasn’t had an OPS above .800 since 2008, and even then it was only .807. He’s walking more, so he may be able to maintain a higher OBP, but his slugging looks slightly inflated due to his career-high HR/FB. He should challenge 35 home runs if he’s healthy all year, although I wouldn’t plan on him reaching much more than 500 plate appearances, based on his past. For next year, I see a .260/.360/.500 line, yet he’s shown this year that he’s capable of more if everything breaks in his favor.

Prince Fielder – Prince managed to post a .313/.412/.528 line, which is about what you’d expect from him. However, this season he hit significantly more line drives at the expense of fly balls, resulting in a tradeoff of a higher batting average for fewer home runs. I’m curious to see if this continues next year. Regardless, he should remain an elite .900+ OPS player.

Allen Craig – When I covered him earlier this season I thought he would be valuable as long as he stayed healthy. Well, he stayed healthy and produced a .307/.354/.522 line. He has the ability to produce similar numbers going forward.

Albert Pujols – Arguably having the most up and down season of anybody, Pujols had a career-low OPS, with a .285/.343/.516 line. I’m optimistic that his walk rate and HR/FB will improve next season and expect at least a 50 point rebound in his OPS.

Paul Konerko – I’m still amazed that, after posting an OPS below .850 from 2007-09, he produced an OPS above .900 from 2010-11. He was well on his way to accomplishing that again this season, with an OPS near 1.100 at the end of May, before crashing down to Earth from June through the end of the year. The result was still a great .298/.371/.486 line. Nevertheless, four straight months of an OPS below .800 has me hesitant about trusting him in the future. I’m even more uneasy because his fall coincided with him being hit in the head by a pitch in mid-May…

Adam LaRoche – His presence this high on the first baseman list shows just how mediocre they were as a group. Yes, LaRoche had a nice year, hitting 33 home runs and a solid .271/.343/.516 line, but I expect some regression in 2013. Something like 25 homers and an .825 OPS seems reasonable.

Paul Goldschmidt – A 42 point OPS increase from 2011 led to a .286/.359/.490 line and he appears to have the potential for additional improvement. This year he decreased his strikeouts dramatically while increasing his line drives and contact rate. He may have had a bit of bad luck with his HR/FB and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him easily hit 30 home runs next season.

Corey Hart – His .270/.334/.507 line fits right in with his career average. He’s been a very consistent player over the past couple years and I believe that he will produce similar number going forward.

Nick Swisher – Like Hart, his .272/.364/.473 line is close to his career average and I expect this to continue next year.

I Wish I Drafted LaRoche Instead

Eric Hosmer – To call his season a disaster may not be the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind. After his .799 OPS in 2011, Hosmer teased with the potential for significantly more this year. Unfortunately, he ended up torturing fantasy owners with his .232/.304/.359 line. It’s easy to look f0r a rebound, but I still plan to stay far away from him in re-draft leagues. I expect him to fall short of an .800 OPS.

Adrian Gonzalez – What a disappointment. Since his fantastic 2009 season, his walk rate has disappeared: 17.5% in 2009, 13.4% in 2010, 10.3% in 2011, and 6.1% in 2012. In addition, his HR/FB went from over 20% in 2008 and 2009 to exactly 16.4% in both 2010 and 2011. This year his HR/FB is at a meager 9.6%. A red flag is that he was swinging at and making contact with more pitches outside the strike zone. He should rebound next year, but I’m not sure how much. His .299/.344/.463 line doesn’t suggest that he can post an OPS above .900 and I wouldn’t expect to see more than an .850 OPS.

Mark Teixeira – Earlier in the year I thought an .840 OPS could be on the high end for what to expect. Since then he did nothing to change my mind, with a .251/.332/.475 line. I don’t see any reason to expect him to turn things around and would only consider drafting him outside the top ten.

Potential Breakouts

Brandon Moss – Only had 296 plate appearances, but would have ranked second among all first basemen, with a .291/.358/.596 line. My thoughts on him are continued in the below blurb on Chris Carter.

Chris Carter – Like his teammate Moss, Carter came a few plate appearances short of 300 to qualify in the above list. Also similar to his teammate, his .239/.350/.514 line would have ranked highly among first basemen. The A’s are going to have a nice problem to deal with, as they have a glut of sluggers who could play corner outfield, first baseman, or designated hitter. Moss and Carter are certainly worth monitoring to see if either will play full-time in 2013. Although they both may see a slight decline in their HR/FB rate, each is more than capable of posting an OPS over .800, which has value considering how cheaply they may come in drafts next year.

Anthony Rizzo – The 23-year-old held his own this year, with a .285/.342/.463 line. He hit 15 homers in just over half a year, suggesting that he could approach 30 homers as soon as next year. Judging by his minor league stats, he definitely has room for upside. I’m optimistic on him next year, so long as he doesn’t catch the Hosmer slump…

  1. k_rocccc says:
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    I believe in Edwin. His swing isn’t as long as it once was, it’s much shorter and compact allowing him to get to balls he couldn’t before. He didn’t hit for an incredibly high average either, and has always had the power. Plus ever since not having to worry about playing defense at 3rd either he’s taken off. And like you said, his walk rate improved also. Could be a better story than Granderson.

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @k_rocccc, Those are both good points. I think that he will maintain some improvement over his career averages, but if his swing was the main cause of his success, then that would be more repeatable than most other reasons. Also, I’ll admit that I don’t know how much playing at different positions affects health, but it’s possible that him playing at an easier position will keep him healthier than the 500 plate appearances I gave him.

  2. JT says:
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    Told a fellow league mate to ditch Encarnacion preseason in favor of Teixeira. Surprised to be so wrong. I have Votto and Fielder in a keeper. I know I should be happy about that but I’m antsy to move Fielder and I don’t know why. Somebody talk me down from the ledge.

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @JT, Yeah you’re pretty set with those two. Fielder is an elite player and one of the safest bets to reach a .900+ OPS. Since you already have Votto, I could see trading him for an elite player to fill a hole elsewhere, but I wouldn’t trade him for anything much less than a top 10 or so guy.

  3. Wake Up says:
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    Rizzo can’t hit lefties…just like Hosmer…could be a big problem…

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @Wake Up, Yeah his splits were troubling, but he’s young so there’s a chance he could improve. If he doesn’t make any progress, I agree that it could be a big problem and limit his upside.

  4. Chris says:
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    Wish I drafted LaRoche indeed. Damn you Hosmer!

    No way I’m drafting Rizzo in the first 10 rds next year (which almost certainly means I won’t have him anywhere). He’s got the Hosmer/Alvarez 2nd year syndrome written all over him.

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @Chris, Every time I think of Hosmer I unintentionally give a depressed sigh. I’d probably consider taking Rizzo right around pick 100. I really hope Rizzo doesn’t flop because he might be one of the few first basemen with realistic upside next year. Yes, Hosmer still has upside too, but… sigh…

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