Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
As a former NL MVP, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto carries more catchet than Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, but the two are closer in value than you think.
Yes, Votto hit .324 with 37 home runs, 113 RBI, 106 runs and a 1.024 OPS in to edge out Albert Pujols for the MVP ... four years ago.
Last year, the two players offered similar fantasy value. In fact, Freeman ranked 16th on Yahoo's player rater compared to Votto's 29th even though Freeman played 15 fewer games.
Let's compare their 2013 numbers.
Votto: .305, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 101 R, .926 OPS
Freeman: .319, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 89 R, .897 OPS.
And yet, Votto's average draft position (ADP) is nearly 14 picks better than Freeman's.
As you can see, Votto really lagged behind Freeman in the RBI category.
Run production is extremely dependent on the players who hit in front of you, because you can't drive in runs if there isn't anyone on base. But Votto's low RBI total was more his own doing than the fault of the players around him.
Reds leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo's .423 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball, and Votto came to the plate with at least one man on base in 45.7 percent of his plate appearances, slightly less than Freeman's 47.5 percent.
However, Votto took 79 walks in those plate appearances, an astronomical 23.8 percent rate. Nineteen of them were intentional.
Choo signed with the Texas Rangers this offseason, leaving Billy Hamilton as the likely leadoff hitter. Hamilton may post an on-base percentage 100 points lower than the one Choo recorded in 2013. That means there could be even fewer RBI opportunities for the selective Votto in 2014.
It was fluky that Votto only drove home 73 runs as a player who hit third in all 161 of his starts, but with Choo gone the highest RBI total fantasy owners can expect from Votto is 85. He's still going to get pitched around with men on base, and he simply doesn't expand the zone at all. His 20 percent chase rate was the lowest in baseball last season.
Freeman's average may regress from .319, as it was inflated by a .371 batting average on balls in play, but not by much. The Braves first baseman has roped line drives at a 25.2 percent rate in his three full seasons, ninth in baseball during that timeframe. His 26.7 percent line-drive rate last year ranked 11th. He also cut down his strikeout rate and raised his walk percentage for the second straight year.
Votto's line-drive rate was slightly higher at 27.2 percent, and he had a BABIP of .360.
Neither Freeman nor Votto hit a high percentage of fly balls, but they both make them count.
Freeman had a 35.2 percent fly-ball rate in 2013, and he hit just four infield flies (2.6 IFFB%) while posting a 15 percent HR/FB.
Votto has hit just three infield fly balls in the last four seasons combined, and he had an 18.3 percent HR/FB last season.
However, his fly-ball rate has been on the decline since 2009 and was a career-low 29.2 percent in 2013.
Neither Votto nor Freeman is going to hit 30 homers without an altered approach. The 24-year-old Freeman already hits more fly balls and is more likely to experience an increase this season than the 30-year-old Votto.
In all likelihood, the two players will post very similar numbers again.
The only difference is that Votto will cost a top-20 pick, while you'll be able to get Freeman in the late-second or early-third round.