Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt – The New 1B Royalty

If one championship belt per position were to be awarded on an ongoing basis within major league baseball, a great deal of debate would ensue. Certainly, Mike Trout would get one outfield spot. But what if each outfield position had to be represented? Would Andrew McCutchen have a centerfield argument? Yadier Molina and Buster Posey would duke it out for catching honors. At first base, a changing of the guard is about to occur, and not just because Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer are headed in that direction. Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are young and exceptional, and possess the well-rounded profiles necessary to inject themselves into the positional championship discussion in the very near future.

First, let’s take these players’ respective ages, experience levels and big-picture production and place it into some sort of historical perspective.

 

LAST FIRST AGE + OBP 3 YR + SLG 3 YR OPS+ 3 YR
Freeman Freddie 23 2.31 2.06 123
Olerud John 23 2.62 1.83 120
Murray Eddie 23 1.56 2.80 131

 

LAST FIRST AGE + OBP 2 YR + SLG 2 YR OPS+ 2 YR
Goldschmidt Paul 25 2.69 2.84 141
Votto Joey 25 2.57 2.75 140
Thornton Andre 25 2.87 2.42 143
Helton Todd 25 1.84 2.64 121

The above two tables measure Freeman and Goldschmidt against their closest matches in terms of number of combined standard deviations above league average in OBP and SLG at the same age, with the same number of years of experience as a major league regular. Splitting production into its OBP and SLG components allows us to match up players who are not only similarly productive overall, but who also accumulate that production in a similar manner. As you see, both of today’s players have pretty attractive historical comps.

Freeman’s youth is obviously a big part of his appeal. The group of 23-year-old three-year veteran regular MLB 1B’s is not that large (Eric Hosmer is also a member of this fraternity), and Freeman, John Olerud and Eddie Murray are the three best. The population of 25-year-old, two-year veteran regular MLB 1B’s is quite a bit larger, but Goldschmidt and his peer group represent its top echelon. The similarity of Goldschmidt to Joey Votto at the same age is quite compelling, as is Goldschmidt’s relative superiority to Todd Helton at the same age. As for Andre Thornton, well……he was a poor defender, had significant injury issues, and embodies the inherent risk of relatively one-dimensional bat-only players who arrive as regulars a little later than most star-caliber MLB regulars.

The brief exercise above clearly places Freeman and Goldschmidt alongside some Hall of Fame/Hall of Very Good players. What makes these two players’ respective offensive games tick? Let’s take a look at their batted ball profiles to get a better sense of how well they are built for the long run. First, let’s examine their batted ball frequencies by type:

 

Freeman % REL PCT
K 19.20% 106 62
BB 10.50% 130 81
POP 5.20% 66 22
FLY 32.10% 112 75
LD 26.20% 121 93
GB 36.40% 87 22
—- —- —- —-
Goldschmidt % REL PCT
K 20.40% 112 68
BB 13.90% 173 96
POP 4.80% 60 16
FLY 30.10% 105 61
LD 21.70% 100 53
GB 43.40% 104 63

Each batted ball type is expressed as a percentage, relative to MLB average (scaled to 100) and as a percentile rank compared to the population of 2013 MLB regulars.

Both Freeman’s K and BB ranks were above league average in 2013, but both are trending steadily in the right direction. His popup rate is quite low for a power hitter – it has been lower than the league average in each of his three years as a regular, and his 2013 percentile rank of 22 represents a career best.

Normally, one would expect regression from a very high line drive rate like Freeman’s 2013 mark, as year-to-year LD rates correlate the least among batted ball types. Freeman, however, has posted stellar LD percentile ranks of 86, 85 and 93, respectively, in his three years as a regular. Joey Votto has never posted an LD percentile rank below 78 in his career, and hasn’t been below 91 since 2009. Freddie Freeman is a good hitter, period, and will likely continue to post high LD rates for the foreseeable future. His fly and ground ball rates have also been quite consistent during his brief career.

