Age is everything. When thinking about, or passing judgment on, the performance of baseball players now and into the future, the impact of age cannot be overstated.
When it comes to Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves, I constantly fight with my own internal impulses to declare him “not that good.” I constantly make joking references to Lyle Overbay in reference to the Braves first baseman. Their profiles are not dissimilar, decent power but not traditional “first base” pop, left-handed batters with close to league-average patience. Overbay is a vastly superior defender but they’re first baseman, it isn’t like it matters that much.
Should we expect similar career trajectories for similar players? Is Freeman an Overbay Clone – a decidedly league-average player for the rest of his days? We can’t make that distinction without first considering Freeman’s age.
Freddie Freeman is still just 23-years old. Comparing him to Lyle Overbay through the first X games of their respective careers is folly as Overbay didn’t settle in as an everyday player until he was 26 – an age much closer to the mythical idea of “athletic peak.” Freeman already has more than 1500 plate appearances of above-average production before his 24th birthday.
Freddie Freeman might not put up Prince Fielder-type numbers as a first baseman but his 144 wRC+ in 2013 ranks him fourth in baseball, just ahead of, um, Prince Fielder. For his career, Freeman owns a 120 wRC+ which is still quite good, even for a mash-first position like first base.
So is Freeman this good? Probably not, he’s riding a fair amount of batted ball luck for a player with his profile (read: slow). His 7 home runs put him on pace to hit his obligatory 20 home run benchmark in 2013, after hitting 23 last season and 21 the year before.
Freddie Freeman might not be a superstar but he is a very good hitter at a rather young age. Might he break out like Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt? He just might. Braves fans and bloggers occasionally make noise about offering Freeman a contract extension now before his power settles in and all the extra home runs drive up his arbitration price.
Like Goldschmidt, it might have been foolish to lock up “non-elite” first baseman in the past but maybe this is what an elite first baseman looks like now? The list of first basemen with above-average offensive seasons without traditional power is a weird one indeed. Either way, the Braves are set at first base for the next few seasons, at the very least.
And the rest
Walkoff win? More like walk back to the dugout, amirite? Will Venable goes full Edmonds.
Stanton’s second home run last night was the 100th of his career. He is 27 games into his age-23 season. He’s good! [Play Index]
On the Diamondbacks international efforts. Great stuff from Eric Nusbaum. [SoE]