OpinionJanuary 17, 2009

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2 Up, 2 Down – First Base Edition

By Michael Marinakis

Welcome to the second edition of the 2009 Two Up, Two Down series. In this edition I will be discussing two of my sleepers and busts at the first base position. I fought with myself quite a bit over who I would use in this article. The first base position is very solid up and down this year and there aren’t many players I see as being drafted too early or too late. It is probably the deepest position this year, and by a fair margin. Nonetheless, there are still some solid options to be had in the later rounds, along with a couple players which I think are being overvalued early on.


Paul Konerko – White Sox
Many people will look at the decline in numbers over the last few years and falsely assume that Konerko is done. Paulie dealt with nagging injuries for much of the 2008 season which seemed to sap his ability to drive the ball early in the season. After hitting just .215 with 9 home runs in 295 ABs through July, he returned to form in August and September. During the final two months of the season, he hit .294 with 13 home runs in just 143 at bats. It seems that Konerko may have been trying to play through injury until he went on the DL in June, leading to his horrible start.

Along with the nagging injuries that Konerko experienced throughout the season, part of his poor performance before August can be attributed to a bout of bad luck. Despite a line drive percentage of 21.5%, on par with his career norm, Konerko posted a BABIP of only .247, almost 40 points lower than his career average of .285. He also struck out on a pace consistent with previous years and actually posted the highest walk rate of his career, both indicators that his average should rebound.

While it would be silly to expect a return to his peak years, Konerko is still only 33 and capable of providing value where he is being drafted. Given a relatively healthy season, Konerko could outproduce where he’s being drafted (in the late 13th round, around 165th overall). I expect a rebound to a line around .273-80-31-90.

Joey Votto – Reds
Joey Votto is one of my favorite sleepers going into this season. In his first full year in the majors, Votto was a pleasant surprise to owners, putting up a .297-69-24-84-7 line. At only 25 years old he’s on the upside of his career and should only improve going into 2009. He also has the benefit of hitting in the Great American Ballpark, a hitters’ haven.

All the numbers point to Votto being as good or better than last year. His solid BB%, K% and LD% show that Votto is already on the path to becoming a perennial .300 hitter. His HR/FB of 18% shows good power and was consistent throughout the first and second half of the year. The only thing holding him back from 30 home run power at this point is his high GB% and subsequently low FB%. If he can elevate the ball a bit more, we could see a power spike. Taking a look at his minor league stats, we see that the sometimes nimble Votto has the ability to become a legitimate base-stealing contributor. He successfully stole 41 bases in about two minor league seasons’ worth of at-bats. While he probably won’t ever steal 20 in a season, it’s not unreasonable to think he could hit double digit steals as he gets more comfortable in the majors.

Next year I expect a Votto to continue his growth and improve on his 2008 stats. Right now he’s being drafted around 91st overall on average. I have him down for a line of .303-80-27-90-11 making him a solid value in the 7th-8th round.


Lance Berkman – Astros
I can’t imagine this will be all that popular of a pick, but in choosing my downs, I had a difficult time finding first basemen that I thought were being drafted too early. Berkman, being taken early second round (average 15th overall), was one of the few that seemed to fit this bill. After a monster first half last year, Berkman was looking like he would put up a career year at the age of 32. Anyone who traded for him at the break, however, would have been sorely disappointed as he managed to hit only .252 with 7 home runs the rest of the season.

Berkman’s amazing first half was, in reality, driven by a fluky BABIP (.390) and a HR/FB about 4% higher than his career numbers. While it was unlikely he would stay that lucky throughout the season, he seemed to experience an exact opposite in the second half. After the break he posted a BABIP 25 points below his career average and a paltry 9% HR/FB, 10% lower than his career average. The two halves are pretty good examples of the extremes a batter can face at the hands of lady luck.

At 33 years old, Berkman is on the downside of his career. The jump in stolen bases seems like an outlier to me, as he had never stolen more than nine in any other year. While still a great fantasy asset, I think his monster first half numbers are pushing drafters to choose him earlier than he should be. I expect him to post a line around .295-95-30-100-8, which I would be much more comfortable with in the third round.

Derrek Lee – Cubs
Lee never really seemed to recover from the wrist injury he suffered in early 2006. He has remained a solid contributor, but is nowhere near the fantasy force that he was back in 2005. For now, it seems his name and team are the only things that have prevented him from a big drop down draft boards. His wrist has had plenty of time to fully heal and an inability to return to elite power levels forces us to accept him for what he’s become.

A quick look behind the stats shows that his HR/FB has decreased each of the last three years, leaving Lee with the skill set of a low 20s home run hitter. The drop in average can also be attributed to regression more than it can be attributed to bad luck. The years of .300+ average are behind him and he should stay around the .290 level. We can also say with relative certainty that the years of double digit stolen bases are in the past. At 33, he has started to slow up over the last few years and expecting a rebound there would be unwise.

All-in-all, we should expect basically an identical season to his 2008. The Cubs offense should help to maintain solid run and RBI contributions, but I would temper any expectations for improvement from last year. I think a .290-90-21-90-6 line is a pretty reasonable expectation, which is not worth the 6th round pick where he’s being taken on average (69th overall).

*On a side note, I project Youkilis to put up similar numbers to Lee this year and feel that he’s being even more overvalued at 44th overall, but because he’s most likely being drafted as a third baseman, I decided to leave him off my list.*

Michael Marinakis is a 22-year-old unemployed fantasy addict. You can find him roaming the Cafe all day where he posts as GiantsFan14 .
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