Freddie Freeman, the Cardinals, and Coming Through When it Counts

A few weeks ago, Dave Cameron wrote a piece on RE24, explaining that, because RE24 measures offensive production with respect to the specific base-out state, one could compare it to a context-neutral offensive metric, such as Batting runs, in order to measure the effects of situational hitting.

Situational hitting is a vague term often used to laud making outs as long as it moves the runner up a base, but as I see it, all the phrase means is hitting differently depending on the situation. That is, good “situational hitting” is distributing your hits and extra base hits into the times that you hit when runners are on base, and especially in scoring position.

Subtracting Batting Runs (or Bat) from RE24 works as a good measure of situational hitting because it compares the value of the context-neutral event (single, strikeout, home run, etc) with the value of the actual change in base-out state. A single is worth more in certain situations; that “more” is measured using this method.

However, while this subtraction is a simple measure in some ways, it is unnecessarily complex in others. Both Bat and RE24 are park-adjusted and league-adjusted, but they make these adjustments in very different ways, not to mention the fact that FanGraphs’ RE24 includes stolen bases and caughts stealings, while Bat does not, so the differences between the two is actually a measure of situational hitting with a little bit of baserunning mixed in for fun.

To fix this, I recalculated RE24 to not include a park adjustment or include SB/CS. I then compared this new version of RE24 not to Bat, but to wRAA, the non-park adjusted version of our context neutral linear weights metric. Let’s take a look at the leaders and laggards based on this comparison this season (as of Wednesday):

Num Name Team PA newRE24 wRAA Difference
1 Freddie Freeman Braves 611 56.7 34.2 22.5
2 Allen Craig Cardinals 563 43.4 21.7 21.7
3 Daniel Descalso Cardinals 349 8.5 -8.8 17.4
4 Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 690 66.4 51.1 15.3
5 Brandon Barnes Astros 437 5.3 -9.6 14.8
6 Chris Davis Orioles 661 69.4 54.7 14.7
7 Adrian Gonzalez Dodgers 625 29.6 14.9 14.7
8 Yoenis Cespedes Athletics 568 16.6 2.5 14.1
9 Brandon Phillips Reds 655 10.7 -2.4 13.1
10 Matt Holliday Cardinals 591 41.2 28.3 12.9
344 Clete Thomas Twins 318 -21.6 -10.9 -10.7
345 Troy Tulowitzki Rockies 496 24.1 35.0 -10.9
346 Will Venable Padres 499 -1.1 10.2 -11.3
347 Will Middlebrooks Red Sox 355 -15.1 -3.6 -11.5
348 Gerardo Parra Diamondbacks 644 -8.2 3.7 -11.9
349 Michael Young Phillies 552 -8.4 4.4 -12.9
350 Rajai Davis Blue Jays 355 -15.2 -1.5 -13.7
351 Adrian Beltre Rangers 666 20.2 34.5 -14.2
352 Rickie Weeks Brewers 399 -19.4 -4.6 -14.8
353 Jedd Gyorko Padres 502 -18.0 0.5 -18.4

Freddie Freeman, by context-neutral standards, is having a very good year. He’s been about 50% better than the average hitter; he walks, hits for moderate power, and makes a lot of contact. First basemen are supposed to be above average hitters, and Freddie Freeman, without considering context, has been better than the average first baseman.

Considering context, Freeman has been not just a very good hitter, but one of the best hitters in baseball. His RE24 is second in the league, whether you make a park adjustment and include stolen bases or not. This 2+ win jump based on the timing of Freeman’s hits is unsurprising when you consider the fact that he is hitting .440 with runners in scoring position this year. That’s right. .440. I’m almost surprised that the above difference isn’t greater given a number like that.

You may also notice that two Cardinals are in the top three, and three are in the top ten. This makes sense, since St. Louis has a remarkable 138 wRC+ with runners in scoring position this year, compared to a 105 wRC+ overall. Their batting average with RISP is .329, better than the next best Tigers by an incredible 47 points.

But why are we talking about batting average with RISP when we have this fancy new situational hitting tool!  If we sum the new RE24 and wRAA for every team, and again take the difference between the two metrics, we see the following results:

Num Team newRE24 wRAA Difference
1 Cardinals 99.4 29.0 70.4
2 Athletics 71.5 44.4 27.1
3 Orioles 49.5 32.5 17.0
4 Yankees -24.8 -38.7 13.9
5 Reds 20.4 8.1 12.3
6 Indians 58.0 46.4 11.6
7 Mets -62.7 -69.5 6.8
8 Royals -50.0 -55.3 5.3
9 Astros -61.9 -61.5 -0.4
10 Marlins -165.2 -162.4 -2.8
11 Blue Jays 13.9 17.3 -3.4
12 Braves 14.2 17.7 -3.4
13 Nationals -15.2 -11.0 -4.1
14 Tigers 145.0 151.2 -6.3
15 Red Sox 138.4 145.6 -7.3
16 Angels 54.8 62.4 -7.6
17 Cubs -46.3 -37.0 -9.3
18 Diamondbacks -4.4 7.1 -11.5
19 Giants -51.7 -39.2 -12.5
20 Padres -79.5 -66.4 -13.0
21 White Sox -72.8 -59.4 -13.5
22 Phillies -58.9 -42.0 -17.0
23 Brewers -34.4 -16.7 -17.7
24 Rangers 9.0 27.6 -18.6
25 Rockies 14.5 33.2 -18.7
26 Pirates -46.0 -26.8 -19.2
27 Rays 24.0 43.5 -19.4
28 Dodgers -18.9 10.9 -29.8
29 Twins -69.9 -37.9 -32.0
30 Mariners -62.7 -28.7 -34.0

70 runs. The Cardinals have seen a 70 run difference based on the timing of when they get their hits. That’s seven additional wins created only from sequencing. In other words, the Cardinals situational hitting was essentially the equivalent to adding Miguel Cabrera to their line-up.

