First base is generally one of the deepest positions in fantasy baseball drafts, and 2011 is no different. For owners playing in a one-1B, no-CI league, it makes sense to wait a bit on the position, as there are great options throughout the top 12-15 players. But what if your league is a bit deeper? That’s where “2 Up, 2 Down” comes in.
Welcome back to the Cafe’s annual “2 Up, 2 Down” series, where Cafe members highlight two players per position expected to outperform projected draft slot, as well as two players that should not be drafted at their typical rank.
Adam Lind, Blue Jays
Let’s get the elephant on the page out of the way immediately: Lind isn’t going to qualify at 1B in every league. He played just 11 games at the position in 2010, which means some leagues will list Lind as an OF only, or even just a DH/UT. Since I didn’t find much value in the first 15 first basemen off the board, let’s use this opportunity to tackle one of 2010’s most disappointing players before we delve into our other 1B picks.
Lind posted a monster line in 2009, batting .305 with 35 HRs and 114 RBIs. Most fantasy owners thought he was destined for greatness, making Lind a top-50 pick in many leagues across the rotosphere. Not only was it not meant to be, but it apparently was not meant to be even close. A solid April (.286 with four HRs) turned into an awful May (.174 with four HRs) which bled into a disastrous June (.156 with one HR). At that point of the season, most sane fantasy owners gave up on Lind and labeled him a bust.
The Blue Jay DH roared back with 13 HRs and a .273 average int he second half. Was it .305 with awesome power? No. But it was something, and considering it came at a time when many stat-heads had already made up their minds about Lind’s 2010 season, the solid second half could represent great value in your 2011 drafts.
Another .305/35/114 season would blow Prince Fielder’s 2010 line out of the water, and Fielder is a second-round pick according to MDP numbers. Lind checks in as a 15th rounder. Guess which player I’d rather have at the price.
Derrek Lee, Orioles
The veteran first baseman has aged well, throwing up good performances in 2007 and 2008 for the Cubs before experiencing a value spike in 2009. The big question heading into 2010 was: “Could he sustain it?” The resounding answer was no.
Lee saw a big decrease in hit percentage and contact rate in the first half of 2010, leading to his .227 average through 300 at-bats. The good news is that he saw a rebound in the second half, hitting .300 while maintaining power.
Part of his downturn can be blamed on an injured thumb that Lee played through the entire season. As he said at his introductory press conference with the Baltimore Orioles, the thumb should be 100 percent by spring training.
At 35, Lee’s best days are behind him, but his glove will keep him in the lineup on a day-to-day basis while bat contributes across the board. He may be down, but he’s not out.
Owners are paying about a top-100 pick on Aubrey Huff on average, and the San Francisco Giant hit .290 with 26 HRs and is just a year younger than Lee. I love the new Baltimore Oriole as a CI pick in the 200s, where his MDP currently rests, as I can see him posting about 95 to 100 percent of Huff’s 2010 line.
Joey Votto, Reds
I’m going to be upfront with you — I’m a big Votto fan. He was a big reason I won a 2010 fantasy title in my local league. How could I possibly be down on a young guy hitting over .300 with 35-plus homers? Did you just read the section above about Adam Lind’s 2010 season?
Granted, I don’t think Votto will experience the same swoon that Lind agonized through a year ago. The Cincinnati first baseman has a little more experience than Lind did, he has all the talent in the world, and he’s at an age where he may be entering his prime.
However, there are reasons not to take Votto in the top five of your draft, which is exactly where he’s going according to MDP numbers. Last year was his first huge season — don’t you want to see a repeat before you pay a Miguel Cabrera-level price for the guy?
Votto’s huge average was fueled both by an elevated hit rate and a ridiculously high .347 average against righties. When facing southpaws, Votto’s average actually regressed to .283, its lowest level since his rookie season. If Votto comes back to Earth just a tad, he could wind up with a .306 average, 34 HRs and 108 RBIs. That was Kendry Morales’ line in 2009, and I didn’t see anyone knocking down the doors to make him a top-five pick.
Sure, Votto may be every bit the world beater and could easily be on his way to perennial appearances on the cover of fantasy magazines everywhere. However, he could also be in for a regression after his first big performance. Let someone else pay the premium for the production while you take advantage of the depth at 1B.
Billy Butler, Royals
At 24 years old, Butler’s skill and fantasy value has nowhere to go but up. He’s hit .300 or better in both of his full seasons with the Kansas City Royals and combined for 36 HRs in those two years. What’s not to love? How about those 36 HRs?
It’s about time for Butler to start flexing some major-league power if he wants to become a valuable commodity in fantasy leagues. After smacking 21 HRs in 2009, the Kansas City first baseman/DH dropped to only 15 HRs in 2010. He didn’t get hot late either, splitting his production nearly evenly between the two halves of the season.
For this, fantasy owners are spending late-sixth and early-seventh round picks on Butler, making him the final 1B selected in a tier that includes players like Kendry Morales and Paul Konerko. About three rounds later, you’ll find Aubrey Huff. Another four to six rounds later, and we’re getting into the Michael Cuddyer-Adam Lind section of the draft.
What if the power doesn’t come in 2011? Butler owners will have spent a quality pick on a slightly better James Loney. Remember the hullabaloo that surrounded Loney after his first solid season? A few years later, the Los Angeles first baseman has become a fantasy afterthought. Butler is better than Loney, but is he really that much better that we should be drafting him in the top 75? I’m not sure he is.
If I miss out on the top first basemen and Butler is staring at me in the seventh round, I’ll fill another position and take another 1B 100 picks later that presents a much better value. I hope you can withstand Butler-mania in 2011 and do the same.
R.J. White is a fantasy blogger at the sports site FanHouse. Check out his work both here and there, and feel free to talk to him in the forums, where he posts under the name daullaz.
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