According to MockDraftCentral’s latest 5X5 Average Draft Position rankings, two National League first baseman sit back-to-back at spots 30 and 31. Both lefty batters are fresh off monstrous 2009 seasons, with one posting the third-best wOBA in the majors at first base, and the other ranking sixth at the position.
Votto, 26, followed up a quality rookie season in 2008 (.373 wOBA) with a scorching sophomore campaign, trailing only a pair of Princes (Albert and Fielder) in wOBA with a .418 mark. Cincy’s second-round pick in the 2002 draft boosted his walk rate (from 10 percent to 12.9 percent) and his Isolated Power (.209 to .245), bashing all pitch types in the process.
While Votto is well-established as a premium offensive player, he will likely regress somewhat next year: his BABIP was .372. That number figures to fall back to the .340-.350 range, according to projection systems:
Votto’s projected 2010 BABIP
Bill James: .344
The Fans: .350
That would make Votto more of a .300-type hitter, as opposed to the .320+ guy we saw last season. A less extreme BABIP would result in a still-excellent wOBA in the .390’s (with the Bill James system forecasting a higher mark):
Votto’s projected 2010 wOBA
The Fans: .400
Bill James: .407
Gonzalez, meanwhile, mashed to the tune of a .402 wOBA in 2009. His walk rate and ISO improved each season from 2006-2008, but they skyrocketed this past year:
The 27 year-old drew ball four in 17.5 percent of his plate appearances last season (career 11 BB%), with a .274 ISO (career .225 ISO).
Of course, the pink elephant in the room when comparing Votto and Gonzalez is environment. Votto takes his cuts at Great American Ballpark (three-year park factor of 105 according to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, with a HR park factor of 125). Gonzalez must confront Petco Park, which ravages offensive performance (three-year park factor of 76, with a HR park factor of 73).
Enter wRC+. The stat takes a hitter’s wOBA and adjusts it based on park and league factors, setting it on a scale where 100 is average and above 100 is above-average. On a context-neutral basis, Gonzalez edged out Votto in 2008. This past year, they were essentially equals:
Votto: 126 wRC+
Votto: 157 wRC+
Gonzalez: 158 wRC+
While wRC+ is a very useful metric in evaluating players in a context-neutral manner, we do have to give Votto some additional fantasy points and dock Gonzalez because of the drastic difference in home venues. Here are Gonzalez’s 2010 projected wOBAs:
Bill James: .383
The Fans: .395
Though Votto’s lofty BABIP and Gonzalez’s massive spikes in walk rate and ISO portend to some regression to the mean, both figure to be excellent first base options again next season. You can’t go wrong either way. But if I had a choice between the two, I would select Votto on the basis of his friendlier confines.
What do you think? Who’s the better option, Votto or Gonzalez?
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.