Is this situational/timely hitting something that we can expect to continue? Probably not. Of the 30 teams, only 14 were on the same side of zero last year in this difference. The Cardinals, despite their ridiculous situational hitting this year, were almost exactly average with regards to their situational hitting last year. On an individual basis, there is only about a 0.1 correlation between this difference last year and this year. It’s not a large sample, but is some confirmation of what we already knew about the lack of a sustainable clutch hitting skill.

Not everything has to be predictive, though. This measure might not tell us much about what will happen, but it helps us understand what has happened in the past. When you look at Freeman’s RBI numbers or the Cardinals average with RISP, it’s difficult to know how much of an actual advantage their performances conferred to their teams. This gives us an idea of just how valuable those performances were, and reminds us again that sequencing can be a huge part of wins and losses.




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15 Responses to “Freddie Freeman, the Cardinals, and Coming Through When it Counts”

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  1. Brian says:

    “Not everything has to be predictive, though. This measure might not tell us much about what will happen, but it helps us understand what has happened in the past. ”

    Thank you. I think both sides of the statistical argument in baseball get this wrong way too much. Not everything is predictive, some things just tell us what actually happened, but there’s no reason to expect them to continue. It’s the difference between looking back and looking forward.

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    • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

      You should have heard the Braves broadcasters talking about Freeman and the CLUTCH metric during the game last night. You’d think someone had slapped their mothers. They seemed to think that some math whiz had too much time on their hands, decided to make up a stat for the hell of it, then use it to sell to people. For money.

      I’m glad you pointed out that it might not be predictive. I think saber nay-sayers assume we back these metrics 100% and consider no other possibilities. Although I’m sure the creator of CLUTCH would admit that it’s a flawed, but somewhat helpful look at how things shook out.

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      • Brendan says:

        Braves broadcasters are always painful when talking about anything more advanced than batting average. It was painful last night listening to them “explain” babip. One of them was going on about how a hard hit line drive that was caught was still going to help their babip and they kept arguing that a home run was in play…

        I don’t understand how you can get paid to discuss baseball and not bother to try and understand something that’s pretty simple. It’s just being obstinate to refuse to even listen to what a stat is before rejecting it, which they’ve clearly done. Even funnier is how proud they can be sometimes of absolutely stupid stats that obviously have no meaning and were far more complicated to come up with.

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        • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

          I’m mostly just offended by how they shun anything math related. They are broadcasters, and I don’t see how pissing off at least some portion of your viewers could pay off for them. Even if they don’t believe in this stuff, they don’t have to make it sound like we’re all kooks looking for money by writing formulas. I just think about all of the kids, or even adults (hey, it IS the South), who actually listen to what they say, and then completely close off a path of useful knowledge. They admit that they don’t know anything about the field, so why are they making such rash judgments? I think it’d be tough to find someone versed in sabermetrics that would say something is wholly meaningless, even if it is less useful than something else. No one is claiming to be perfect other than the people who refuse to learn something new.

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        • Snowman says:

          I can no longer get offended by those two, I just get irritated and wish they’d shut the hell up. Forever.

          My ability to get really bothered ended the first time I heard the Chipstick refer to ERA as an ‘advanced statistic,’ and spend 20 minutes making the case as to why it was worse than useless and only W-L record should be used to judge pitchers.

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        • Scott says:

          I miss having schiambi in the booth. He was a nice sabr-friendly balance to joe simpson’s old school approach.

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  2. Max says:

    SB/CS are not the only baserunning plays included in RE24, although they probably account for the vast majority of non-hitting RE24. Advancing on wild pitches, balks, and passed balls are also included, although the hassle of eliminating them probably wouldn’t be worth it. The difference among teams for those sorts of plays is probably literally a few runs.

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  3. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Seeing the Dodgers very low in that table just shows how bad they were in the first half.

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  4. murphym45 says:

    While the Cardinals have outperformed their expected offensive output by a huge margin, it’s also worth noting that their wRAA is 2nd in the NL, trailing only the Rockies (and they have the best park-adjusted offense in the NL). They’d still be a playoff team even without the 7 wins from sequencing.

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  5. shapular says:

    Would you say this makes Freddie Freeman an MVP candidate? Because if it does, maybe I’ll be able to tolerate Chip Caray and Joe Simpson for the last few days of the season.

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    • Mike says:

      Nope sorry, and this as a die-hard Braves and Freddie Freeman fan. It makes him a good player, possibly even a great player, and one that can definitely add value to your team. But, he is not even in my top 5 list of MVPs this season. And there is no shame in being the third best First Baseman in the same league as Votto and Goldschmidt.

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        Agreed, but it’s interesting that he is the best hitter on the best team in the NL, no one is really mentioning him for MVP, and a lot of casual fans don’t even know who he is. I also find it interesting how everyone makes excuses for Heyward underperforming his hype based him being so young, but then are quick to dismiss Freeman as a player who will never be a star, when he is actually a month younger. That last sentence was way too long, but you get my point.

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        • Snowman says:

          …really?

          Heyward: 16.5 WAR in 529 games (2156 PAs)
          Freeman: 7.1 WAR in 468 games (1895 PAs)

          It’s hard not to wonder if this could already be Freeman’s career season, and he has 4.8 WAR with only three team games left.

          Heyward had a 4.7 WAR season as a rookie, and a 6.4 WAR season last year, and could still easily improve to have some 8ish WAR seasons.

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        • lil brittle says:

          skip to the sweet shop wit my sweetheart Sandy, got my pennies saved cuz I’ma sugar daddy, I’m her Hume Cronin she’s my Jessica Tandy

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