Like Freeman, Goldschmidt’s K and BB rates were both high than the league average in 2013, and are both trending in the right direction. Also like Freeman, Goldschmidt has a low popup rate for a power hitter. After posting the highest line drive rate among NL regulars in 2012, he retreated to about MLB average in that department in 2013, with the drop in LD’s accompanied by a boost in his ground ball rate.

Both Freeman and Goldschmidt use the entire field – neither can be characterized as an “extreme ground ball puller”, and thus are not feasible targets for opposing infield overshifts. Both hit more fly balls to the opposite field than to the pull side in 2013, and more importantly, did damage to all directions of the field. Despite high but acceptable K rates for power hitters, both Freeman and Goldschmidt project to continue as high average, high OBP types in the future on the strength of their low popup ad high LD rates alone. As with most highly successful offensive 1B’s, however, it’s the damage done on balls hit in the air that sets them apart. Let’s take a more detailed look at their production by batted ball type last season:

 

Freeman AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.387 0.971 177 218
LD 0.755 0.882 120 107
GB 0.229 0.235 90 124
ALL BIP 0.404 0.63 156 173
ALL PA 0.316 0.389 0.493 152 167
—- —- —- —- —- —-
Goldschmidt AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.378 1.17 219 320
LD 0.729 1.083 138 118
GB 0.278 0.289 133 123
ALL BIP 0.395 0.721 175 189
ALL PA 0.3 0.399 0.547 171 183

For both players, actual AVG and SLG by batted-ball type is displayed. In the next to last column, actual production is expressed relative to MLB average for each batted-ball type, scaled to 100, and in the last column, the relative production figure is adjusted for ballpark, luck, etc.. For purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are counted as outs, and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.

Freeman did a solid amount of damage on fly balls in 2013, as his 177 relative production figure might attest. However, a list of players with SLG over 1.000 on fly balls in 2013 would include Marlon Byrd, Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Bryce Harper, Raul Ibanez, Adam Jones, Garrett Jones, Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, among others – and not Freddie Freeman. Part of that is because of his pitcher-friendly home park, but there are quite a few players who impact the baseball more authoritatively in the air than Freeman.

Adjustment for home park, luck, etc., raises his adjusted relative fly ball production to 217, putting him ahead of many of the players on the aforementioned list. Not only does Freeman hit a lot of line drives, he also hits them harder than the league average, though his LD relative production figure is regressed a bit back toward league average to 107. His actual relative ground ball production is low at 90, but after adjustment for his hard/soft ground ball rates, moves up to 124. That adjustment might appear a bit extreme for a slow runner like Freeman, but his ability to hit the ball hard on the ground the other way is a mitigating factor. Taking all BIP into account, Freeman’s .404 AVG-.630 SLG is good for 156 relative production, adjusted upward to 173 for ballpark, luck, etc.. His strong walk rate allows these figures to hold up quite well at 152 and 167, respectively, once K’s and BB’s are added back into the equation.

Goldschmidt did even more damage on fly balls in 2013, with his actual .378-1.170 line good for a relative production figure of 219. Now for a surprise – most see Chase Field as a hitters’ paradise, but this was certainly not the case in 2013. Goldschmidt’s home park has treated fly balls much differently than line drives in recent seasons. Chase Field’s fly ball park factor was 83.2 in 2013, compared to 107.0 for liners. Production on fly balls was suppressed in particular from LCF to RCF, corresponding with Goldschmidt’s favorite areas to drive the ball. Adjusted for ballpark, etc., Goldschmidt’s fly ball production explodes to near the Chris Davis level.

His line drives are hit even harder than Freeman’s, and he also does a surprising amount of damage on ground balls. His actual .395-.721 line on all batted balls translates to a 175 relative production figure, adjusted upward to 189 for ballpark, luck, etc.. As with Freeman, his high BB rate allows his actual and adjusted relative production figures to hold up well at 171 and 183, respectively, once the K’s and BB’s are added back.

