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Fantasy Baseball 2021: First base preview

Scott Pianowski
·7 min read
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We’ve seen peaks and valleys with the first base position over the years. It used to be the berry patch, the fun place to shop, but in the late 2010s it got a little depressing — it’s no fun watching Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera run out the clock.

Last year, a mixed bag. Sure, the two MVPs were first baseman — take a bow, Freddie Freeman and Jose Abreu (two players who have been underrated most of their careers; I remember those lovely days when Eric Hosmer was the market’s preference to Freeman).

[Positional Previews: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

But there was plenty of red ink. Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso had notable falloffs. Max Muncy and Carlos Santana couldn’t top the Mendoza. Miguel Sano struck out every time up (editor’s note: mild exaggeration). Josh Bell navigated a lost season.

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At least first base held up reasonably well against the third basemen. When you look at the Top 30 corners in current NFBC ADP (the most efficient ADP market we have), the distribution between first base and third base is roughly the same.

First base is not the most important fantasy position to solve — that will always be starting pitcher — but it’s something to be mindful of at all points of the draft. You don’t want to scrimp here. You would like one set-and-forget guy in a single-digit round for sure, and you’ll need additional reinforcements. Here’s a drafting guide to get you started.

Players I’ll draft proactively

— I know DJ LEMAHEU is a second baseman by trade, but Andy Behrens left him alone in the 2B primer, so I’ll jump in here for some DJL chat. It’s always fun when someone leaves Colorado and gets better, which LeMahieu has. He’s a god when it comes to contact and hard-hit contact, and his opposite-field tilt plays well in his home ballpark. The Yankees lineup will always offer buoyancy — LeMahieu will see a high rate of RBI chances, and he’ll score liberally as his talented teammates drive him in. This lineup will cycle around more than most teams. And there are plenty of meatball artists hanging around the AL East — don’t navigate those pitching rosters without the requisite safety eyewear. I look at Boston’s rotation and gasp. Baltimore’s the only Blutarsky (0.0 playoff odds) on the Fangraphs playoff projections.

I love that LeMahieu covers three positions — first, second, third. Ideally, I’ll assemble a roster that can play “positionless offense,” collecting excess flexibility towards the goal of starting my best offensive team with minimal defensive-slot restriction. And as we enter an uncertain season with Covid-19 still a potential factor in things, a roster of Legos becomes even more essential. When I’m setting a Friday secondary lineup in an NFBC format, I want as much flexibility, as much liquidity, as I can get.

[Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

LUKE VOIT now has 213 games with the Yankees, with this grab: .279/.372/.543, 57 home runs, 157 RBIs. He’s been the player Giancarlo Stanton was supposed to be, for crying out loud. But the market still gives you an affordable Voit draft price (Yahoo ADP: 54.9; NFBC is seven picks cheaper), and for what reason, exactly? Because Voit wasn’t a touted prospect? Because he was a late bloomer? An underrated player on the Yankees, imagine that. Voit is the second-base version of Whit Merrifield; the room allowing a juicy discount because it’s still anchored to its priors. Sometimes the smart guys in the room hold a grudge over a story, merely because they didn’t see it coming. Take what they give you.

Affordable values to snap up later

CHRISTIAN WALKER is another late-bloomer without a pedigree, and Arizona’s become one of the anonymous teams in the majors, one of the three tomato cans set up for the Dodgers and Padres to knock down. Now that the Snakes embrace Humidor Life, their lineup is ignored for the first half of a fantasy draft. I like that Walker’s sophomore follow-up was roughly the same as his breakout — maybe it wasn’t a loud validation, but it was a validation. Outside the Yahoo Top 200, this is one of the cheapest 25-85 seasons you can grab.

Arizona Diamondbacks' Christian Walker
Christian Walker represents a late-round value at first base. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

— If the Angels would emphatically promise us JARED WALSH is playing every day, his ADP would probably jump 50 slots in a week. Last year’s fun ride (.293/.324/.646) was supported by his hard-hit metrics, and it’s possible he might bat in front of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, the catbird seat. The presence of Pujols could keep Walsh in at least a partial platoon, so you’re inheriting a chore when you draft Walsh, the need to grind the daily and weekly schedule. This can be especially pesky with a west-coast player because you might not have the Angels lineup in time to make your ideal decision. But the draft price is so cheap and even if it’s a platoon, at least it’s the heavy side of it.

It’s a sin to see Trout stuck on three career playoff games. Do the right thing, Angels. Uncle Albert shouldn’t be one of your primary guys.

C.J. CRON played just 13 games last year, so wipe the numbers out. He’s bounced around to five teams in five years, despite a playable .485 slugging since 2018. Colorado still has that tinkering problem, the need to bench guys off the illusion of a 2-for-11 “slump,” but it’s still plausible Cron gets 550 at-bats for the first time in his career. And if that happens, you’re probably getting 30 homers. Cron’s ADP is going to correct after his late signing, but enjoy his “buried in rankings” discount for at least another couple of weeks.

Players I will likely fade

VLADIMIR GUERRERO JR. is now a first baseman, perhaps a layover before he’s a DH. Okay, maybe not. He’s reportedly lost a fair amount of weight, and although the "Best Shape of His Life" line has become a cheap joke on social media over the years, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being in better shape is generally a good idea. And maybe Kid Guerrero can finally relax and settle into his career as he starts Year 3, finally free of the bloated initial expectations that were always unfair, if not unrealistic.

But Guerrero’s Yahoo ADP is still inside the Top 50, even after a .269/.336/.442 start to his career. You are still asked to draft Guerrero at what he could become, not what he’s been through two years; you have to bake some improvement into the ticket. Anyone can see a plausible path for a step forward and I expect Guerrero to be a good, perhaps great, player in time. But this is not the way I draft, trying to elbow others out of the way for Fun Picks. I’m eager to jump into that Toronto lineup, but I’d like to do so in a more value-driven way.

— Joe Maddon is long gone in Chicago, and so is ANTHONY RIZZO’s 2B cheat. That doesn’t bother me so much, but last year’s .222/.342/.414 slash does (his Baseball Savant profile has too much blue in it; he simply didn’t hit the ball hard last year). Rizzo should thank slumping Kris Bryant for keeping the heat off.

Rizzo has led the National League in HBPs three times in six years, and while it hasn’t turned into missed time, I always feel this kind of stuff should be included in the risk file. I take no satisfaction in a Rizzo fade, as he’s an open empath who’s very easy to like. It’s just business. We only want the numbers. I’d prefer my initial corner pick be someone who’s still on the up escalator.