You asked for it, so back by popular demand, the return of Mortal Kombat. For those of you who are new to the series, we take two evenly matched (and in this case ranked) players and have them square off against each other to see who the better man is. Freddie Freeman is a veteran to this, having battled Joey Votto last year in a hard-nosed confrontation. Freeman may have lost the battle, but in the end, he won the war and is back to prove himself once again. His opponent this year is Anthony Rizzo, the fiery first baseman from Chicago who is ready to make a name for himself.
Who will emerge victorious? I’m sure you’re all eager to find out. Lets go to the tale of the tape to see how these two stack up against each other.
|Anthony Rizzo||Freddie Freeman|
|Height||6′ 3″||6′ 5″|
|Bats/Throws||L / L||L / R|
|First Year in Majors||2011||2010 *|
|ML At Bats||1595||2293|
|* Freeman had just 24 at bats in 2010|
Freeman holds a career batting average of .286, one point higher than last year’s average and right in line with the .288 he posted this year. While his home average dropped some this year the career average still stands at .294, and the improvements he showed on the road brought his road average up to .279 so you can play Freeman anywhere. Righties he handles very well to the tune of .300. Lefties are still an issue though and the .287 he hit against them in 2013 seems to be an abnormality. He batted .260 against them this year and holds a .258 career line. While this isn’t bad it needs to improve some for him to be a complete hitter. With the bases empty Freeman is a .265 hitter, but you put men on or in scoring position and he’s a different animal batting .300. This is another area he needs to improve on as getting on with bases empty is just as important.
Anthony Rizzo has a disappointing .254 career average, but he hit .286 in 2014 and .285 in 2012 so there has been improvement. He hit .281 against right-handed pitchers and showed great improvements against lefties this season. In 2014 he batted .300 against lefties with a BB/K ratio of almost 1/1. Freeman showed improvements against lefties in 2013 and then leveled off the following year so we will have to wait and see if Rizzo has truly figured them out. He has shown improvements in hitting at home and batted .315 in Wrigley this year. He is still struggling on the road hitting .256 this year, but that is loads better than the .215 road average from 2013. Rizzo was the anti-Freeman in 2014 when it came to hitting with men on base. With the bases empty he batted .299, but with runners on that average fell to .266 and sunk further the closer they were to scoring position.
Both players are capable of posting a batting average in the .285 to .290 range, but Freeman is the more rounded player when it comes to the splits. This doesn’t matter in roto, but in H2H leagues a few points of average can make a world of difference each week. They are both 25 so there could be improvements. My personal preference here would be Freeman, but it is too close to call.
ADVANTAGE – NONE
After 3 straight seasons of 20+ home runs, Freeman only hit 18 despite an additional 50 at bats. The power was still there with an average flyball distance of 297.15 (finishing between David Ortiz & Nelson Cruz), and while the ISO was down some (.173) it was close to his career average (.179). The flyball percentage went down slightly in 2014 to 32.5%, but like the ISO it was close to his career numbers (34.7). He did hit 43 doubles so you would think a few more would clear the wall in the future, but you have to be skeptical considering his line drive percentage has slowly gone up each year and was 31% in 2014.
Rizzo’s power has increased each year and last year he passed the 30 HR plateau. This should put him in the lead right away, but we’ll look at the numbers anyway. His average flyball distance in 2014 was 288.50, less than Freeman but a few ticks higher than Edwin Encarnacion. His ISO was .240, far beyond what he posted in 2013 (.186) and 2012 (.178) and 40 points higher than his career average (.196). Both his FB% and HR/FB ratios were above what he’s done in the past and higher than his career average so there is a chance he gives a few home runs back next season. Then again, he is still growing and developing so this might be something he can sustain or even improve upon. Even if there is some regression, I don’t see him hitting less than 25, but I didn’t see Freeman hitting 18 in 2014 so what do I know.
Rizzo has the obvious advantage here, and the icing on the cake is that he hit 23 in 2013 with a horrid batting average. That is Freeman’s highest total to date. 2015 could be a big year.
