Why do you play fantasy baseball?
Is it simply for entertainment? Are you trying to win money? Whatever the reason, just like with real-life baseball, we should be doing everything in our power to come out on top. Regardless of if the prize is money or bragging rights, being able to win a fantasy baseball league is a great feeling!
Right now, a lot of the content with fantasy baseball is with regards to category leagues. That being said, I bet that a deep dive into the population of fantasy baseball players would reveal that a majority play in points league.
In category leagues, you have to worry about building a balanced team that can hit the “80th percentile target” in each category. For points leagues, though, you simply can draft the team that will accumulate the most points, similar to football. It’s very simple, and, in a way, adds an extra layer of entertainment value.
With that addressed, it’s time to analyze how players are going to produce from a points league perspective. For the most part, standard rankings are done based on our intuition and confidence in each player. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, I simply prefer to look at how a player is going to produce in specific statistics, rather than trying to solve the whole puzzle.
That led to me creating my own manual projections to establish a ranking system. These may not be in the exact order I prefer, like standard rankings, but I wanted to keep needed objectiveness to go with the subjective touch of manual projections. More information on the projections can be found in the introductory post of this series.
Today, we’ll be focusing on the first base position. In points leagues, this position takes a step up, as it’s filled with players with power and who walk; the lack of stolen bases matters much less. In the end, you could aim for an elite player, or wait out what is a relatively deep position. What will you do? That’s all up to you; there is no perfect strategy!
So, which first basemen should be targeting or avoiding? Which first basemen get a boost or drop-off in points leagues as compared to category leagues. Let us dive into it!
Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant
Category League First Base Projections & Tiers HERE
2022 Points League First Base Rankings
|1||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||TOR||1B||535|
|7||Jake Cronenworth||SD||1B, 2B, SS||396|
|13||Max Muncy||LAD||1B, 2B||357|
|15||DJ LeMahieu||NYY||1B, 2B, 3B||402|
|16||Ty France||SEA||1B, 2B||336|
|20||Ryan Mountcastle||BAL||1B, OF||321|
|23||Lamonte Wade Jr.||SF||1B, OF||313|
|24||Jonathan Schoop||DET||1B, 2B||308|
|27||Alex Kiriloff||MIN||1B, OF||284|
|29||Yandy Diaz||TB||1B, 3B||279|
|32||Tyler Stephenson||CIN||C, 1B||265|
|34||Wilmer Flores||SF||1B, 2B, 3B||260|
|35||Jurickson Profar||SD||1B, OF||257|
|39||Pavin Smith||ARI||1B, OF||235|
|40||Yoshi Tsutsugo||PIT||1B, OF||219|
|41||Darin Ruf||SF||1B, OF||208|
Who Gets a Boost In Points Leagues?
|Player||Team||Roto Rnk||Pts Rnk||Rnk Change|
|Lamonte Wade Jr.||SF||26||23||-3|
- At any point, Carlos Santana could lose his job, as the Royals have multiple first base prospects waiting in the wings. For the time being, he may offer slight value in points leagues due to tremendous plate discipline and contact skills. That being said, his chase rate (22.5%) spiked last year, leading to a decreased walk rate (13.1%). Can he get back to being his old self in 2022? The ballpark and age (35) aren’t in his favor, though you never know!
- In category leagues, Yuli Gurriel mainly qualifies under “empty batting average”; he’s a one-category producer for the most part. In points leagues, however, he’s a legitimate starting option. Not only did he continue to make a lot of contact (11.2% K) last year, but he also nearly double his walk rate (9.8% BB) by swinging at far fewer pitches outside the zone (26.4%). If that sustains, he could easily finish as a top-ten player at the position.
- As we touched on recently, Josh Bell‘s underlying batted-ball metrics signal massive power upside if he can get back to hitting more fly balls. I’m more willing to take that chance in this format, as his floor is higher thanks to strong plate skills (11.4% BB, 17.8% K in 2022). Rhys Hoskins, meanwhile, is bumped up thanks to a double-digit walk rate with a very strong power projection.
- One of my favorite players to watch in baseball is actually Jake Cronenworth. He might not be overly flashy or exciting, but he consistently takes quality at-bats, plays all over the field, and is an incredibly balanced player. This doesn’t get captured greatly in category leagues, as he doesn’t provide a lot of stolen bases, nor elite production in any category. However, the overall balanced skill set he has, along with his ability to make an exceptional amount of contact (14% K) raise him in points leagues. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for Ty France, though he remains more of a volume-accumulating player who can move around your lineup based on his corner infield + middle infield eligibility.
Whose Value Decreases In Points Leagues?
|Player||Team||Roto Rnk||Pts Rnk||Rnk Change|
- No first baseman takes a bigger hit from adjusting from a category league to a points league than Ryan Mountcastle. It’s very hard for a hitter with a below-average walk rate (7% BB) and a high strikeout rate (27% K) to provide significant value in points leagues. The worst part? Based on his extremely high chase rate (38.1% BB) and previous track record, all projections have the walk rate coming down further. The change in dimensions to Orioles Park also hurts his power, yet his sure volume statistics give him strong enough counting statistics to project to be a top-ten first baseman in category leagues. In a lot of ways, he is the microcosm of the difference between category leagues and points leagues.
- In category leagues, Jared Walsh being projected to hit .265 with 25-30 home runs and plenty of RBIs is very intriguing. Unfortunately, he also strikes out (26% K) a lot, and he isn’t elite in other categories to make up for that; there’s a little risk in plate appearance volume too due to the potential for a platoon that cannot be ignored. Regardless, he falls into the similar trap of Mountcastle in terms of not being as valuable in this format.
