It’s never a good thing when a key player goes down with an injury, but it’s most crippling when that player happens to be your power-hitting first baseman. Chris Davis owners are currently losing their minds as he will be sidelined for a while with an oblique injury. Finding a replacement that can be counted on for the same consistency and capability is almost impossible at this stage of the game. Regardless, owners still need to find someone that can at least grab a bat and take a couple of hacks at the plate.
(The following players have an ownership rate of no more than 65 percent in CBS Sports fantasy leagues).
We begin by taking a quick look at Davis’ replacement in Baltimore, Nick Markakis. Markakis is owned in 62 percent of fantasy leagues at the moment, but does not yet qualify at first base as he has been utilized in right field more often than not. For roto-leaguers, at the very least, he’ll help by providing a steady batting average. He’s a career .292 hitter and owns a Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .318. Plus he limits his strikeouts and has good on-base skills so that’s a good indicator that he can maintain a good batting average.
Aside from that, there’s not much else to look forward to as the power and run production are just not there. Even with the infamous Camden Yards as his home park, Markakis simply doesn’t take advantage of the short dimensions as his approach is about making contact at a high rate which results in a lot of ground balls (and high BABIP). But he makes up with a decent Line Drive Rate (LD%) of 22.7 percent. His skills-set is better off in points leagues, but he is a safe option, regardless of format.
A Safer, Better Option?
James Loney–Ownership Rate: 46 percent
We evaluated Loney during the winter and he is virtually the same player as Markakis. Except for the fact that Loney is available at first base right now. He had a good 2013 campaign and is off to a hot start in 2014, posting an OPS of .855. To put that in perspective, Minnesota Twins’ first baseman Chris Colabello, owned in 85 percent of leagues, has an OPS of .856. Just like Markakis, roto-leaguers will not get any power, but will gain a player who can maintain a healthy batting average. Points leaguers, when assessing both Loney and Markakis, will find that Loney might be better suited to provide more doubles so that might prove to be a deciding factor for owners.
But the main reason Loney would be the better choice over Markakis is because of his LD%. At 25 percent, Loney is ahead of guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Upton. Not suggesting that Loney is better than those two, but considering the circumstances, Loney’s ability to drive the ball consistently is all you can ask for. And unlike Markakis, Loney will try to lift the ball in the air. He won’t hit many home runs, but extra base-hits are still possible.
Adam Dunn–52 percent
For those owners exclusively looking for power, Dunn is definitely the guy to go with. The knock on him is the low batting average and the high strikeouts. To his credit, Dunn does possess a high Walk Rate as he’s currently ranked 11th in that category, among qualified hitters, so that sort of makes up for the high Strikeout Rate. Dunn has the potential to hit 30 home runs and drive in plenty of runs (on pace for 80 RBI) for the season so that makes him an intriguing option in any format.
Dunn currently has a BABIP of .333 and, based on the strikeouts, that is a cause for alarm as a slump might not be too far off. But Dunn might be able to ward off any prolonged slumps if he continues to not chase many pitches outside the zone (current O-Swing Rate (percentage of swings outside the strike zone) is the lowest it’s been since 2009), pitchers will have no choice but to continue to throw more pitches in the strike zone (Dunn has not seen this many pitches in the strike zone since 2009) and he should continue to cause more damage against opponents.
The Rest of the Field
Nick Swisher–65 percent
Good: Versatility (qualifies at first and right field), proven track record of hitting 20 or more home runs, good LD%, decent approach at the plate.
Bad: Unpredictable batting average, popping out at a career high rate, low OPS.
Casey McGehee–39 percent
Good: High on-base percentage, does not strike out a lot, very patient at the plate, LD% is highest since 2009, decent contact skills.
Bad: Career high BABIP, caused by high Ground Ball Rate (GB%), has led to a .300 batting average, high pop up rate might be indicator for a prolonged slump, home runs will be scarce.
Ike Davis–29 percent
Good: Untapped power potential, good job getting on base, has shown even more patience at the plate this season, surprisingly improved contact skills.
Bad: Low batting average, low LD%, needs to lift more balls into the air, pops up too much.
Lucas Duda–29 percent
Good: Has legit power, fly ball hitter which should increase chances for home runs.
Bad: BABIP over .300 has only resulted in batting average of .254 and Slugging Percentage of .437, LD% is very low, slightly more impatient than in recent years.
Chris Carter–32 percent
Good: Definitely a source of power, fly ball hitter with good LD%.
Bad: Leads league in Strikeout Percentage (37.5 percent), second lowest Contact Rate in league (61.4 percent).
For The Adventurous Type
Juan Francisco–5 percent
There are sample size issues with Francisco, but injuries in Toronto have given him the opportunity to prove himself as he’s off to a good start after 28 plate appearances. Strikeouts remain a big concern as he has not proven to show the ability to draw more walks in the past. Also, as a ground ball hitter with a very low LD%, most of his early season success has been a result of a very high BABIP (.462). But if his hot streak continues, it’d be a shame to let all that production go to waste on the waiver wire.
All stats are courtesy of fangraphs.com and are good through April 26, 2014.