Tuesday, December 02, 2008

2008 N.L. First Basemen

One of the surest ways you can determine the reliability of production is to see how many repeaters there are on the following list with the list from the year before.

Top 10 N.L. First Basemen 2008

1Albert Pujols$43$35+8$33$36$33
2Lance Berkman$37$30+7$31$25$27
3Ryan Howard$30$37-7$31$33$32
4Adrian Gonzalez$28$26+1$25$18$23
5Carlos Delgado$27$18+9$14$15$17
6Prince Fielder
7Joey Votto
8Derrek Lee$24$28-4$28$24$27
9Conor Jackson$22$14+7$14$16$14
10James Loney$21$19+2$21$16$19


By this standard, first base is pretty predictable. Delgado, Votto and Jackson replace Helton, Young, and LaRoche.

Another standard for determining how predictable or unpredictable a position is is by how expensive the Top 10 Hitters are. By this standard, first base is even more predictable. The market spends a whopping $26 per player on this group for $28 worth of production. These guys are better than the market thinks they'll be, but not by very much at all. This is especially surprising, given that seven of the 10 hitters on this list turn a profits. Profits should lead to a wider spread between the market price and the earnings, that doesn't happen here at all.

Part of the reason for this is that the market is extremely excited about this group of players. Everyone gets a raise from what they earned last year; only Jackson and Loney broke even by this measurement.

Even looking at the 10 most expensive by position, the market is still very excited. And the hitters are still very predictable.

Ten Most Expensive N.L. First Basemen 2008

1Prince Fielder
2Ryan Howard
3 (tie)Albert Pujols$43$35+8$33$36$33

Mark Teixeira$17$35-18$33$31$27
5Lance Berkman
6Derrek Lee$24$28-4$28$24$27
7Adrian Gonzalez
8 (tie)Todd Helton$5$19-14$24$19$24

James Loney
10Carlos Delgado$27$18+9$14$15$17


The market is taking a $3 loss on a $29 group of hitters. That's an excellent return on players you almost expect to lose money (the 10 most expensive in any batch typically have one or two disappointments). And, if you played in a league that allowed you to keep Teixeira after he was shipped to L.A., then the 10 most expensive first basemen practically broke even.

For owners who like to go stars and scrubs, first base is a much better place to go shopping in the N.L. than it is in the A.L. Of course, you're not going out on the same limb in the A.L. when you're "only" spending $21 per player.

Unlike in the A.L., Patton is sticking both feet in the water here, even if his total price falls short of the market's. He gets Berkman, Helton, and Loney, as well as his share of Lee. Sports Weekly's only buy is a great one in Pujols; turning a $7 profit on a $36 player usually sets up a clear path to victory.

I've been poking at Patton a little bit in the A.L. comments, but now I'm going to change course and wonder what the expert leagues are doing here. $38 for Fielder and $37 for Howard? Fielder's 50/119/2/.288 2007 was worth $35. How much better can he possibly get? Howard's 2007: 47/136/1/.268. For Howard to jump from $32 to $37, he'd better hit at least .290.

I spend a lot of time talking about how losing money on a premium player can still be a winning strategy. But you do have to be careful. Particularly in non-keeper leagues.

Getting $26 of stats in an off-year from Fielder is well and good. But you're still putting yourself in a $12 hole if you chased him to $38. That's $12 worth of stats you're going to have to make up somewhere else just to break even! Howard might have actually been a better example of where exercising restraint would have been for the best. Spending $32 and getting $30 worth of stats would have been fine. Spending $37 for those same stats puts you in a smaller hole, but still puts you in a hole nonetheless.

Where you get stuck is when you look at the 2007 column. The top seven hitters on this list get raises. Helton is the only one to take a pay cut, and you didn't want him. If you wanted to get a top first baseman, you had to spend your cash. Even unproven Joey Votto went for $12.

I imagine 2009 will be no exception. Howard's glittering HR/RBI numbers will be what bidders will be looking at, not his batting average. He might hit the $40 mark this year, if the market keeps going past what both the touts and the previous season recommend.

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