Hey Duda. The death spiral of relative values.

I was on Baseball Prospectus’s Flags Fly Forever podcast last night, with Bret Sayre, Mike Gianella and Mauricio Rubio, talking about first baseman rankings, among other things. We had way too much fun with it, and what was scheduled for an hour lasted two, and I don’t think we wasted more than a minute or two talking about the weather.

There are a lot of interesting things about the first baseman pool this year. There are real questions about the Top 3 guys, and there isn’t much depth past the Top 25, What I want to talk about here is the rather broad middle class at the position.

For the discussion last night, Tier 3 included Lucas Duda, Justin Morneau, Adam LaRoche, Prince Fielder, Chris Davis and Brandon Belt.

lucas-duda1-500x333We unfortunately didn’t talk about Belt at all, but the BP consensus seemed to be that Lucas Duda was the highest rated of this group. We talked about how good Duda was against righties last year, without unseemly luck, and how he might even be helped by more stringent platooning. Meaning, not facing lefties, against whom he did duda-ly. But I raised the possibility that, given his contact troubles, he could start the year hitting .170 and suddenly even AB versus righties might get scarcer. It is possible, it has to be part of the equation.

Then we talked about Prince Fielder (could recover and be a great power hitter again, or apres surgery could face the rapid decline big men often endure), Justin Morneau and Adam LaRoche (Morneau for BA, LaRoche for HR) and then we moved on to the next tier, at which point I could not keep myself from blurting that I would take any of the four Tier 2 guys over Duda.

Who are the Tier 2 guys? Matt Adams, Mark Trumbo, Eric Hosmer and Brandon Moss.

Everyone agreed that Moss is a Tier 3 guy if healthy, but it isn’t clear that he is healthy now or will be opening day. Even so I might take him over Duda, which raised the questions for me: What is the difference between Tier 3 and Tier 2? And do distinctions within these tiers really add up?

My justifications for the four Tier 2 guys are below. Here is the ranking of First Basemen below Joey Votto (the apparent consensus bottom of Tier 4) in the Fantasy Baseball Guide, down to Logan Morrison, the player BP listed who I ranked lowest. The first number is my Thanksgiving Bid Price for each player, the price printed in the Guide. The number in parentheses is the BP Tier.

$21. Eric Hosmer (2) Give the kid a chance. He shown it the second half the last two years.
$20. Matt Adams (2)  Platoon issues, but great power is going to earn.
$19. Justin Morneau (3)
$19. Billy Butler (UR)
$18. Chris Davis (3)
$18. Adam LaRoche (3)
$17. James Loney (1)
$17. Lucas Duda (3)
$16. Allen Craig (treated as outfielder, I guess)
$16. Mark Trumbo (2) A solid power hitter coming off an injury plagued season. He has upside here, though not a great playing time situation.
$16. Brandon Moss (2/3) Injury concerns dock him now. Look at him later or more.
$15. Michael Morse (1)
—————————-
$14. Adam Lind (1)
$14. Joe Mauer (UR)
$13. CJ Cron (UR)
$12. Steve Pearce (1)
$12. Kendrys Morales (UR)
$12. Ryan Howard (UR)
$11. Mike Napoli (1)
$8. Yonder Alonso (UR)
$8. Mark Teixeira (1)
$7. Garrett Jones (1)
$7. Jonathan Singleton (UR)
$6. Logan Morrison (1)

Now clearly the top half of my list is also much more highly valued by BP than the bottom half, so we’re in some sort of accord. But we don’t really have any agreement between Tier 3 and Tier 2, which makes me wonder if there really is any distinction between the players who cost $17-$21 compared to the players who cost $13-16.

So, I looked up what happened in 2014. Each line of tiers here represents five first basemen, so Tier 4 represents No. 6-10, and so on.

Tier 5 ($31-$36): Cost $32, Earned $11. Ouch.

Tier 4 ($24-$30): Cost $27. Earned $19.

Tier 3a ($20-$22): Cost $21. Earned $19.

Tier 3b ($15-$19): Cost $17. Earned $16.

Tier 2a ($14-$15): Cost 14. Earned $9.

Tier 2b ($10-$13): Cost $11. Earned $9.

Tier 1a ($5-$9): Cost $7. Earned $6.

Tier 1b ($2-$3): Cost $2. Earned $2

This obviously doesn’t prove anything, the sample size is way too small, but this does suggest is that the ranking distinctions between Tier 3 and Tier 2 mattered.

Of course, the shown costs are the collective draft-day wisdom of some expert leagues, which tell us nothing about the mid-January ranking wisdom of Baseball Prospectus and Rotoman. But that’s a story for a different day.

For now, it’s good to know that collectively we rank players fairly accurately by Tier, aggregately, unless they’re in Tier 5. Oops.