Freddie Freeman's $135 million contract extension raised a lot of eyebrows this week, not just because of the size of the commitment but because of Freeman's somewhat undeveloped power for a first baseman. The position has long been considered the domain of hulking sluggers, and even in this age of reduced power, it's a position where teams still expect to get a fair share of home runs. And the 24-year-old Freeman is not really a home run guy.
Over the last three years, he's hit 67 home runs (21 in 2011, 23 in both 2012 and 2013), which in that time frame ranks just 14th among qualified first basemen. And of the top 30 qualified first basemen in home runs, Freeman's rate of home runs per plate appearance -- one every 28.1 trips to the plate -- ranks 23rd, putting him in the same category as guys like Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland. If one was to judge Freeman solely on his ability to hit the ball over the wall, he would grade out as an average first baseman at best.
However, even if chicks dig the long ball, not even a first baseman has to specialize in dingers in order to be highly productive and extremely valuable. While Freeman's home run rate compares with lesser players, it also puts him in the same range as Joey Votto -- he's averaged one home run every 28.7 trips to the plate -- and he's probably the best hitter in the National League. And while Freeman certainly doesn't have Votto's track record, there are some similarities here that should make Braves fans less nervous about such large commitment to a first baseman who doesn't physically remind you of the Incredible Hulk.