Fantasy Baseball State of the Union: First Base

Only four teams remain in the 2023 MLB season, and as we gear up for the exciting playoff baseball, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the fantasy season. With all the talk about the rule changes and the speculation regarding their impact on fantasy, it’s worth examining if the “new” version of the game had any meaningful effect in the fantasy realm. What does it mean for each position? How does it affect our draft strategy for 2024? In this State of the Fantasy Baseball Union series, I aim to answer these questions.

Let’s start with first base. I analyzed players who had at least 200 plate appearances in both the 2022 and 2023 seasons and looked for any significant changes in the standard 5×5 offensive categories (batting average, home runs, runs, RBI, and steals). I then delved into the reasons behind these changes and assessed the likelihood of seeing them again.

Perhaps the most noticeable change occurred at the first base position in 2023. Batting average increased throughout the league, and this was particularly prominent at first base and third base. In 2023, 40 qualified first basemen hit over .240, compared to only 29 in 2022. This shift in batting average implies that we no longer need to prioritize power-first players who could negatively impact our team’s batting average. While you can still choose to roster a low-average power hitter, the increase in baseline requirements means that they are not as favorable as before. Players like José Abreu, Rowdy Tellez, Joey Gallo, Joey Votto, and Ryan Noda were affected by this change.

On the other hand, four first basemen hit over .300 this year, which significantly boosted their value. Players like Freddie Freeman, Yandy Díaz, Josh Naylor, and Cody Bellinger provided considerable value due to their high batting averages. Additionally, Ryan O’Hearn, Donovan Solano, Alex Kirilloff, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Triston Casas, Spencer Steer, and Alec Bohm delivered solid averages and contributed to the depth of the first base position.

In terms of power, first base remains one of the deepest positions after the outfield. However, in 2023, only four first basemen hit 30 or more home runs, compared to eight in 2022. While this is a small sample size, it raises questions about the top-end power at the position. Although players like Matt Olson, Pete Alonso, Christian Walker, and Spencer Torkelson exceeded the 30-home run mark in 2023, determining who will replicate this feat next year becomes more challenging. Aging players like Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman may still hit over 30 home runs but may not be among the league leaders anymore. Younger players like Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins have the potential to reach 40 home runs if healthy, but players like Vlad Jr. have yet to consistently showcase the power needed to cross that threshold. Keep an eye on emerging players such as Triston Casas, Spencer Torkelson, and Andrew Vaughn, as well as veterans like Carlos Santana, Brandon Drury, and Justin Turner, who continue to provide power value.

As for RBIs, there were no significant changes from last year. The most productive hitters who provided power in strong lineups managed to drive in 80 runs or more. Players like Matt Olson, Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman, and Christian Walker were the only ones to exceed 100 RBIs. However, there were some unexpected names that contributed in this category, including Alec Bohm, Josh Naylor, Justin Turner, Spencer Torkelson, Brandon Drury, and Spencer Steer.

Runs scored often goes unnoticed but is a crucial offensive category. It is common to focus on leadoff hitters when considering runs, but middle-of-the-order hitters on potent lineups also delivered in this category. Players like Matt Olson, Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman, Cody Bellinger, Paul Goldschmidt, Christian Walker, Bryce Harper, and Vlad Jr. notched solid run production. Lesser-known players like Carlos Santana, Ty France, Spencer Torkelson, and Spencer Steer also contributed to the run total at first base.

As for stolen bases, although the number of players who stole over 10 bases at first base is small, there was a significant increase from the previous year. In 2023, nine players stole 10 or more bases, compared to only two in 2022. This provides a little more flexibility in the steals category for first basemen. Noteworthy players who contributed in both steals and other categories include Freddie Freeman, Cody Bellinger, Spencer Steer, Luke Raley, Owen Miller, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Christian Walker, and Josh Naylor.

Considering all this information, here is my current top-15 first basemen for the 2024 season:


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