First base has always been a position of depth in fantasy baseball, and 2008 is no different. From the fantasy beasts, to the solid contributors, to the blossoming youngsters, it’s never too hard to find a guy that can provide good production from your first base slot. In this edition of “Two Up, Two Down ‘08” I will discuss my thoughts on two guys I feel are being overvalued and two guys being undervalued.
In preparing to write this article, my main goal was to pick guys that weren’t being talked about. It would have been easy to pick guys like Richie Sexson or Carlos Delgado to have down years. Both showed a clear decline last year and are in the declining phase of their careers. On the flip side, I considered writing about Derrek Lee, but most people are aware of his returning power in the second half after he regained his wrist strength. So without further ado, my under the radar two up and two down picks for first base in 2008…
Conor Jackson- Diamondbacks
Jackson is going widely ignored in many fantasy leagues this year, going undrafted in all but the larger leagues. Looking a bit deeper into his .284 average and 15 home runs last year (in 415 ABs), I see quite a bit of upside which deserves to be drafted. At only 25 years old he’s still peaking and will most likely be batting in the fourth or fifth hole of an offense full of young potential. Combining a high walk rate (11.3%) with a high contact percentage (88%), he shows the skill set of a true .300 hitter and his growing power can only help him reach that plateau. A more broad view of his 2007 season shows a jump in both FB% and HR/FB, both very good indicators of growing power. Dissecting his season a bit more we see month to month growth:
While it is quite unlikely that he can sustain his final pace, his power growth throughout the season shows that given a full season of at bats, Jackson could have 25 home run upside. Given his position in the Diamondbacks’ lineup, he has the potential to have a season similar to Adrian Gonzalez in 2006. The downside, however, is that a healthy Chad Tracy will steal at-bats and lessen his production. Still, I see 500 ABs with a .290-75-20-80 line and .300-25 upside.
Nick Swisher- White Sox
Not so far down on draft boards this year we find Nick Swisher, who was traded in the off-season to the White Sox. You couldn’t ask for a much better change of scenery for Swisher, who saw his home run total plummet from 35 in 2006, to 22 in 2007. Oakland’s McAfee Coliseum is notoriously a pitcher’s park which, according to ESPN.com, caused a 32% loss in home runs from the league average while U.S. Cellular field gave a 22% boost. Applying these numbers to Swisher, his 22 HR season in Oakland turns into a 34 HR season in Chicago. It’s not quite as easy as just saying that he would have hit 12 more home runs in 2007 had he been with Chicago, but needless to say, the move should provide a solid boost to Swisher’s power numbers.
Swisher’s loss of power last year is somewhat difficult to explain, his FB% remained high, but not nearly as many left the park and his HR/FB sustained a large drop. This is partially due to the league-wide power outage last year, but I feel it can be somewhat attributed to a lack of protection in Oakland’s injury plagued lineup. Hitting behind Orlando Cabrera and in front of Thome and Konerko puts him in one of the best situations he’s ever hit in, and given the added protection I expect his HR/FB to bounce back closer to his 2006 level.
Given the new stadium and lineup, I expect big things from Swisher this year along the lines of .265-100-35-100 with 40 HR upside.
Travis Hafner- Indians
Many people look at Hafner’s 2007 season and see it as an aberration in what has been a solid career. It is widely believed that it was only a down year and he is due to bounce back strong. However, for the first time in his career he played a full season, but even with 90 extra at-bats, he managed to somehow hit 18 home runs less than his 2006 total. That kind of drop-off cannot be attributed to a simple fluke, and taking a look at his batted ball numbers, it seems the issue was clearly in Hafner’s swing. Sizeable drops in both his LD% and FB% mean a huge increase in the amount of ground balls Hafner hit, and for a man with Hafner’s lack of speed, that many ground balls can be an average killer. This, combined with a large drop in his HR/FB numbers lead to his disastrous season and make me wary that the 30-year-old is past his peak and will never fully rebound. There is no comfort in looking at Hafner’s second half where he showed no improvement and put up nearly identical numbers to his first half.
The plus side is that his high OBP and spot in a great lineup will keep his runs and RBI totals up despite the decline. Look for something between his 2006 and 2007 seasons, along the lines of .280-90-30-105.
Carlos Pena- Rays
Choosing my second down year candidate was tough as I don’t see all that much downside in most of the top first basemen. I chose James Loney at first as I feel his monstrous end to the season is leading people to jump the gun on his ability to hit .300 or 20 HRs. Seeing as how Loney is mostly being drafted as a late game option, however, I decided instead to go with Carlos Pena. While very few people are expecting him to repeat his absolutely huge 2007 season, I think he is still being overvalued come draft day.
The regression begins with Pena’s sudden increase in power. Rarely do 29-year-olds break out the way he did in 2007, hitting 46 HRs in only 490 at-bats. Before 2007, Pena hit only a combined 76 HR in 1685 career at bats. As I wrote earlier, FB% and HR/FB are good indicators of how power is achieved, and applying this to Pena is where I become concerned. While an increase in FB% would show a different approach at the plate, an increase in HR/FB is more of an indicator of outperforming his skill set. Taking a quick look at his numbers shows his 2007 FB% at career norms, but a jump of approximately 10% in his HR/FB rate over his career level of 19%. Seeing as this jump occurred in Pena’s age 29 season, it seems unlikely that this is normal player growth. While it is possible that the move to Tampa and the opportunity to play full time allowed for this growth, I think it is safe to assume that his HR rate will regress towards his career level.
A power regression will inevitably take some batting average with it and I feel confident in saying that he won’t hit .282 again. With a contact percentage of around 70% his average should regress back toward his career number of .252, I expect something in the .260-.265 range. With some growth in Tampa Bay’s young offense, his RBI and run totals should remain relatively solid. I see a line of .265-95-33-105 for Pena in 2008, still a great year but, some definite regression from his lofty 2007 totals. Actually, that line seems somewhat familiar… almost like I’ve seen something very similar recently… something that is being drafted 4-5 rounds later…
Michael Marinakis is a 22-year-old fantasy baseball addict without a job. You can find him roaming the Cafe all day where he posts as GiantsFan14 and laments on how little run support Lincecum and Cain will get this year.
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