Both of these guys are large, physical presences, Freeman at 6’5″, 225, Goldschmidt at 6’3″, 245. Both have relatively significant, normal batting splits, with Freeman’s, as a lefty, a bit larger as would be expected. Both field their positions reasonably well, to the point that they don’t have to worry about becoming AL DH-only types anytime soon. Goldschmidt actually runs quite well for a big man, and has stolen 18 and 15 bases respectively in the last two seasons. Freeman’s contract should prove to be a sound investment from the club’s perspective over the long run, while Goldschmidt’s is the equivalent of getting in on the Microsoft IPO back in the day.

Right now, with their K and BB rates trending positively and significant additional power upside available once they begin to gradually pull the ball more in the air, it is likely that neither has reached his peak. In fact, one or both is apt to take a significant additional step forward in the next year or two.

In my mind, the reigning owner of the 1B Championship Belt is Joey Votto. On a one-year basis, Chris Davis or even Edwin Encarnacion might have a claim, but you’ve got to knock out the champ, and no one has just yet. Davis has no peer when it comes to destroying fly balls, but his stratospheric K rate and extreme ground ball puller status give him little margin for error. Encarnacion has a tiny K rate for a power hitter, but his very high popup rate and extreme dead pull tendency on all types of batted balls are concerns going forward. Based on the combined standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG method used in the very first table above, Votto ranks sixth among MLB 1B’s through their age 29 season, behind five guys named Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Thomas, Lou Gehrig and Johnny Mize.

Among 29-year-old six-year regulars, Votto ranks first, with Helton and Lance Berkman next in line. Interestingly enough, however, both Freeman and Goldschmidt got more production from their batted balls than did Votto last season, before and after adjusting for context. It’s Votto’s otherworldly walk rate – 99th percentile for the second year in a row – that more than anything else is keeping him in the race. He has already peaked, and will soon need to begin pulling the ball in the air more often to maintain his production levels. The new 1B champ will likely take over soon – be it a position-shifter like Cabrera or Mauer, an up-and-comer like Freeman or Goldschmidt, or someone else like Davis, Encarnacion or a resurgent Prince Fielder. Eric Hosmer and Anthony Rizzo may also want to speak their piece before too long.

Bottom line – neither Freeman nor Goldschmidt may not be the next Joey Votto, or Murray or Olerud or Helton. What both players already are, however, is pretty good – hit-before-power guys with plenty of power. Their K and BB trends are positive, they don’t give away outs with popups, and can the hit the ball out of any part of any yard. Neither has had his career year yet. Best guess – Freeman will have a long, consistent career without a defining peak, a Murray-esque run without much black ink in the record book. Goldschmidt will have a lesser overall body of work than Freeman, but is more likely to put up a .340-.420-.630 tour de force somewhere along the line. Goldschmidt is also the one more likely to go the way of Andre Thornton, though the chances of that happening to either would seem to be quite low. Both will be batting between #3 and 5 in productive major league batting orders for many years to come.



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Steve
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2 years 3 months ago

I find it odd that you’re comparing Goldschmidt with Freeman, as Goldschmidt is SIGNIFICANTLY better than Freeman will ever be.

Caught you!
Guest
Caught you!
2 years 3 months ago

That is an odd thing to say. Did you read any of the article?

They had very similar offensive seasons 156 v. 150 wRC+, and Freeman is 2 years younger than Goldschmidt.

Anon21
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Anon21
2 years 3 months ago

Maybe, maybe not. Keep in mind the age disparity—Freeman is the more likely to add power from here. But anyway, I think he explained why he compared them. They’re both young, play the same position, and they have some things in common that make them both great hitters.

ValueArb
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

I would also like to say Freddy Freeman is no Paul Goldschmidt, while I still can. I fear next year i might not be able to say the same.

