In most years, there is an unlikely postseason hero, a non-elite player who has a big series or two, maybe wins an MVP, and gets people talking. Since the playoffs are on the biggest stage where games could be watched by all, these surprise performances carry great weight for more casual fantasy owners heading into the following season’s drafts. This postseason we have seen David Freese illustrate this concept perfectly, as he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .545/.600/.1091 in the NLCS, bringing his total 2011 postseason performance to .425/.465/.850 over 43 plate appearances.
After returning from off-season surgery on both of his ankles, Freese was off to a strong start this year, posting a .383 wOBA in March and April. Unfortunately, the moment the calendar flipped to May, he was hit with a pitch on his left hand, which broke it and caused him to miss nearly two months of action. The injury limited him to just 333 at-bats for the season, but he made the most of it, posting a solid .348 wOBA.
Freese has now accumulated about a full season’s worth of at-bats scattered over three years. In the minors, he has shown excellent power, typically posting ISO marks above .200. However, that power has yet to materialize in the Majors, as his ISO with the Cardinals has been just .131 over his career. Despite the low ISO, his HR/FB ratio is above the league average at 12.1%. The biggest reason for his lack of overall power though is pretty obvious once you dive into the numbers. He simply does not hit enough fly balls. For his career, he has hit them at about a 27% clip (or what Jamey Carroll did in 2011), but in 2011, he took the worm killing even further, by posting a Bourn-esque 23.1% fly ball rate. Even Juan Pierre managed a higher percentage of flys! A hitter simply cannot post strong power and home run totals with so few fly balls, unless he posts a gargantuan HR/FB ratio or makes ridiculous contact, none of which Freese has the capability of doing.
Unfortunately, even in the minors he still appeared to be quite the ground ball hitter, so he may need to consciously change his swing and plate approach if he is going to tap back into that power potential he displayed. Maybe the postseason power outburst is already a sign that he is going to hit more fly balls, but it will be a leap of faith to expect such a turnaround next year. If we prorate his 2011 at-bat total to 600, he would have hit 18 home runs. However, I would expect his HR/FB ratio to decline next season, but offset by an increase in FB%. Those factors should come close to canceling each other out, so he could approach 20 home runs.
Another number that sticks out is his BABIP. He posted a .356 mark in 2011 and for his career he has averaged .365. Given the relatively small sample size those career at-bats represent, his BABIP isn’t all that important. However, he has consistently posted well above average marks in the minors of around .350 and up at every single stop. With his ground ball approach and a 23% career LD%, this BABIP level doesn’t seem too crazy. That means he could hit around .290 once again next year.
Freese probably wasn’t going to be valued too highly by fantasy leaguers in 2011. His postseason performance has now certainly gotten him noticed and his cost in drafts will likely rise as a result. However, he has real potential to contribute positively in the batting average category, while hitting near the 20-homer plateau. In a weak third base position, that is quite solid. Thus, I don’t think he will necessarily be overvalued, but your chances for making a nice profit have obviously decreased.