FanPost

Decisions at First Base: Freeman vs. Goldschmidt

Here's the debut post from Glenn DuPaul, the newest member of the Beyond the Box Score family. Glenn is an Econ Major and writes for his own site, Baseball's Economist, as well as contributing at Bugs and Cranks. Please welcome him with open arms! -jbopp

Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder’s departures from the National League this off-season have left Joey Votto as the only elite first baseman left in the NL. First base is as weak as it has been in years in the NL, with only the Reds (Votto), Cardinals (Lance Berkman), and the Phillies (if you believe Ryan Howard will be back and productive this season) as teams who have a solid veteran at the position. However, two NL ball clubs have young first basemen who could make the jump to elite in the near future.

The Atlanta BravesFreddie Freeman and the Arizona DiamondbacksPaul Goldschmidt will both get the chance to play full-time in 2012 (Freeman played full-time in 2011 as well). Both players are similar in the respect that they have bad gloves, are 24 years or younger, will be under club-control until at least 2016, and can really hit. So if a NL GM had the choice between Freeman and Goldschmidt to be their first baseman of the future, who would be the better choice?

Note: To give a full picture of what’s possible for the two players in 2012 I used both Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections.

Freeman

Goldschmidt

2011

2012 (ZIPS)

2012 (PECOTA)

2011

2012 (ZIPS)

2012 (PECOTA)

PA

635

616

653

PA

177

670

560

AVG

0.282

0.279

0.270

AVG

0.250

0.250

0.248

OBP

0.346

0.344

0.329

OBP

0.333

0.340

0.324

SLG

0.448

0.455

0.429

SLG

0.474

0.472

0.474

OPS

0.794

0.799

0.758

OPS

0.807

0.812

0.798

HR

21

21

20

HR

8

30

27

RBI

76

83

79

RBI

26

92

79

UZR

-12.6

-5

N/A

UZR

-1.3

-2

N/A

wOBA

0.345

0.346

0.321

wOBA

0.356

0.352

0.341

fWAR

1.0

1.9

N/A

fWAR

0.6

2.2

N/A

Tav

0.280

N/A

0.272

Tav

0.281

N/A

0.278

FRAA

-5.1

N/A

-3.3

FRAA

-2.4

N/A

-2.6

bWAR

0.8

N/A

1.2

bWAR

0.6

N/A

1.4

ISO

0.166

0.176

N/A

ISO

0.224

0.222

N/A

BABIP

0.339

0.320

0.313

BABIP

0.323

0.319

0.300

BB%

8.3

8.4

8.4

BB%

11.3

11.2

10.7

K%

22.4

19.8

20.0

K%

29.9

28.8

27.6

I’ll start with the 24 year-old Goldschmidt, who only has about a quarter of a season’s worth of major league experience. His peripheral numbers were very good and his work in the postseason, including a grand slam, have D-Backs fans really excited about getting a full season out of the slugger. Goldschmidt’s projections see him hitting about the same in 2012 (.250 average and around .800 OPS) as he did in 2011, but for the full season; thus, his home run total will be much higher, in 25-30 range. His glove projects to be over 3 runs worse than the NL average (1.1 FRAA), but his true average projects to be slightly above the mean (.277) and median (.273), which leads to a projection of a 1.5-2.5 win season. The two biggest concerns that I have for Goldschmidt are his small sample size of major league numbers (didn’t even reach 200 PA’s if you include the postseason) and his strikeout rate.

It is tough to be certain that Goldschmidt will perform to the level he did last season, because he has yet to play a full major league season. His numbers in 2 ½ minor league seasons; though, are very good (OPS of 1.032 and 83 home runs), which is the reason why ZIPS and PECOTA don’t see much drop off from the batting line he put up in 2011. Goldschmidt’s strikeout rate was almost 30% in 2011, and the projections don’t predict a huge drop in that statistic, as they range from 27.5% to 29%. Ryan Howard had the highest K-rate among qualified first basemen last season at 26.7%, so it wouldn’t be bold to predict that Goldschmidt will strikeout more than any other full-time first baseman in 2012. I’m guessing that Arizona is willing to live with this high K-rate if Goldschmidt is able to produce a 30 home-run season, and have a walk rate around 11%, because many power hitting first basemen strike out a whole lot, but are able to still be valuable, because of the walks and homeruns that they are able to produce.

The 22 year-old Freeman had a very solid first season for the Braves, finishing in 2nd place in the Rookie of the Year voting behind teammate Craig Kimbrel. Freeman’s projections predict that Freeman won’t have a sophomore slump from his 21 home run/76 RBI first season, and the he’s almost a lock for another 20 home run/75 RBI season in 2012. Both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus project him to have a lower WAR than Goldschmidt but not by very much, and this difference is most likely within the margin of error. Freeman’s glove was awful last season, which offset his bat a good deal and is the main reason why his 2011 WAR wasn’t higher. Both projection systems predict an improvement in his glove; however, which is to be expected from a player who was only 21 as a full-time starter. Freeman hits for a better average than Goldschmidt but does not have the same power, yet my biggest concern with him actually comes from his average. Freeman had the fifth highest BABIP (.339) among first basemen last season, and there’s a good chance that this number isn’t sustainable, unless he can keep up a high line-drive rate.

Freeman’s line-drive rate in 2011 was 23%, which correlates fairly well to a .339 BABIP. Jacoby Ellsbury had a LD-rate of 22.9% in 2011, and his BABIP was .336. I’m not certain that Freeman can sustain this high LD-rate, and both projection systems seem to agree, as they both project his BABIP to fall by at least 19 points. This drop in BABIP is the reason why his projected AVG and OBP are lower than his 2011 numbers. A .270-.279 major league average is very solid, but for a first baseman that is only going to hit in the 20 home run range, with a low walk rate (around 8%), needs to have a higher average.

The choice between Freeman and Goldschmidt comes down to team’s preference at 1B: power or average. Both ZIPS and PECOTA projected a higher OBP for Freeman, but Goldschmidt’s power leads to a higher TAv and wOBA, but Goldschmidt benefits from hitting at Chase Field, which is a better hitters’ park than Freeman’s home, Turner Field. Also, Goldschmidt is a slightly better defender. From economic standpoint, both players are fairly even. Goldschmdit and Freeman will both make the major league minimum in 2012. The only advantage here goes to Goldschmidt, because Freeman has already incurred a season towards free agency. Honestly you can’t go wrong with either player, but if I was a GM and believed Goldschmidt’s 2011 numbers will project out across an entire season, then he would be my pick for the future at first base for my club.

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