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Overrated/Underrated Week 4: First Basemen

Week three has come and gone. Whatever dread you may have felt about your team's standing has either tapered off or multiplied, the latter of which feels especially horrible so early in the season. Remember that we all get off to slow starts sometimes. Anthony Rizzo is batting .185 thanks to a .128 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). David Price's ERA is almost a full four runs higher than his FIP. These kinds of issues can drag down every category, and until your player snaps out of it, it's painful to watch.

But when he snaps out of it -- when he regresses to the mean, that is, and stops suffering bad luck -- boy, that'll be fun to watch. And when your team shoots up the leaderboard in June, it will feel much more gratifying than the lead you held for six hours on April 12. The painfully panicked transactions some owners make in April are exacerbated further by the transactions they don't make -- the brand-name players of whom they should let go, or the nobodies off to hot starts that can't possibly sustain their performance through May.

Continuing a weekly segment, I will identify some of the market inefficiencies in ownership rates for players who qualify at the same position. Here are some overrated and underrated first basemen for your consideration.

 

Overvalued First Baseman

Mitch Moreland, TEX 1B
51% owned, via Fleaflicker

Moreland doesn't have colossal upside or anything. He's of the WYSIWYG variety of hitter, having produced at generally the same level for pretty much the entirety of his 6-year career. He's good for 20-homer power but not much else, his lukewarm plate discipline eating into his triple-slash line pretty severely.

Things have taken a turn for the worst in the early goings for Moreland. His strikeout rate (K%) has ballooned to a career-worst frequency (and it's not even close), forcing his career-best BABIP to carry his batting average barely beyond the Mendoza Line. Contact skills are to blame -- he's making the least amount of contact of his career, unsurprisingly -- but his plate approach has been poor, too, as evidenced by his career-worst chase rate (and, again, it's not even close).

Moreland simply doesn't provide much value, regardless of format, thanks to a low-ceiling, one-tool profile. You can do better, even in deep leagues.

 

Undervalued First Baseman

Chris Carter, MIL 1B
27% owned in Fleaflicker Leagues

Carter left a bad taste in a lot of mouths last year after hitting only a buck-99 in part-time duty. His power is massive, but the strikeout rate poses a huge threat to his value, especially when he's riding the BABIP yo-yo. Indeed, that's exactly what he did last year, his BABIP representing not only a career-low for him but also the 6th-lowest mark in MLB for anyone with as many plate appearances as him.

The outlook is a little sunnier right now for Carter, having hit five home runs and lofting his batting average north of .280. All of it is unsustainable -- despite the power, few hitters can make a HR/FB (home runs per fly ball) rate of 29.4% stick for a full season without a good deal of luck -- but it doesn't mean it's not worth investing in. There's no doubting that, in a full season's worth of playing time, Carter can hit 30 home runs. It's primarily a matter of his BABIP, as aforementioned, which has been prone to violent swings (no pun intended) throughout his career. But the fact that he did, once, post a full-season BABIP of .311 (back in 2013) offers the hope that, indeed, this whole not-terrible-batting-average thing is something Carter can pull off.

Meanwhile, his 27.9 K%, while obscenely high, is about the best we'll ever see from Carter, and it doesn't seem too fluky, either. Unlike Moreland, Carter cut down his chase rate big-time, and he's making far more contact on pitchers when he does chase, making him a much more imposing threat than a free-swinging, highly volatile slugger. If he can sustain these gains through, say, June, Carter will be much closer to universally owned than universally unowned. Thirty homers and a .250 average isn't too crazy -- that's what Mark Teixeira (72% owned) gives you, right? (I guess that would make Teixeira overvalued, too, wouldn't it?) And, to boot, he has not only batted in every start (except one), but he has started every game for the Brewers, too. The team doesn't plan to contend, and with no real prospects to force him out of a job, Carter has first base all to himself, day in and day out.

 

BONUS: Joe Mauer, MIN 1B
33% owned

This is definitely more of a deep-league play than anything else. Mauer is a shell of his former self, but as long as he's walking twice as often as he strikes out, he will be an OBP monster and points-league darling. As with all April accomplishments, I must invoke the Unwritten Law of the Small Sample Size. Mauer won't do this forever. But hitters do tend to improve their plate discipline with age, and Mauer's already ranks among the game's best. More walks than strikeouts à la Jose Bautista or Victor Martinez would be a boon to his batting average, and he has the batted ball skills to float a .350 BABIP again without any of us thinking twice.

An empty .300 batting average at first base might be the unsexiest type of value in fantasy baseball. But in a points league, where all points are created equal, or in an OBP format, it doesn't matter how you get there -- get there as in create value -- as long as you get there. Mauer will get there. It just won't be that flashy.

 

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