By all accounts 2013 was a down year for first baseman Prince Fielder, but he still hit 25 home runs and drove in 106 while playing all 162 games for the third straight season and the fourth time in the last five seasons. His postseason struggles grabbed headlines, as he went 9-for-40 (.225) with zero RBI during the Detroit Tigers‘ run to the ALCS, and a change of scenery is coming with an offseason trade to the Texas Rangers.
Edwin Encarnacion has found a home with the Toronto Blue Jays, with 78 home runs over the last two seasons and over 100 RBI in both campaigns. Perhaps most importantly, he has topped 600 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons while settling in at first base as well.
Encarnacion and Fielder are widely ranked as top-five fantasy first baseman right now, but is one a better option for 2014?
The Case For Prince Fielder
Hitting behind Miguel Cabrera certainly helped Fielder during his time with the Tigers, but moving to a more hitter-friendly home park in Arlington and with a deeper lineup around him the difference in his production should not be dramatic.
Fielder’s contact rate dropped to 81.3 percent last season, from 85.5 percent in 2012, but that is more in line with his career contact rate (79.3 percent) and 2012 is an outlier overall with a batting average that season (.313) to reflect that. But Fielder’s walk rate continued to trend downward in 2013 (10.5 percent), and his on-base percentage dropped below .400 (.362) for the first time since 2008.
Even with last season’s drop in production Fielder still finished fourth among first baseman in RBI and eighth in home runs, so if he can avoid a mid-season slump (.245 with five home runs over 63 games from June 5-August 14 last season) a return to 30-plus home runs is a virtual certainty.
The Case For Edwin Encarnacion
Encarnacion’s power outburst over the past two seasons has not come at the expense of putting the ball in play, and his contact rate reached close to an elite level in 2013 (88.3 percent). A left wrist issue that sidelined him at the end of the season prevented him from hitting 40 home runs for the second straight season, but fantasy baseball owners that had faith he could repeat his breakout 2012 season (.280, 42 home runs and 110 RBI) were left with only a slight drop-off (.272, 36 home runs and 104 RBI).
Encarnacion may be eligible at third base in some fantasy leagues, with 10 games played there last season, and he is 20-for-24 on steal attempts over the past two seasons. He may still fall under the radar of some fantasy owners, but those that don’t forget about Encarnacion on draft day when the bigger names at first base are gone should be happy with their investment.
2013 could either be considered the start of Fielder’s decline or simply a bump in the road, and I like him as a strong rebound candidate for this year. But all things considered my choice here is Encarnacion, since he offers the potential of multi-position eligibility and is a threat to reach double-digits in stolen bases while putting up similar power numbers to Fielder.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.