Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis had a breakout season in 2013, hitting .286 with 53 home runs, 138 RBI and 103 runs scored, while Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto had a largely disappointing season (.305, 24 home runs, 73 RBI, 101 runs scored). One saving grace for Votto was a National League-best .435 on-base percentage, but those in fantasy baseball leagues that don’t use that category were surely left wishing they had someone else as their starting first baseman.
Davis and Votto are both ranked among the top handful of fantasy first baseman, but all things considered is one a better option for this year?
The Case For Chris Davis
Davis began to fulfill his promise as a power hitter with 33 home runs in 2012, but a jump in his fly ball rate (45.7 percent; 37.5 in 2012) and a better home run/fly ball rate (29.6 percent, up from 25.2 percent in 2012) helped put him over the 50-homer mark last season and fueled his emergence as a four-category producer in fantasy leagues. But Davis’ fast start, with 37 home runs and 93 RBI along with a .315 batting average before the All-Star break, was not sustainable and he struggled some after that point (.245, 16 home runs and 45 RBI).
Davis will no longer have multi-position eligibility in 2014, since he played first base exclusively last season, but that is a minor footnote in the overall scope of his fantasy value.
The Case For Joey Votto
Votto’s drop in power numbers last season can be chalked up to his fly ball rate dropping below 30 percent (29.2) for the first time in his career, along with hitting more ground balls (43.7 percent). He has never been a quintessential power hitter, with just one season with more than 30 home runs in his career (37 in 2010), but 2013 was the fourth straight season Votto led the National League in on-base percentage and he is one of the best all-around hitters in either league.
Davis is sure to be a first-round pick in mixed league drafts, and even with some regression all but certain to come it’s reasonable to project him for 35-40 home runs, 100-110 RBI and 90-100 runs scored along with a solid batting average (.275) and a handful of stolen bases.
Votto has virtually nowhere to go but up after last season in terms of home runs and particularly RBI, but his .305 batting average is vulnerable to a drop-off if his luck corrects any (.360 BABIP). It’s hard to confidently say that Votto will be a steal in fantasy drafts, but if other similarly ranked first baseman (Edwin Encarnacion, Prince Fielder, etc.) go off the board before him owners that are able to get him a bit later than they should are in line to get a nice return on their draft day investment.
Davis will have to finish with something close to his 2013 numbers to justify his status as a first-round pick, and based on the chance his production drops dramatically I think he’s a riskier option than most other top-tier first baseman. Fantasy owners know what they’ll get from Votto, for better or worse, and there’s room for upside this year if he can elevate the ball more and take better advantage of a very hitter-friendly home park. So based on better reliability and a longer track record, I choose Votto here.