Here is the completion of my top 24 first basemen for 2009.
12. Carlos Pena, 31, Tampa Bay Rays – There was a group of people that believed Pena would be a flop after his huge 2007 season. After his first half, they were looking spot on, but he became a catalyst for the Rays’ second half run en route to a 20 home run performance. Pena is your regular WYSIWYG kind of guy and you can just about bet on .250/30/100 for the foreseeable future. OBP leaguers give Pena a boost with his stellar walk rate increasing his value markedly. Pena is the kind of guy that is skipped over round after round because there isn’t much perceived upside with him, but 2007 proved that he can get on a roll and have a top tier season.
11. Derrek Lee, 33, Chicago Cubs – EVERY capsule about Lee this season immediately references 2005 and I’m afraid I can’t break the trend. That season is now clearly an outlier that will never be reached again. He might still have another 30-home run outburst in his bat, but realistically he’s a mid-20s home run hitter with big average and big runs & RBIs totals. He used to be a perennial double-digit basestealer, but his past two full seasons have yielded just six and eight, respectively. Still, you like the added steals from an unexpected source. Lee’s name usually combines with memories of 2005 to take him off the board well before he should so make sure you avoid that pitfall and don’t pass up better production with lesser names.
10. Joey Votto, 25, Cincinnati Reds – He had a Derrek Lee-lite season last year with depressed totals in runs scored & driven in thanks to his spot in the lineup and a lesser lineup than Lee’s Cubs. He actually bounced all around the lineup, but the 7-hole was his home most often. He will assuredly move up this season which will allow him to be the full version of Lee, but likely cheaper since he isn’t as well known… yet. What makes him better than Lee is that he is on the upswing while Lee has plateaued. With a great home stadium, he should still manage the mid-20s power despite such a high groundball rate (44%). The upside is a .300-90-30-100-10 season so don’t be afraid to go the extra dollar to get him.
9. Adrian Gonzalez, 27, San Diego Padres – Can you imagine if he was still in Texas? Instead he’s stuck in the anti-Coors which severely caps his ceiling. After hitting 21 home runs through June, he managed just 10 across July and August as the Padres played 32 of their 55 games at home. That said he is still a bankable 30-100 hitter with a nice batting average. He has dropped yearly against lefties which keeps him from a perennial .300, but his .280 is still quite useful. It appears as though the fences will be moved in at Petco which can only help Gonzalez in his quest to tame the stadium, but pay for 30-100 and if you get the 2008 bonus again, enjoy it.
8. Kevin Youkilis, 30, Boston Red Sox – Here is why I don’t think the 13 home run increase from Youk was a fluke: his walk rate fell by 3% and I believe a lot of that was him going for solid pitches that he ended up being able to do a lot with earlier in the count. Known as the Greek God of Walks, I think in past seasons he was waiting for the perfect pitch or just taking a walk. To wit, he had 15 home runs after a 1-0 count against just seven in 2007. I feel like another 25+ home run season rests on Youk’s shoulders as he decides whether or not he wants to take that approach again this season. As part of that lineup, his counting stats will be excellent as well. He’s one to chase.
7. Justin Morneau, 28, Minnesota Twins – The home runs per flyball rate dropped well off of his career norms so it cut into the home run totals, but the 97 runs, 129 RBIs and .300 batting average helped alleviate the sting. This is a guy that is getting better and becoming an elite producer at first base as seemingly no one notices. With three straight seasons of 590+ at-bats owners can have confidence that he will always be out there for them. With a correction in the hr/f rate, he could repeat the 2008 season with six or seven extra home runs.
6. Prince Fielder, 25, Milwaukee Brewers – The 50 home runs from 2007 was supported by an unsustainable hr/f rate (24%). The 46% clip at which he hit flyballs was unprecedented before and unmatched after which also aided the drop in home run output. Even still, Fielder is a legitimate power source nearly guaranteed for a mid-30s home run output with a real shot in any given year to get back to 50. To have full seasons of 28, 50 and 34 home runs entering your age 25 season is truly remarkable. It is not unrealistic to imagine sustainable growth, but set your expectations for 35-110 to prevent yourself from overpaying.
5. Lance Berkman, 33, Houston Astros – Don’t bring up Berkman’s name around head-to-head fantasy players. He had a disgusting .365-72-22-68-12 first half of the season followed by a dismal .252-45-7-38-6 second half. That enormous drop-off prevented Berkman from reversing a declining home run trend that started back in 2006. Don’t buy the 2008 speed for 2009, but this is still an excellent skillset capable of .300-30-100. He will offer 6-8 stolen bases and should score at least 100 runs with Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence behind him. The second half might have left a sour enough taste in your league to depress Berkman’s value relative to other studs, bid accordingly if you’re in such a league.
4. Mark Teixeira, 29, New York Yankees – He has plateaued at 30-100 since the monster 43-home run season back in 2005, but combined with a reliable .300 average and a ton runs makes him an elite commodity. Heading to New York should bode well for both the runs scored and runs driven in totals, while the new Yankee Stadium remains an unknown in terms of its affect on home runs. His new residence is likely to drive the price up, but don’t get caught up in the hysteria and treat like anything but the 4th-best first baseman in the league. It doesn’t get much more reliable than Teixeira so there is nothing wrong with making a part of your team’s foundation.
3. Ryan Howard, 29, Philadelphia Phillies – Howard is as elite as it gets when it comes to power production. The batting average has left something to be desired since the MVP campaign, but when you are getting those home run and RBI totals, it is hard to complain. A sharp drop in walk rate didn’t help much when he was in prolonged slumps, but that should return in 2009. He is quite streaky so H2H-leaguers beware when bidding. The fact of the matter is he has 58, 47 and 48 home runs in his past three seasons with a ton of RBIs and about 100 runs scored per as well. All of that without being a complete liability in batting average helps make Howard one of the best of the game.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 26, Detroit Tigers – If I put Cabrera ahead of Albert Pujols, it would look like little more than homersim, so I avoided the temptation. Well that and I’m not entirely sold that he belongs there so I wasn’t going to do it just for the sake of doing it. He absolutely dominated the league in the second half of 2008 and it clear that he is fully acclimated to the American League now. What is the ceiling for this guy? He has increased his home run and RBI totals yearly since 2006 and he could be headed for another jump after last year’s 37/127 effort. Make no mistake; he is a late first round talent for 2009.
1. Albert Pujols, 29, St. Louis Cardinals – Who can you say about Pujols that hasn’t been said? He is just so amazing year after year. He hasn’t put up especially gaudy home run and RBI titles the past two seasons, but the insane batting average he posts yearly separates him from the pack. He hasn’t hit below .330 since 2002 including last year’s .357. I love Hanley Ramirez as much as anyone else, but I have no qualms with making Pujols the #1 overall pick in a scratch draft. It is frightening to think that he could actually improve on last year and get back to 2006 levels. Letting him go any deeper than fourth overall is a crime and at fourth, that owner is getting a steal.