numberFire’s 2014 First Base Rankings: Will the Old Pujols Return?

Albert Pujols has said to be 100 percent healthy and ready to go.

We’re just weeks away from the start of the baseball regular season, which means lots of mock drafting and player projecting in the fantasy baseball world. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place for all your fake baseball needs.

Let’s get the fantasy rankings season going with a look at a position with a few question marks in terms of eligibility: first base. A place on the diamond that’s sure to produce power and runs batted in, the position is full of studs at the top, but still provides upside in the mid- to late-rounds of a draft.

The rankings below result from projections and what we call our “numberFire score”. The score, from a high level, takes a player’s contributions across all relevant scoring categories (5X5 league) and adjusts for position scarcity. It’s all placed in one fine, cute number, but the amount of math that goes behind it is significant. After all, that’s what we love – we love math.

Without further ado, here’s who the algorithms like this season at first base.

Note: Though Miguel Cabrera will be eligible to play, I’ll be talking to him in our third base season preview.

1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks


Goldy will look to build off his near NL MVP campaign last year, where he hit 36 homers, 103 RBI for a solid .302 average. A key for him will be his ability to continue to hit off right-handers – his average against them in 2012 was just .257 versus his .343 average against lefties. However, that improved in 2013, as he hit .300 versus .309. We like him to dip a little in terms of average, but his home run and RBI numbers are strong enough to warrant him the best first baseman in fantasy.

2. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays


We’re higher on Encarnacion than a lot of sites and experts, as our projections peg the Blue Jays first baseman to hit some of the highs laid out by the Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS systems. Though he’s traditionally had a low BABIP, his .242 mark was the lowest he’s had in three years – perhaps a little bit of luck and regression will help him move towards an even better 2014 campaign.

3. Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers


Fielder, now a Ranger, will look to rebound after a season that saw his average dip to under .280, his home runs hit just 25 and his BB% fall to under 11%. The beginning and end of his season was fine, but sandwiched in the middle was a May where he hit .245 and a July where he batted just .228. We think a change of scenery will help him to be the third-best (fourth if you count Miggy) first baseman in the league. We may even be pessimistic with his home run total here.

4. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles


The Orioles’ first baseman sure had himself a big 2013, hitting 53 home runs, 138 RBI for a .286 average. Though he has plenty of power, we have to recognize that 37 of his home runs came before the All-Star break, while he hit just .245 with 16 dingers post-break. More consistency should occur in the home run department, but we still expect him to hit 33 of them and get over 100 RBI.

5. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds


Votto’s talent of getting on base is unmatched, but that can sometimes hurt in fantasy baseball. Though his averages dropped a bit in 2013, he was at least able to play the full season, seeing the seventh-best wOBA in the bigs. However, Votto’s ISO dropped to well below .200, something we’ve never seen from him. As a result, he hit just 24 home runs, his lowest total (aside from his 111-game 2012) since 2008.

6. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers


After hitting the .210 ISO mark from 2007 to 2011, Gonzalez’s power has dwindled, leaving him with 5 to 15 home runs fewer than what he’d hit five or so years ago. His average, however, has more or less stayed the same, and he still was able to drive in 100 runs for the fourth straight season. Maybe a slight deterioration is forthcoming, but he’s still one of the more consistent options at the position.

7. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves


Freeman got paid, and now it’s time he helps you win a fantasy championship. Young enough to have played with Power Rangers toys, Freeman is coming off a season where he hit 23 home runs, 109 RBI and a .319 average. However, his BABIP soared to .371, a number that will be nearly impossible to repeat in 2014. As a result, we’ve got him down for a pretty big drop in batting average, all while sustaining decent power.

8. Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals


The scariest part of Craig’s 2013 season from a numbers perspective was his significant drop in ISO, which resulted in nine fewer home runs. However, his average still increased and his RBI jumped by five, mostly because he was able to stay healthier. We think he’ll hit over .300 and drive in 80 runs, but injury is certainly a risk.

9. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals


Butler may not have first base eligibility in your league, and you were probably thinking this should’ve been teammate Eric Hosmer instead. But here’s the deal: we think Butler will hit 12 points better in terms of average, four more home runs and 14 more RBI. Basically, the algorithms think Butler will be more like the 2012 version than the 2013 one. If that happens, you better believe his power will rise.

10. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim


Pujols isn’t the same guy that used to dominate the league, and his numbers has shown that. His batting average has decreased each year since 2008, and his power – his home run and RBI totals – have dropped since 2009. He only played 99 games last year because of a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his foot, but is now apparently 100 percent healthy and ready to get back to his power hitting ways. That’s doubtful to happen, but we still think he’ll hit for a decent .282 average with 23 bombs and 84 RBI.

Click here for the rest of the first base rankings.