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This week we are taking a trip to the DMV. Don't panic, not the Department of Motor Vehicles! We are going to compare two first basemen in very different parts of their career from the Baltimore/Washington area. With the loss of Manny Machado and the expected loss of Bryce Harper, the star power in the region has been diminished quickly. However, there are still some reasons to remain positive about the baseball in that area but maybe not in the place that many expect.

First base has become somewhat of a black hole for fantasy value in the last couple of years. It does not seem long ago that the position was awash with talent, and now people are scrambling to find 10-12 options they even consider usable. However, there are two players in Trey Mancini and Ryan Zimmerman who are seemingly being completely overlooked in drafts this year. Can either or both of these players offer a ray of light at the first base?

Let's take a closer look at these two somewhat contrasting first basemen.

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Trey Mancini (1B/OF, BAL) ADP: 225.83

Playing in Baltimore is pretty tough right now. The team won just 47 games last season and said goodbye to their talisman in Manny Machado. A once seemingly stacked roster is now full of has-been names, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, and young guys looking to make a name for themselves, Cedric Mullins and Chance Sisco. Mancini is one of those guys that still falls in the category of a player looking to make a name for himself. Mancini's major league credentials are solid if unspectacular. In two full years in the majors, Mancini has hit 24 home runs in each season but has failed to really put a marker down anywhere else. In 2017 he hit for an impressive .293 batting average, only for that to drop to .242 in 2018. He averages just 67 runs scored and 68 RBI across those two seasons and has yet to really lock down a position in that batting lineup.

However, there are reasons for optimism. First, 24 home runs is nothing to be sniffed at. It is not a number in the current climate which lights up fantasy teams but it is not to be discounted either. Additionally, at 26 many would argue that Mancini is now entering somewhat of a prime in his career. We looked at Max Muncy and Justin Turner last week who broke out around this age, and they did that in a ballpark generally less favorable to hitters. There are not many parks which can beat the 1.15 home run factor that Camden Yards offers right-handed hitters. Of the parks that do top that Mancini also plays a handful of games there as well, Yankees Stadium. If he is to take that next step as a power hitter, Baltimore is a good place to do it.

Looking at some of the batted ball data from Mancini there are reasons to be optimistic. As you would expect Mancini's HR/FB rate has been extremely consistent the last two years, as approximately 20% of his fly balls have been clearing the fences. When you then combine those numbers with his Statcast batted ball data the picture looks equally rosy.

Last season, Mancini was at the 73rd percentile for average exit velocity. If you then remove the times he struck out and walked, his Barrel% per batted ball event ranks him 37th in the league. That is above names such as Edwin Encarnacion, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jesus Aguilar and Manny Machado. The issue for Mancini is that he had the 311th-worst launch angle in the majors, and just 26.5% of his batted balls were classed as fly balls compared to 54.6% ground balls. If he makes a minor adjustment there we could be looking at a player who can clear the fences 30 or more times.

What we will hopefully find out this year is whether the .293 or .242 batting average is more likely to be his career norm. If we look at Mancini’s xBA from Baseball Savant it is clear that a lean towards the .242 is the more likely option. His xBA the last two years has been .264 and .254 respectively, suggesting that we will see something slightly above last years number but not as high as the 2017 number.

One thing to consider is that last year Mancini was moved around the batting order a lot. He spent a lot of time leading off and actually logged PA at every spot in the lineup. For a young hitter that can be disturbing, but hopefully now he is one of the main hitters in this group should not be an issue anymore. Mancini should now see the majority of his time hitting in the three through five spots in the lineup. Hopefully, more stability can lead to better results.

As I said in the introduction first base is a really weird position. There are a group of safe guys and then a lot of question marks. Mancini is one of those questions marks but the price is so cheap that there is virtually no downside. Even if he repeats a mediocre to poor 2018, he is still giving you 24 home runs and a salvageable .242 batting average. However, if he pops you could be looking at 30 or more home runs. Additionally, a batting average in the .260 region is not ideal but at this draft value it is more than acceptable, especially if he can pair it with a handful more home runs.

Verdict: ADP Champ

 

Ryan Zimmerman (1B, WAS) ADP: 330.98

2018 was a tough season for Zimmerman, as he managed to play in just 85 games log only 323 PA. Zimmerman spent more than two months on the disabled list. Coming off the back of a monster 2017, in which he hit 36 home runs and for a .303 batting average, a lot was expected. However, a slow start, followed by the injury ensured that Zimmerman would ultimately disappoint fantasy owners in 2018. However, once he returned from injury there were some bright spots, including six home runs and a .316 batting average in August. Despite everything that happened in 2018, there were indicators that suggest Zimmerman can still provide fantasy value in 2019.

If we look at the Statcast data for Zimmerman the numbers are pretty fascinating. He ranked second in hard hit%, 12th in average exit velocity and 23rd in barrels per batted ball event. On a per PA basis, he was the fourth-best in the league in barrel%. To give you an indication of the company he is in, the other members of the top five were Joey Gallo, J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis and Mookie Betts. Had Zimmerman been able to play a full season he would have been on pace for at least 25 home runs. That is obviously a lot less than the 36 he hit in 2017 but it is still valuable.

It seems unrealistic to expect that Zimmerman can match his 2017 numbers, as his HR/FB rate was nearly 10% higher in than in any other year of his career. However, the difference between 2017 and the two seasons before is in his barrel%. In 2015 and 2016 Zimmerman had an average barrel% of 8.5%, while in 2017 that rose to an impressive 12.7%. The encouraging sign is that despite playing fewer games and seeing his HR/FB rate regress, Zimmerman actually increased his barrel% once again in 2018 (13.6%).  In fact, if you take just the end of July and then the whole of August, Zimmerman actually had a HR/FB rate in the 20% range. Granted it is a small sample size and then he struggled again with injuries in September, but what it demonstrates is that when he is hot Zimmerman can light up the stat sheet.

The key here with Zimmerman is the price. If you were having to pay up for him then his injury history would be too much for me. However, a hitter with the potential to put up 20 or more home runs, combined with the potential to have an average that will not sink you is hard to pass up. In fact, over the last four seasons, Zimmerman has had an average xBA of .276, so it is reasonable to project him having a batting average somewhere in the region of 0.270. If you look at his batting average history that is by no means a lock, but if you remove the 2016 season, the lowest batting average he has ever put up is .249. That is a nice floor for someone being selected this late. If you get priced out of the first base market early then Zimmerman makes for a late-round gamble who has the potential to give you top-10 output come the end of the season.

Verdict: ADP Champ

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