ADVANTAGE – Rizzo
RUNS BATTED IN
After 94 RBIs in 2012 and 109 in 2013, Freeman came crashing down and managed only 78 in 2014. Going back to his batting average with men on base, it wasn’t for lack of trying. You can be a .300 hitter with men on, but when nobody is getting on there isn’t much you can do about it. B.J. Upton was a mess, Simmons failed to live up to the hype and Heyward took the first half off. There were others who contributed time to the top 2 spots, but those three were the primary failures. Freeman spent the year in the number three spot after splitting time between third and fourth the previous years. Where the Braves bat Freeman in 2015 will determine his value. Hitting third means he will be lucky to knock in 90 runs at the most while a shift back to the cleanup spot would virtually guarantee 90 or more. The Braves should improve the leadoff position by next season so worst case, pencil Freeman in for 80 and hope for more.
Rizzo had an identical RBI total to Freeman in 2014 and also spent the year batting third which contributing to a lower RBI total. It’s hard to put a finger on one particular player who hit in the top 2 slots as the lineup was constantly changing so there is a lot of blame to go around there. Emilio Bonifacio had the most success in the leadoff spot, and if this was one of the best options the Cubs had in 2014 it says a lot. Rizzo’s slumping batting average with men on base didn’t help much so he’s to blame as well. Still, 78 RBIs isn’t bad considering who was hitting in front of him.
The Braves and Cubs both look to be better in 2015, but the cast in Atlanta has the better chance of affording Freeman a few more RBI opportunities than Rizzo’s Cubs. There is a lot (A LOT) of talent in or on the way to Chicago and come 2016 things might be even, but until it all arrives, and until Rizzo improves his hitting with men on, the advantage goes to…
ADVANTAGE – Freeman
It doesn’t matter where he was hitting in the lineup and what anyone else was doing, for the past 3 years Freeman has been good for 90 runs. I think it’s safe to assume that another 90 runs are in the cards for Freeman in 2015 (unless you guys know something I don’t). A career .366 OBP probably has something to do with that, and he’s averaged .390 the past two seasons. In addition, Freeman has Justin Upton and Evan Gattis hitting behind him. Chris Johnson also spent time hitting fifth and sixth and while he isn’t the greatest hitter in the world, he’s better than who Chicago had in their cleanup spot in 2014.
Rizzo scored 89 runs this year, and one-third of them came courtesy of the long ball. He will need to continue his power onslaught to maintain his run totals since there isn’t much behind him at the moment. Starlin Castro spent most of the year hitting cleanup and finished with 65 RBIs. While he didn’t do a bad job, he is no Justin Upton. Luis Valbuena was third on the team with 51 RBIs and spent half the year batting fifth. I don’t think you’ll find even a Cubs fan that believes Valbuena can duplicate or improve upon the season he had so the Cubbies will need someone else to step up. Jorge Soler could be that man, but given his age and limited minor league experience, it’s a coin flip on what kind of season he’ll have. They have Addison Russell and Kris Bryant in the minors; while there are high hopes here, there are no guarantees.
Like I said with RBIs, if this were 2016 I think things could be closer. For now, given the talent around each player I give the edge to the Braves and Freeman.
ADVANTAGE and Winner – Freeman *
Freeman may be the winner, but just like Barry Bonds he gets and asterisk. He gets the edge in runs and RBIs, but the gap isn’t that wide. While Atlanta should be better, Simmons and B.J. Upton are still in the mix. La Stella could step up and be that leadoff hitter they need, or he could fall flat leaving a void at the top of the order. The Cubs have a lot of promise; while it is unlikely that potential newcomers like Russell & Bryant will make an impact out of the gate, they have the talent to make a difference. Arismendy Alcantara was a solid hitter in the minors and could improve as could Junior Lake. Jorge Soler made an impact upon his arrival and how he progresses will play a big part in how the outfield shapes up.
Putting the surrounding cast aside, the bottom line is this. If you are looking for a guy who will hit for power and has big upside then Rizzo is your man. If you want someone with more dependable numbers with not as much upside but will deliver in four categories, then Freeman is you man. Arguments can be made on both sides, but in the end it all comes down to a personal preference. There is little risk involved in Freeman. There is a slight risk with Rizzo due to inconsistencies in the past but the upside is slightly higher than Freeman. You can argue for your player all you want, but at the end of the day you’ll have a stalemate. If faced with the dilemma of which player to choose, go with the player you like more so there are no regrets. But, if you had your heart set on one of them and he goes off the board one pick earlier, the other will make a terrific consolation prize. Freeman gets the win, but it is really a draw.
The Mortal Kombat Series