It’s getting closer to Opening Day 2018 and that means fantasy baseball drafts are in full swing (no pun intended). If you haven’t drafted yet, first base is probably something that you’ll look at starting in round two or three depending on the amount of teams in your league.
I’d like to throw a name out there that has been one of the better power hitting first baseman this decade – Edwin Encarnacion. It’s easy to get caught up with the desire to add Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo but, since 2012, Encarnacion has averaged the following:
Those are solid numbers for a guy who contributed to two high-powered offenses, the Toronto Blue Jays (2012-16) and Cleveland Indians (2017). He does his job when runners get on and he’s not afraid to take a walk if necessary.
One benefit of Encarnacion that sometimes gets overlooked is that he averages over 633 plate appearances. With today’s players seemingly always missing time, especially with the new 10-day DL that MLB implemented last year, you see a lot of players getting fewer at-bats over the course of the season. Primarily playing DH helps Encarnacion stay healthy and in the batting order everyday.
One player that is close in draft rankings to Encarnacion is Jose Abreu. Abreu’s consensus player ranking at FantasyPros is 30th overall, while Encarnacion’s is 41st. Their NFBC Average Draft Position is about a round and half apart, Abreu in the early 4th round and Encarnacion in the mid-5th. Six ranking spots may not seem like much but let’s look at one key difference – each player’s lineup.
Abreu is in a Chicago White Sox lineup that is loaded with potential, albeit still considered to be in a rebuilding phase. Abreu’s only protection is Avisail Garcia, projected .282 AVG, 16 HR and 71 RBI, hitting fourth, and Tim Anderson, projected .266, 15 HR and 48 RBI, batting second.
Encarnacion by contrast is in a loaded Cleveland lineup. Projected to clean up, Encarnacion has all types of protection from Jose Ramirez, hitting third, and Yonder Alonso, hitting fifth. Ramirez is coming off an MVP-type season and is projected .306, 20 HR and 75 RBI, while Alonso is projected .263, 15 HR and 54 RBI.
That’s not including leadoff hitter Francisco Lindor and number two hitter Jason Kipnis. Just from a lineup standpoint, Encarnacion should have more opportunities to drive in runs and in turn be driven in from a much deeper Cleveland lineup.
One concern that comes up with respect to Encarnacion is age. He turned 35 in January and, rightfully so, many fantasy players are concerned about a decline in production. The question is will it be a slow burn or will he fall off a cliff? The cliff can happen (see: Jose Bautista, Mark Teixeira), but it is difficult to predict as every player is different. The lineup around him and not having to play the field much will help with his health and “freshness” throughout the year.
FanGraphs’ profile of Encarnacion indicates, “despite his advanced age, there are no real red flags in EE’s profile, aside from a strikeout rate that reached a career high.” I would rather take a chance he maintains the level of production we’ve come to expect, at a discounted draft price, until the metrics take more of a turn for us to expect otherwise.
Encarnacion is forecast to hit 35 homers and drive in over 100 runs per Steamer projections. His batting average in 2017 was the lowest its been since 2010, but if he can get that closer to his norm, then we are looking at a player who will add value to your squad relative to his cost.
Remember, last year Encarnacion started out slow adjusting to his new home in Cleveland but ended up the year posting numbers consistent with his career. Having a year under his belt with the Indians, he should get off to a good start and have another solid season. Don’t shy away from Edwin and don’t be surprised when you outproduces Jose Abreu.