Thursday, March 21, 2013

'My Guys' v Royals Part I: Freddie Freeman v Eric Hosmer

With spring training in full force, the first crack of the bat in the 2013 regular season is an ear shot away.  While I would call myself a fan of the Atlanta Braves, I am a bigger fan of the individuals around the league whose game I have grown fond of over the course of their careers.

During these posts, I want to compare some of these guys to their comparable Royals player and determine who a better bet is for 2013 and beyond.  This post will pair Eric Hosmer and Freddie Freeman; both are 23 year old first baseman with high expectations and two almost full years of major league experience to their name.

A look at the Past:

In 2011, Eric Hosmer and Freddie Freeman were the 8th and 17th best prospects, respectively, according to Baseball America.  Freddie Freeman was slated to become the opening day starter at first base for the Braves after only seeing a short September call-up in the majors prior.

Eric Hosmer was set to start the 2011 season in AAA grooming to become the 2012 everyday first baseman.  After a ridiculous stretch of 118 AB’s in AAA (1.107 OPS!) the Royals made the right decision and brought him up to the major league club to play every day.  The two had very similar 2011 seasons, with Hosmer getting the slight edge in numbers based on his display of speed (11 SB’s) and Freeman’s inability to make contact (22.4% K). 

In 2012 both players were looking to grow on their strong rookie campaign and try to avoid a sophomore slump.  Freddie Freeman was generally able to improve his game.  With a .259/.340/.456 triple slash line Freeman proved his ability to get on base enough and have enough power to be a decent major league first baseman at only 22 years old.  His batting average regressed back to the mean a little after a .282 AVG (.339 BABIP) in 2011 and .259 AVG (.295 BABIP) last season. The positive sign, however is that Freeman was able to draw more walks and improve his power to the point where his OBP/SLG/OPS were nearly identical to his rookie season.   A big reason for his success could lie in his ability to make solid contact with an impressive 26% line drive percentage, a very good number for any major league hitter. 

Freeman ended 2012 as a 2 WAR player, with his defense and speed limiting his overall value for his team.
Eric Hosmer was bitten with the sophomore slump bug, ending the season with a .232/.304/.359 line.  While Hosmer may have been a little unlucky with a .255 BABIP, his power decrease was of a bigger concern lowering his ISO to a pedestrian .127 after an impressive .172 in 2011, and five less homers in 35 more plate appearances.

Hosmer actually ended up a negative WAR number, as defensive metrics did not love his run prevention skills.  On the bright side, Hosmer did continue to show that he can run on the base-paths recording 16 steals in 17 attempts.  He also improved his walk rate and continued to strike out at a respectable 15.9 percent.  Freeman gets the clear nod in terms of 2012 success for his solid improvements at the plate.  

A glance at the present:

As we approach the 2013 season, both Freeman and Hosmer will have pressure on themselves to be productive middle of the order hitters for their respective teams.  Both myself and projection systems predict that both Hosmer and Freeman to improve in 2013.  Most see Freeman improving his home runs and cutting down on his strike-outs thus improving on AVG and SLG and ending with and OPS right around .830. 

Projections for Hosmer show an increased BABIP, 20 home run power and continued contact and speed skills capable of a 20/15 season and an OPS hovering .800.  I’d agree with the projections and give Freddie Freeman the edge for who will help their team more in 2013. 

A look beyond:

Looking forward it appears that both have immense upside.  Freeman has a higher floor based on his 2012 season and has plenty of room to be a .280/.380./.540 type hitter for multiple years.  He won’t be a superstar without cutting down his strikeouts and he will never have particularly good speed.  He is not a spectacular defender now but there is plenty of belief that he will become a plus fielder down the line.  It is also hard to tell how much, if any, Freeman will be able to improve on his power numbers. 

Hosmer has a higher ceiling in my mind, but has a lot of work to do to make up for a disappointing 2012.  Hosmer could be a stud first baseman with 30/20 skills and more walks than strike-outs.  First things first, Hosmer needs to find his power without sacrificing his other skills to do so.  Unlike Freeman, Hosmer has struggled to hit line drives (18.3%) and hit way too many ground balls (53.6%) in 2012, and that has to change.  He is athletic and has the ability to be a plus first baseman and could realistically move to the outfield if it made sense down the road. 

This is finally over:

These players are very similar in production, but in this battle I will have to go with MY BOY Freddie Freeman.  Freddie is my favorite player in baseball, so I have to admit I am not shocked with my conclusion.  Hosmer’s athletic ability leaves him nearly limitless in upside, but Freeman has a leg up on Hosmer right now and has the ability to slowly become one of the better hitters in baseball.  I’ll probably eat my words though because this Hosmer guy seems like he’ll be really good.

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