Welcome back to another season of the “Two Up, Two Down” series where we discuss two players from each position that we feel will outproduce their draft spot, and two players who we feel will disappoint where they’re being drafted. After kicking the series off with catchers, we’re moving on to first basemen. Like catchers, most first basemen are going right around where I would expect. There are a few guys who look to be undervalued, but for the most part there isn’t a huge difference in my first basemen rankings and current MDPs.
After a solid rookie campaign that saw Davis hit 19 homeruns as a 23-year-old, Ike started off his sophomore season on a tear posting a .302-20-7-25-0 line over only 149 plate appearances. Regrettably, a potential breakout season for the Mets’ young first baseman was cut short when a freak collision with David Wright put him on the disabled list in mid-May and ended up causing him to miss the rest of the season. Davis has reportedly healed fully from the bone bruise on his ankle and has been cleared to resume workouts in spring training. The amount of time Davis missed and the possibility of lingering effects should be taken into account when drafting Davis, but the ability he showed before the injury provides a strong case for optimism.
However, a quick glance at his underlying stats shows that just extrapolating his partial 2011 season to a full season of at bats would be a little too optimistic. Over those 148 plate appearances, Davis’ batting average was buoyed by a .344 BABIP. While that may seem very high, Davis has posted high BABIPs throughout the minor leagues and has maintained that into his brief major league career. Still, regression should be expected, probably close to his 2010 BABIP of .321. As long as he maintains his improvement in strikeout percentage, that would put him in line for around a .280 batting average. Another cause for concern was a 17.1% HR/FB in 2011, up from 12% in 2010. Even with the walls coming in at Citi Field, it’s unlikely that Davis will sustain that kind of home run rate. However, with physical maturation and the park changes, we could see an improvement of his 2010 rate to 13-14% HR/FB which over the course of a full season would mean around 24 home runs. Hitting in the middle of the line up will provide plenty of opportunity to pad his counting stats making him a pretty reasonable option in the middle portion of the draft. My rankings have him at 95th overall, which is quite a bit higher than his current MDP of 165. If you can get him at any point after the 10th round, you’re getting pretty good value.
Smoak has been an afterthought in drafts so far this year. With a MDP of only 303, he’s going undrafted in many leagues. As recently as 2010, Smoak was ranked the 13th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and while he hasn’t lived up to his expectations so far in the majors, there are reasons to believe that he could still be a productive player. In an article by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, Stone discusses the mental impact of the death of Smoak’s father, and the more tangible impact of two thumb injuries that Smoak played through. Using this information, Jeff Sullivan at Lookout Landing created an injury window in order to differentiate between Smoak’s healthy stats and his stats while injured.
2011, Healthy: .270/.360/.470 (367 plate appearances)
2011, Injured: .130/.213/.176 (122 plate appearances)
Looking at these numbers paints a different picture of Smoak’s 2011 campaign. Over a decent sample while healthy, he posted a .270 average and .840 OPS, both solid numbers for a 24-year-old in his sophomore season. A year closer to his prime and just passing the magical 800 plate appearance mark in the majors, Smoak still has the potential to live up to the lofty expectations put on today’s top prospects. In deeper leagues, there are quite a few first basemen with much less potential going before Smoak at a time where high risk, high reward guys pay off the most.
Ever since his miserable 2008 season, there have been yearly discussions about Konerko’s imminent collapse. Every year since, however, he has proved the doubters wrong, including a monster 2010 season that saw him hit .312 with 39 home runs. While his power output looks legitimate, it’s unlikely that Konerko will be able to sustain such a high average. Over his last two seasons his average has been buoyed by a .326 and .304 BABIP. These look unsustainable as a slow running 36-year-old with a career .286 BABIP, and when those numbers regress he’ll likely revert back to a .280 hitter and lose a lot of his value in the process. He will still likely hit close to 30 home runs and drive in around 100 runs, but he’s mostly a two-category player at this point and a MDP of 45 is much too high for a guy like that nearing the end of his career. I’d be much more comfortable taking him in the seventh or eighth round which means it’s unlikely I’ll be owning him in any leagues.
A bit of a stretch, but I can’t find a single other first baseman that I feel is overvalued based on my rankings and MDPs. Gonzalez’ current MDP is seventh overall, ahead of guys like Votto, Upton, Fielder, and Gonzalez among other potential first and early second round picks. After the move from Petco, many expected huge power from Gonzalez in Fenway. Instead he put up his worst home run total since his first full major league season in 2006. However, all was not lost for Gonzalez owners, as he made up for his power loss by hitting .338, a full 45 points higher than his career average. The loss of power and gain in batting average can be mostly attributed to a rather large swing of fly balls to ground balls. Ground balls are more likely to end up as base hits than fly balls, and that can be seen in an increase in Gonzalez’ xBABIP which in turn lead to a higher average. However, Gonzalez’ actual BABIP of .380 blew even his increased xBABIP out of the water and is completely unsustainable. When it regresses back toward his xBABIP, his average should return to the .300 range.
In order for Gonzalez to be worth that seventh overall pick, he would vastly need to improve upon his power numbers from last year. While it may seem completely reasonable to expect that, his huge drop in FB% and subsequent increase in GB% could be due to a change in his swing. While it is likely that his FB% will regress back toward his career average, the amount of regression could depend on if Gonzalez makes any adjustments heading into 2012. More fly balls will likely lead to more home runs which could make up for the regression in batting average, however, more fly balls will also lead to a lower batting average as they are less likely to fall for hits. It would take a spike in HR/FB for Gonzalez to make up for his lower FB% without hurting his gains in average and while it’s possible we could see some improvement there, expecting too much above his recent and career levels would be a mistake.
I fully expect Gonzalez to put up stud-like numbers in 2012, however, I don’t expect him to put up numbers worthy of taking a first baseman in the mid-first round. The risk that his average drops and his home run production doesn’t increase is enough to drop him to 15th overall in my rankings. That’s not a huge discrepancy from seventh overall, but this early in the draft you want your players to be the best you can get, and there are a number of players who I feel will provide more value as first and early second round picks.
Michael Marinakis is a 26-year-old Giants fan who took 2011 off from fantasy baseball to bask in the glory of the World Series victory. He's now back in the game and looking forward to another year of baseball obsession. You can find him on the forums where he posts as GiantsFan14 or on Twitter @FBC_GiantsFan14.
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