Can David Freese Be A Fantasy Darling Once More?

David Freese, a fantasy darling from a year ago, failed to replicate his breakout season in both real-life and fantasy terms. On the diamond, he declined offensively and defensively and dropped from a four-win player in 2012 to roughly replacement-level in 2013. And more importantly for fantasy baseball purposes, he essentially took a face-first plunge into the ocean this year with an anchor firmly tied to his waist, as he was barely a top-30 option at third base.

When guys like D.J. LeMahieu, Mike Aviles and merely 350 plate appearances of Aramis Ramirez proved more valuable, it’s abundantly clear that the fantasy production was sub-par. What makes his disappointing performance sting even more for fantasy owners is that he was drafted (on average) ahead of guys like Kyle Seager, Pedro Alvarez, Manny Machado and Matt Carpenter.

Value is paramount in fantasy baseball, and while David Freese wasn’t the worst value of the season — hello, Starlin Castro, Matt Kemp and B.J. Upton — he certainly performed well below expectations this season. His power dropped, his average barely eclipsed .260 and his overall counting statistics were underwhelming. Fantasy owners thought they were getting a high-average third baseman with 20+ homer power, and they received a crappy average and nine home runs. Brutal.

So, let’s not only figure out what happened, but also attempt to determine what this disappointing 2013 season means for David Freese going forward. Because, realistically, if this was merely a blip on the radar, he could be an intriguing sleeper on draft day this upcoming spring.

Without making this too simplistic, Freese’s disappointing fantasy season can be pinpointed by two specific declines, ones that were already addressed in the previous paragraphs: his batting average and power. His batting average dropped 31 points from a year ago, and his BABIP correspondingly declined 32 points. The batted ball profile didn’t change, the walk and strikeout rates didn’t do much differently, and he actually made more contact with the baseball in 2013. Thus, I’m willing to ascribe much of his decline in batting average from .293 to .262 to a simple BABIP drop.

The problem, though, is his BABIP drop still resulted in an above-average .320 BABIP. The question then becomes, should we really feel comfortable banking on a batting average rebound that appears to be reliant upon a .350+ BABIP?

On one hand, Freese sustained a .350+ BABIP over his first two years in the majors, which was 930 plate appearances. He also possesses the kind of batted ball profile one would expect to result in a high BABIP — one which relies on line drives and ground balls, rather than fly balls. With that in mind, it’s perhaps too hasty to simply dismiss another .340 or .350 BABIP in 2014, as it certainly appears to be something that’s not unreasonable to expect.

A rebounding batting average, however, is not sufficient for the 30-year-old third baseman to become a must-draft commodity in standard leagues. He doesn’t offer any stolen bases and doesn’t bat high enough in the Cardinals’ batting order to be a consistent run or RBI threat. To be a productive fantasy third baseman, he must offer home-run power. More specifically, he must offer at least 15-20 home runs to be relevant in the power category.

As this graph illustrates, his ISO dropped below the league-average line this year.


That below-average ISO is significant because it’s a reflection of the limitations of his power potential because of his approach. His swing isn’t conducive to consistent power because the vast majority of his balls in play come on the ground. In fact, his GB/FB ratio was amongst the highest in the league this past season.

# Player Team GB/FB HR
1 Norichika Aoki Brewers 2.76 8
2 Jean Segura Brewers 2.52 12
3 Elvis Andrus Rangers 2.51 4
4 Howie Kendrick Angels 2.41 13
5 Denard Span Nationals 2.38 4
6 Michael Bourn Indians 2.37 6
7 Chris Denorfia Padres 2.33 10
8 David Freese Cardinals 2.30 9
9 Michael Young Phillies 2.25 8
10 Gerardo Parra DBacks 2.23 10

I included the number of home runs for each player to illustrate the fact that this ground-ball approach doesn’t regularly result in high power numbers. Furthermore, each of the players (aside from Parra) with double-digit homers on that list had a HR/FB% north of 10.0%, so a high portion of the rare fly balls hit have to go over the fence to result in the home run numbers that we desire from Freese — and the difficult part is heĀ already had a HR/FB% above 10.0% and didn’t even reach double-digit homers.

That doesn’t seem to indicate a high likelihood of a 20-homer renaissance in 2014.

At third base in fantasy baseball, owners should covet power, and ground-ball hitters who must rely on HR/FB% to post acceptable power numbers should not be high on the draft board. Freese could be an option in deeper leagues for those who believe his batting average will bounce back in 2014, but again, he doesn’t appear a lock to provide lofty numbers in any other category. If his average rebounds and he hits 15 homers, he could be a fringe top-15 option — and if that’s what we’re talking about as the potential high-water mark, perhaps that says more than enough.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

11 Responses to “Can David Freese Be A Fantasy Darling Once More?”

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  1. FeslenR says:

    David’s constant injuries has something to do with the decline. I doubt he will hit 20 homers again, maybe 10-15 if fully healthy.

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  2. Barry says:

    The author fails to address a potentially important factor in Freese’s 2013 decline–injury. He injured his back in spring training and there were whispers it was still bothering him as the season wore on. In addition, he has a history of chronic foot problems. Perhaps having a chance to fully heal over the off-season will boost his performance in 2014.

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    • J.P. Breen says:

      The injury didn’t suddenly make him a ground ball machine. He was still top-20 in GB/FB in 2012. He’s still a ground ball hitter at the core, and that’s never promising for a fantasy owner looking for home runs.

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  3. lesmash says:

    “At third base in fantasy baseball, owners should covet power.”

    I don’t get the logic behind this statement. I fully understand that, at 3B, there are not a lot of Kenny Lofton types, but what’s the big deal about value if it comes in a different stat package other than power? IF Matt Carpenter moves over to 3B full time, would he still not be a top option despite his ho-hum power?

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    • jardinero says:

      Home Runs are a category in most rotisserie leagues, and you generally get them from the outfielders and corners infielders. If you’re lucky enough to have a power-hitting middle infielder, then you can get away with having a high average, weak-powered 3rd baseman.

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      • Wade8813 says:

        Isn’t one of the premises of fantasy baseball to “zig” when everyone else “zags”? Sure, homers matter, but if you can get comparable production in other categories, doesn’t that matter just as much?

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  4. jdbolick says:

    Something should be mentioned about the high probability of losing playing time with Kolten Wong presumably being up full-time next season. With Wong & Carpenter being left-handed, Freese might end up on the short side of a platoon.

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  5. rotobanter says:

    Same limitation goes for Wilson Ramos and hosmer among others. They could both be a 25+ HR threat with impressive (top 25) average FB & HR distances if they have bumps in their FB%

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  6. TomH says:

    Freese might not even get the opportunity to rebound if the Cardinals think Wong is ready and move Carpenter to third. If the decision drags to Spring Training and you draft before that, I’d stay away.

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  7. Cory says:

    Freese will probably starting for the Cubs or someone soon enough.

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  8. JJ says:

    Wonder what the assessment would be now that we know he will be the Angels 3B… Will his high GB/FB ratio become a favorable factor at the new ballpark, or the other way around, like completely annihilate what little value in terms of power expected out of him?

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