Panic Stations or Patient Stances? Underwhelming fantasy contributors at 1B.

We’re three-plus weeks into the Fantasy Baseball season, and aside from Alexei Ramirez, Charlie Blackmon, and Chris Colabello, no one, it seems, is hitting. Fine, that’s a tad of an overstatement – but perusing the ESPN Player Rater in search of some trade targets, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of highly-thought-of first basemen who are s-t-ruggling so far in 2014. Given their propensity, darn near every owner must currently have a flailing first bagger – the question is, should they be panicking, or remaining patient?

It’s probably best to address the elephant in the room first; Miguel Cabrera – who if not first overall, was drafted only behind Mike Trout – is currently 376th on the Player Rater, the closest hitter to him thus far being… Lonnie Chisenhall?! After inking his mammoth extension with Detroit, the 31-year-old has scuffled his way to a .235-4-2-10-0 fantasy line and struggled to make hard contact consistently; as Tristan Cockcroft pointed out in an excellent piece yesterday, Cabrera’s .159 well-hit average falls well below the average .307 mark he hit during 2011-13. Furthermore, there are concerns over the lingering effects of offseason core surgery – the Venezuela native last week admitting he’s still working towards full strength. Miggy owners shouldn’t push the panic button on their high-price investment yet however; Cabrera did yesterday produce his first game with two extra-base hits (and just his third multi-hit game of the season), hinting that he might return to his planet-eating, healthy self soon. Furthermore, he has experienced slumps before – in the same article, Cockcroft cited a 16-game stretch in 2012 (y’know, when he won the Triple Crown), during which he scraped a 219/.296/.406 line, mostly thanks to some horrible peripheral stats (.266 WHAV, 22.8 Miss%, 59.3 GB%). His slow start is almost certainly just a momentary blip in his excellency, and definitely has nothing to do with a lack of ‘lineup protection’ now that Prince Fielder has been sent packing.

Speaking of which… I’m guessing the Rangers are searching for the receipt on that one. Acquired in exchange for Ian Kinsler, the hefty Fielder has got off to a uninspired start in Texas, barely hitting above the Mendoza line after typically being drafted just outside the first round (13.1 ADP). More than simply his .208 average though, despite being known for his tremendous power and the move to the home run-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington, the first baseman has so far only hit two long balls. He has shown some recent signs of awakening (he’s now 8-for-26 over his last eight games, with two home runs, three doubles and eight walks), but the decline in his numbers seen during the last couple of years are looking more and more than simply an aberration, and likely the beginning of an ungraceful fall. Throw the injury-ravaged Texas lineup into the equation too, which may well limit his counting stats, and Fielder owners are likely to be underwhelmed this season. Not that too many other slugging 1B out there are faring too well either…

Drafted just ahead of Fielder (11.1 ADP), Toronto 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion has similarly struggled out the gate – ranking 28oth on the Player Rater after finally hitting his first home run of the season against the Orioles yesterday. Though offseason surgery on his left wrist can’t yet be completely ruled out in factoring into his struggles, Encarnacion’s early-season impatience is likely at the heart of his problems; by his recent standards (10% in 2013, 14.5% and 14.6% the two years prior), he has unusually high K% (22.9) so far, suggesting that it’s his pitch selectivity undermining his production rather than any issues with the wrist. Given his consistency over the past couple of years, I’d expect to see him circling the bases (parrot and all) more frequently in the imminent future.

The same optimistic outlook can’t be applied to Billy Butler. After finishing just 152nd on the Player Rater in 2013*, the 28-year-old has continued to underwhelm fantasy owners who perhaps thought he was a buy-low candidate entering 2014 – currently sitting at 567 on the Player Rater. Not only has Butler failed to hit for average (.217), but his power seems to have evaporated; from its .197 peak in 2012, Butler’s ISO mark fell to .124 last year, and is a paltry .029 (!) so far in 2014. Billy Hamilton, for comparison’s sake, has a mark of .058, twice as high as Butler. The loss of power is only part of a worrying trend in peripherals for Butler however; always a groundball guy (he has a career rate of 48.4%), Butler has taken his worm-burning to a ridiculous level thus far in 2014, hitting grounders at a 63.2% clip (as David Temple proposed on Fangraphs, a swing change might be to blame). Not too drastic a problem if you’re the aforementioned speedy Hamilton, who stands a fair chance at gaining routine infield singles, but at 6-1, 240lbs, a significant one for the plodding Butler. Now at 72.3% ownership, Butler has been one of the most dropped players in leagues thus far; if you’re not one of the growing number already, join the bandwagon and cut Butler.

Continuing the trend of light-hitting Royals – which isn’t very specific, continuing the whole team is making Dee Gordon look like Barry Bonds in terms of power at the moment – Eric Hosmer has unfortunately failed to continue the power surge he exhibited at the end of the 2013 season. There’s no problem with his average (.311), but his blank in the home run column and lack of counting stats (S/O to the anemic Kansas City offense!) have Hosmer languishing at 351st on the Player Rater (only 2 spots ahead of B.J Upton!) after achieving an ADP of 52.7. He’s still not doing quite as badly as Allen Craig though, who after roping line drives instead of homers through most of 2013, has continued the same approach in 2014 – except minus all the line drives. Drafted just six spots after Hosmer (58.5 ADP), the oft-injured Cardinal has just one jack and a horrid .184 average three weeks in. Given his spot in the potent St. Louis lineup however, he probably stands a better shot than Hosmer at accruing some solid counting stats by the end of the year; without any health problems reported, and no trade value, Craig is worth hanging with and waiting on for his bat to heat up.

God only knows my team could do with Craig doing so. And don’t get me started on his fellow 1B-eligible struggler, Carlos Santana (I own him and his 136 BA on 2 teams). It can’t be just me feeling aggrieved however; what with all the high-profile names mentioned, if you’re getting production from your first baseman (hello to all the surprised Albert Pujols owners out there), you’re one of a lucky few.

* I’m assuming the fact that his DH-only eligibility contributed more to his 2014 ADP of 121.5 than his disappointing performance the previous year.


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