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Fantasy Baseball First Base Preview: Underrated sluggers like Matt Olson to provide value

Early drafters are taking Goldy sooner than recommended. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Despite home runs being way up across the league, first base is no longer loaded with fantasy stars, as the position instead has become something of a second DH that’s frequently platooned. Other than catcher, position eligibility in general can be mostly ignored and is often overrated in fantasy leagues, and this is especially true in Yahoo, whose requirements are rather flexible.

Undervalued Players and Sleepers

Matt Olson, Oakland A’s

He hit 36 homers last season despite missing 35 games and dealing with a hamate injury that typically saps power for some time after surgery. Olson held his own against lefties last season, when he also ranked in the top 6% of the league in Barrel%, exit velocity and Hard Hit% (No. 6 overall). Slated to bat cleanup in a lineup otherwise full of righties, the 26-year-old Olson is set up for a monster campaign, yet his current Yahoo ADP is curiously below both Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo.

Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

With Josh Donaldson signing in Minnesota, Sano should have an easier time staying healthy moving over to first base, and he continues to be severely underrated at drafts. Sano posted a .939 OPS with 21 home runs over 65 games after the All-Star break last year, and for the season he finished No. 1 in Barrel% and Hard Hit% and No. 2 in average exit velocity, so there’s a ton of upside here even if he’s projected to open the year batting lower in the Twins’ lineup. Target Field is a hitter’s park, and Sano is entering his prime with fewer than 1,800 at-bats in his career, so he’s someone to target.

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Luke Voit, New York Yankees

Last year’s numbers were depressed by a final two months when he was dealing with a sports hernia that caused him to miss most of August and likely contributed to a poor September in which he finished the season in a 1-for-32 slump. Voit had a strong first half (.280-53-17-50 over 78 games), and he finished the year ranking in the top 10% in the league in Barrel% and BB% despite weird reverse splits that saw him post an OPS 231 lower at a home park that typically boosts righty power. Edwin Encarnacion is no longer around to compete for at-bats, and it’s not hard to imagine Voit moving to the middle of the Yankees’ lineup at some point (if/when Giancarlo Stanton gets hurt). Voit’s ADP is outside of 180 right now, so he’s way underpriced.  

Eric Thames, Washington Nationals    

He’s more valuable in daily transaction leagues given his big splits (he’s hit just .188 against left-handed pitchers over the last three seasons), but Thames clubbed 23 homers over just 346 at-bats against righties last year and is set to be on the strong side of the platoon at first base in Washington in 2020. Thames’ power no doubt benefitted from Miller Park, but he actually gets an even bigger boost in hitter’s venues with the move to Nationals Park, which ranks third in increasing run-scoring over the last three seasons. Moreover, Nationals Park ranks top-five both in boosting batting average and homers for left-handed batters over the last three years, and Thames had the fifth-longest average fly ball distance last season. He could frequently bat directly behind OBP monster Juan Soto, so Thames is a sleeper.

Overvalued Players

Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals

With a Yahoo ADP inside of 60, Goldy is being drafted too aggressively now on the downside of his career. Calling a pitcher’s park home for his first time ever, Goldschmidt posted by far his worst season at the plate since his rookie campaign last year. His K% and BB% have both been trending in the wrong direction for five years now, and he’s no longer a help in stolen bases, as his speed has fallen off with age. Goldschmidt is going to remain a plenty valuable fantasy first baseman, and there’s something to be said for being so durable (he’s averaged 158.2 games over the past five years), but realize he’s in decline and should continue to be hurt by a park that’s decreased home runs for righties by 19 percent over the last three seasons (among the most in the league). There’s simply no way Goldschmidt should be going ahead of Matt Olson in drafts like his current Yahoo ADP suggests.

Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

Coming off a 2018 campaign that saw him bat just .229, last year was the time to buy Santana, not this one. The soon-to-be 34-year-old hit 30 points higher last season than his career expected batting average (.251) despite finishing with his highest K% in four years. Moreover, Santana hit a career-high 34 homers despite his lowest max HR distance (just 426 feet that ranked 219th in MLB) of his career, which seems like a tough recipe to repeat. Count on a healthy dose of regression from the veteran; there’s no way I’m drafting Santana over Miguel Sano.

The Wildcard: Pete Alonso, New York Mets  

He entered last season as a good-but-not-great prospect (albeit the clear No. 1 at first base), but few saw 50+ homers coming as a rookie, even in baseball’s crazy new environment. Alonso is a poor defender, and he’s without question hurt by playing in a home park that’s suppressed run-scoring and batting average more than any other over the last three seasons (and each by significant margins), but he appears to be flying somewhat under the radar for someone who just posted a historic season with the most homers ever by a rookie.

Alonso hit .297/.379/.610 on the road last season, possesses legit 80 power and is set to bat third in between two lefties on a Mets team projected to approach 90 wins and possibly make the playoffs, so I like Alonso at 40/1 to win the NL MVP this year. He’s a wildcard in fantasy terms, as drafters appear to be expecting some regression in Year Two. It’s anyone’s guess how the baseball will play this season after it was clearly juiced last year, but it’s possible homers fall way back down, and Alonso’s raw power would theoretically mean he’d be less affected by any further changes to the ball. During his first action in the league, Alonso led MLB in homers and only eight other players had more combined runs/RBI, so it feels weird that he’s available in the third round of fantasy drafts.

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