Steve
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Steve
2 years 3 months ago

Freddie doesn’t hit enough fly balls to add significant power and his year last year was aided by babip luck. I would bet you he never has a year EVER like Goldschmidt had last year.

Anon21
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Anon21
2 years 3 months ago

If “a year like Goldschmidt’s 2013” means that Freeman puts up at least one season of 6.5 fWAR or greater, I’d take that bet at even money. And yeah, Freeman’s 2013 was aided by BABIP, but it wasn’t all luck—probably not even mostly.

Rob
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Rob
2 years 3 months ago

I guess you did not bother reading the article Steve? Freeman had a higher percentage of PAs end in FBs last year than Goldschmidt did.

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 years 3 months ago

Goldschmidt is also two years older, despite both of them coming up at about the same time.

Evan
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Evan
2 years 3 months ago

Maybe if you are talking strictly fantasy because Freeman doesn’t steal bases. But he is a plus defender (arguably the best stretch for a first baseman) with great hit tools and I think he definitely could produce a WAR on par with Goldy (just because I am looking at ESPN’s page, 5.5 WAR for Freeman compared to 7 for Goldy last year, if that’s SIGNIFICANT). Freddie took 9 less intentional walks than Goldy and still posted an OBP within .005? Goldy hit a homer about every 17 ABs last year, but has fluctuated as high as 25 (right about where Freeman has consistantly been for 3 years of 540+ ABs).

So you tell me… SIGNIFICANTLY better?

Ken
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Ken
2 years 3 months ago

Perfect example of somebody who read the title of the article and then commented before actually reading the article itself.

Hason Jeyward
Member
Hason Jeyward
2 years 3 months ago

There’s a trend I’ve noticed of ignorant comments coming first. Are people in such a rush to leave the first comment that they fail to even read the article?

yosoyfiesta
Member
yosoyfiesta
2 years 3 months ago

You’re only mention of Chris Davis is that Goldy can approach Crush levels with his fly ball production. So you discuss how great Goldschmidt is because he can approach perhaps the best power hitter in baseball’s fly ball production…but you leave that power hitter out of the 1B royalty? Chris Davis is 1B royalty, he and Goldschmidt, Freeman is a nice player, even a very good one, but 1B royalty belongs to Crush and Goldy. Crush hit 53 HRs, and even with regression in his HR/FB%, he’ll easily hit 40+ again. His production numbers were absurd. I know you looked at them as guys with youth and a track record, but leaving Crush out of an article titled ‘The New 1B Royalty’ is just silly.

Pokkit
Member
Pokkit
2 years 3 months ago

His other mention of Chris Davis in the article was his concern about his very high K% and ground ball puller status, which were his reasons for not including Chris Davis in the “new 1b royalty”. Agree or disagree, but those are words in the article.

bdhumbert
Member
bdhumbert
2 years 3 months ago

My initial reaction to the Freeman extension was – “You have got to be insane” – but after digging a bit and looking closer it started to make sense. Your article further supports the deal.

Their is of course a lot of risk – wonder to what extent teams have insurance available to mitigate those risk. But the upside is that you have stability – and a lot or marginal value in the future if the Player continues to develop and grow.

One of the best examples of teams locking up surplus value is what the Pirates did with McCutchen – he is a huge bargain over the balance of the contract. It will be interesting to see if more teams try this approach – and if more agents can leverage the numbers up a bit – two possible candidates for the Pirates would be Marte and Plolanco in the next 2-3 years

Iron
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Iron
2 years 3 months ago

I think there is a lot less insurance than seems to be commonly believed, because the contracts where it would seem the most useful, it would also be prohibitively expensive. Look at it this way, if you were an insurer, how much would you charge to indemnify a 10 year $200 million dollar contract? 90 million?

