Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 11/8/12
Hitting is down across the league. Strikeouts are on the rise, with the league-wide K% in 2012 reaching an all-time high of 19.8%, and power is way down from the steroid-fueled heydays of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Co. But even when you adjust for the rapidly cooling offensive climate of the last few seasons, home run power at first base is still on the decline. While homer totals at the position have been very stable over the last five seasons, it’s the elite home run production that has suffered. In 2010, there were 42 players in all of baseball who hit at least 25 homers, 17 of whom (38.6%) qualified at first base in fantasy leagues. In 2012, there were 44 players who hit at least 25 homers, but just 12 of them (27.3%) qualified at first base. At first glance, the decline in 25+ homer options from 17 to 12 might not seem like much, but take a minute to think about that in a few different ways. That represents a 29.4% decline. In 12-team fantasy leagues there’s now just enough 25+ homer options for each team (assuming they’re all used at first base). Miguel Cabrera loses first base eligibility in 2013. The graph below illustrates this drop-off of top home run producers (here defined as 25+ HR) compared to top RBI producers (here defined as 80+ RBI). The stability seen with RBI shows that the position still has the same proportion of top hitters as it has over the last several seasons (and a quick look at batting average, wOBA, runs created, etc. backs that up), but the pool of power-first players is rapidly evaporating. And that’s even with breakout seasons from Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Davis and the resurgence of Adam Dunn. When fantasy drafts take place next year and Cabrera is nowhere to be found in the first base ranks, the power decline at the position will finally sink in. Just like every year there will almost certainly be someone (or some-two or three) who emerge as reliable-if-not-elite producers, but will there be enough of them? How will this impact fantasy strategy in 2013? That’s an article for another day, but players like Adam LaRoche are no longer marginal free agent fodder. Instead, they’ll find themselves starting on many fantasy teams from day one, and teams are going to be much more willing to withstand low average-high power players like the 2012 version of Ike Davis (.227 BA, 32 HR). ‘ First base power trending down and catchers trending up? Sandy or no Sandy, it’s a weird world out there right now.
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