by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Heading into 2013 this wouldn’t have been a debate, but as we head into 2014 it’s a surprisingly fair question. Who would you rather have, Joey Votto or Freddie Freeman? While you may think it’s an obvious answer, things are actually really close. Let’s take a look:
Votto - His worst average in his career was .297 and he’s a career .314 hitter. He makes exceptionally good contact (27+% line drive rate each of the past three seasons), so there is no reason to think that anything is going to change. He should be a lock to hit well over .300.
Freeman - While he hit .317 last season, he did it courtesy of a .371 BABIP. He also hits the ball hard, with a line drive rate above 26% each of the past two seasons, but he doesn’t have a history of maintaining that high of a BABIP (unlike Votto). Still, with this line drive rate he should hit at least .300+ once again and has the same type of upside as Votto.
Advantage - Draw
Votto - It’s beginning to look like the 37 HR campaign was the aberration, not the rule. The fly balls continue to diminish, dropping all the way to 29.2% last season, making a significant power season almost impossible. He plays in a hitter’s paradise and should be a lock for 20-25 HR, but expecting more than that is difficult at this point.
Freeman - He’s hit 20+ HR for three straight seasons and his HR/FB has improved for each year (15.0% last season). Still just 24-years, he puts the ball in the air more than Votto (35.2% last season) and could continue to see his power grow.
Advantage - Draw, though at this point Freeman may have a slightly better chance of hitting 30 in a season
Votto - He has become almost too patient at the plate, and that effects his ability to drive in runs. His walk rates the past two seasons have been 19.8% and 18.6%, but with runners in scoring position last season it jumped all the way to 26.4%. When you are a premier hitter, sometimes you can’t simply leave it up to your teammates. Obviously a strong supporting cast helps (even if Shin-Soo Choo leaves, Billy Hamilton will assume the leadoff spot) but if he keeps walking this much RBI are going to be off the table.
Freeman - His supporting cast is nothing to scoff at and Freeman has now driven in 90+ runs in back-to-back seasons. While he also benefited from .505 BABIP with runners in scoring position, it goes to show that you never know what will happen if you put the ball in play. Sometimes aggressiveness pays off.
Advantage - Freeman by a hair as Votto has become patient to a fault
Votto - He has scored 100+ runs three of the past four seasons, thanks to his walks and the benefit of guys like Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips hitting behind him. While its a detriment to his RBI, it does help here.
Freeman - It’s not like he doesn’t walk (10.5% last season), but he’s just not going to be on base as much as Votto. While Votto should score 100, Freeman is likely going to be in the 90-95 range.
Advantage - Votto slightly
Neither player is going to steal a ton of bases, but Votto has 5+ for five straight seasons while Freeman has a total of three over the past two years.
Advantage - Votto
While no one may realize it, these two players are actually extremely close at this point thanks to Votto’s drop in power and RBI. The stolen bases are actually the tipping point, going slightly into Votto’s favor, but Freeman is right there as a potential .300/25/100 first baseman. The moral of the story? Don’t reach for Votto due to his name value. While Votto may still cost you a first round pick, you should be able to get Freeman a little bit later. Considering how similar they are, there’s no reason to take Votto with that type of price tag.