Simon
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Simon
2 years 3 months ago

Probably substantially less than that, given that the chances of a career-ending injury (at least for a position player) are pretty low. I’s anticipate that in most cases, I’d have to pay out for a half-season missed here and there, maybe a whole year in some cases, but multiple year injuries are pretty uncommon.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 3 months ago

I tried to tell people that while Freeman’s BABIP was high, it’s more a function of his batted ball profile than luck.

If you look at his spray chart, you can clearly see why he had the success he did last year.

Brandon Inge
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Brandon Inge
2 years 3 months ago

“both Freeman and Goldschmidt got more production from their batted balls than did Votto last season, before and after adjusting for context. It’s Votto’s otherworldly walk rate – 99th percentile for the second year in a row – that more than anything else is keeping him in the race.”
Isn’t this what got Votto roundly criticized by his own fans last year, not swinging the bat enough, looking for walks??

nick
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nick
2 years 3 months ago

I just want to say that this is a terrific piece. That’s all, that’s for writing it.

nick
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nick
2 years 3 months ago

Thanks, thanks for writing it.

Pete
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Pete
2 years 3 months ago

Nice article. It’s particularly timely in that there are few even decent 1B prospects on the way to the majors. Of course, some of the many premium 3B and OF prospects may move to 1B, but right now, the Dbacks and Braves have locked up rare commodities. I got to see Freddie in person at Wrigley a couple of times this year, and his stroke is amazing. It’s very level, which means line drives, and line drives tend to turn into base hits, not home runs. Nevertheless, he hit a moon shot out to right in the Braves’ division clincher. Goldie, obviously, is a terrific player too, and his contract makes him even more valuable. And he can run a little bit, which is not the case with Freddie. Although I have noticed that Freddie never gets thrown out on the bases. He knows his limitations, but he’s not a station-to-station guy. He has good instincts. It’s odd, though, that 1B is so thin after the elite few. A decade ago, there were 1B stuck at AAA who would be starters for a lot of teams today.

Trev
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Trev
2 years 3 months ago

I really like the addition of Tony Blengino here at Fangraphs (though I’d like him back in the M’s front office more). What’s especially nice is that he brings new stats in to play and as a result his perspective is much different than the “Fangraphs consensus”. Not that the writing of Cameron/Sullivan/etc. isn’t good, but adding a completely different view is a good thing.

scotman144
Member
Member
scotman144
2 years 3 months ago

Agreed wholeheartedly with this comment (save for the M’s front office; get this guy in the fold Cherrington!). I am curious about the quantitative vs. qualitative nature of the batted ball profiles and adjustments. Are they purely data driven or does scouting come into play in these analyses? These articles feel like a true peak into how MLB FO’s really [should?] assess talent.

August Fagerstrom
Editor
Member
2 years 3 months ago

Agreed. Best addition to FanGraphs in forever. Sullivan is perhaps my favorite baseball writer and Dave is obviously a very smart man, but it almost seems like things had gotten into a formula where I could predict what the conclusion of an article would be just by reading the title and seeing who wrote it.

Tony’s insight is fresh and excellent, a more than welcome addition to the team.

40/40club
Member
40/40club
2 years 3 months ago

You only looked at their batter ball profile, K & BB rates from last year, career years for both Goldschmidt & Freeman with their WAR and Batting runs more than doubling from their previous career bests. Yes they are young, but they recent studies have shown that players do not improve their skills in their early years like players used to, and instead only show margin growth/decline: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/hitters-no-longer-peak-only-decline/

I guess what I’m trying to say is a strongly disagree with your statement “. Neither has had his career year yet”. In fact, I’d be willing to put money on the fact that Freeman never crosses the 5 WAR threshold and Goldschmidt never gets above 6.5
But hey, that’s just the opinion of an observant and knowledgeable fan while you’re a former insider in a major league front office, so we’ll see what happens.

Greg
Guest
Greg
2 years 3 months ago

Yes, good, now extend Belt for a fraction of Freeman money.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

Great comment. I was reading about “championship belt” and thinking… Brandon Belt needs a shout out.

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