David Freese Not As Totally Awful As He Probably Is

David Freese likes to keep you guessing. In 2011, he was a hero. From 2012 to 2013, he went from very good to very bad. This season he went from very bad to kinda alright, sort of. And I’m not altogether sure what to think of him for 2015. Allow me to explain.

Indeed, in 2012, David Freese was coming off his World Series MVP shoulder-riding-darling narrative and was very useful in fantasy baseball circles. In his first full season, the then St. Louis Cardinal slashed .293/.372/.467, adding 20 home runs over 144 games and it seemed we had a new legitimate second tier third baseman to look forward to for several seasons.

2013, however, was a disaster from the get-go. He started the season on the disabled list after straining his lower back diving into the stands for a foul ball in Spring Training and when he returned in mid-April, he came out of the gates hitting .163/.255/.204. He would have one good month to the season, that being June, and if not for showing up at that time, he may have found himself demoted. On the season, he hit .262/.340/.381 with nine home runs in 521 plate appearances and was pretty much waiver wire fodder by July.

Coming into 2014, there weren’t many projection systems or prognosticators bullish on his prospects for offensive production, despite being a “change of scenery” candidate, now with the team “of” Anaheim but in Los Angeles. A rough mash-up of three projection systems pegged Freese at about .270/.330/.400 with 10-12 HR and middling associated counting stats. Rightly, the brain trust of Rotographs pegged him at 24th overall for third basemen just ahead of the 2014 season. And he finished 26th, so nicely done, fellas.

But it doesn’t take a whole lot of drilling down to see some curious value from his ho-hum .260/.321/.383 slash line with just 10 home runs and expected middling associated counting stats. In April and May of 2014, Freese was a wreck — hitting just .203/.262/.273 with two home runs — production which book-ended a broken finger in early May where he missed 16 games. But from June 1st to the end of the season — 370 plate appearances — he hit .281/.343/.425 with eight home runs and 41 RBI, hitting mostly towards the bottom of that lineup. He didn’t light the world on fire, but that represents flashes of the player from 2012 — back when he was useful in fantasy formats.

In fact, if you take his second half split and sort by wRC+, David Freese was ranked 9th among qualified third basemen, ahead of other gents named Sandoval, Longoria, and Seager to name a few. How did he do it? It might have everything to do with the slider.

Overall, Freese saw the slider about once every five pitches — but he saw it frequently when he was behind in the count. And in those instances, he was a mess. From the opening bell to the end of May, Freese hit .120 off sliders, with no home runs, no doubles. From June first to the end of the season, he hit .339 off sliders with 12 singles, four doubles, and five home runs. His slugging percentage on sliders went from .120 to .662. He saw the pitch almost 250 times in the second half, so the sample isn’t miniscule.

He improved almost universally after June, no matter the pitch selection. Although his second half BABIP actually dropped to .319 after a first half of getting lucky (and not hitting at all) at .341 I should caution that his BABIP on sliders after May sat at .436, which isn’t likely to be sustainable. But in a world where you could be facing decisions involving players named Casey McGehee and Luis Valbuena as actual starters, it’s worth taking a gamble on a guy like Freese who won’t cost a thing and might actually finish the season ranked in the low teens.

Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Although his second half BABIP actually dropped to .319 after a first half of getting lucky (and not hitting at all) at .341

Freese has a career .344 BABIP in 2000+ PA. His BABIP was .350+ each year before 2013. His strength/skill likely has deteriorated, but high BABIP=luck is lazy analysis. His potential certainly is better than a ‘lucky’ .341 BABIP.