- Bobby Dalbec and Miguel Sano have plenty of power. Unfortunately, each may strike out over 30% of their plate appearances, which kills their value in points league. Luke Voit, meanwhile, also takes a hit due to the strikeout rate, even if it’s less of a problem than the other two.
- If Brandon Belt can get a full season’s worth of plate appearances, the ceiling becomes much higher. Based on where he’s being drafted in ESPN leagues (1B #28), he still offers surplus value. Unfortunately, that’s less of the case in points leagues than in category leagues; his extra power surge last year came with an elevated 27% strikeout rate.
- Can CJ Cron sustain his 11% walk rate from last season? Remember, this is a player who previously had a walk rate over 6% in just one season. His chase rate (30.9% chase) doesn’t indicate it will stick, though it should still hang around in the 9% range. Even with the lower projection in points league, he’s still a viable target with potentially improving plate skills, power (11.5% barrel), and a boost from playing half of his games in Colorado.
Top Target: 1B Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees
Once upon a time, Anthony Rizzo was one of the faces of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship team. In fact, in a lot of ways, he was THE face of the rebuild, considering he was the first player of their core group to play at the MLB level.
Even as recently as 2019, Rizzo posted a 140 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), which is 40% above league average. Meanwhile, he was a pillar of durability, allowing him to do well in terms of counting statistics, and he had solidified himself as one of the premier first basemen to target in fantasy leagues. Unfortunately, that isn’t how he’s viewed currently.
Since 2020, Rizzo’s power (.192 isolated power/ISO) has taken a slight step back, and his wRC+ has regressed to 109. In other words, he’s still been above the league average offensively, but when you adjust for the position he plays, that isn’t as impressive.
That being said there are reasons to be optimistic for Rizzo heading into 2022. Based on his home-to-first times, his speed is slightly down, and he does pull a lot of ground balls into the shift. However, his .246 BABIP since the start of 2020 is still quite low, especially since he should see positive regression with his line-drive rate (23.9% vs career 27% average). Even with slightly better BABIP luck, he’ll get on base enough.
Rizzo’s power, meanwhile, also stands to take a step up. With just a 7.7% barrel rate, he may not tap into all of his power in the traditional sense. However, as we’ve discussed before, there are two statistics that can correlation with overachieving your expected power: pull rate and under%. Rizzo rates above-average in both of those categories. Then, there is the ballpark.
See, Rizzo founds himself back in the Bronx after signing a two-year, $32 million contract with the Yankees. Honestly, there may have not been a better potential landing spot for his fantasy value. Let’s take a look at his spray chart overlayed at Yankee Stadium for last season:
As you can see, Rizzo definitely stands the gain from taking advantage of the short porch in right field. For context, he had 24 expected home runs last season, per Baseball Savant. However, had he played all his games at Yankee Stadium, that number rises to 32. I’m only projecting about a 2-3 home run raise from the ballpark, but that’s still a notable upgrade.
Plus, Rizzo’s skillset is specifically tailored for points leagues. His strikeout rate last season was actually the highest it’s been in a full season since 2016, yet it was only at 15.1%; he’s also projected for a double-digit walk rate as well. All told, you’re getting tremendous plate skills, solid power, and improved batted-ball luck overall from the potential leadoff hitter for the Yankees. Sign me up!
Top Fade: DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees
I guess this is just a Yankees-themed piece! Usually, players with strong plate skills get a big boost in points league, and that does apply for DJ LeMahieu. Yet, I believe the evaluation of LeMahieu may too high on him to begin with.
After signing with the Yankees in 2019 on a two-year, $24 million contract, LeMahieu ended up being one of the best value signings in recent memory. Between 2019 and 2020, he posted a 146 wRC+, and got MVP votes in each of those two seasons. Meanwhile, in terms of fantasy, his combination of elite batting average (.336) and power (.199 ISO) made him quite the asset.
This made LeMahieu a player commonly drafted in the first three rounds in fantasy baseball drafts prior to the 2021 season. Meanwhile, by signing him to a six-year contract, the Yankees clearly were invested in him as well. Based on expectations, he was supposed to be the table-setter for one of the best lineups in baseball.
Instead, things did not go as planned. LeMahieu, with a 100 wRC+, was a league-average hitter, finishing as the 17th-best first baseman in terms of points scored despite having 679 plate appearances. Mainly, the regression came with the power, which went from a newly-found asset for him to a liability (.094 ISO) in 2021. Meanwhile, this wasn’t an issue with poor luck; he had just a 3.7% barrel rate, nor did he hit the ball in the air (18.3% fly-ball) often at all.
This actually tracks with LeMahieu’s past. Prior to signing with the Yankees, his .152 ISO in 2018 was his highest mark, and that’s despite playing half of his games in Colorado. Furthermore, this decline in power actually started in 2020 with a 2.9% barrel rate, meaning that the sample size of his decline isn’t just the one “down season.”
Eno Sarris of The Athletic has found that bounce-backs become much more unlikely once a player hits 32-years-old. LeMahieu is now 33, and it appears that we’ve seen his peak. Plus, between the signing of Rizzo, who may lead-off, as well as the addition of infielders Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, it is much less likely LeMahieu comes close to his plate appearance total from last season. As a pure accumulator that’s a problem.
The multi-positional eligibility LeMahieu brings to the table is a nice bonus. However, based on my projections, he’ll need over 690 plate appearances to match his average draft position as the 7th first-baseman off the board in ESPN leagues. Essentially, he’s being priced over his ceiling. While others pay for what he did in 2019 and 2020, I recommend moving on to another option, especially if your plan is to play LeMahieu at first base.