For the second straight season, the Braves are breaking in a rookie position player at a corner spot. Last year it was Jason Heyward, who rewarded them with 5.1 WAR season and almost a Rookie of the Year trophy. This season it’s Freddie Freeman, who is not and never was expected to be the star Heyward immediately became. He’s a fine player, no doubt, but all he had to do was be better than the Derrek Lees and Carlos Penas of the expensive free agent world in 2011. With a .334 wOBA and 0.1 WAR to date, for all intents and purposes he’s done just that (.276, -0.4 and .328, 0.4, respectively). Since the Braves have played 69 games so far this year, let’s cut Freeman’s season into three equal pieces and check his performance at each point…
After 23 Games: .250/.349/.431, 3 HR, 10 BB, 11 K
After 46 Games: .241/.329/.372, 4 HR, 19 BB, 34 K
After 69 Games: .268/.335/.416, 6 HR, 22 BB, 56 K
Games 24-46: .233/.310/.315, 1 HR, 9 BB, 23 K
Games 47-69: .314/.344/.488, 2 HR, 3 BB, 22 K
The first thing that jumps out you is the big drop-off in Freeman’s walk rate and the big spike in his strikeout rate, which you can see graphically right here. Pitchers are throwing him a pitch in the zone just 39.5% of the time, a nasty little number when combined with his 34.1% out-of-zone swing rate. That means he’ll offer at two pitches out of the zone for every ten pitches he sees (give or take a few fractions of a pitch), or about four such swings in a typical game. The only other qualified batters with <40% Zone and >30% O-Swing are mashers Prince Fielder (39.3% and 30.4%), Adrian Gonzalez (39.9% and 37.5%) and Mike Stanton (39.4% and 32.0%), as well as the toasty (and not in a good way) Aubrey Huff (39.1% and 34.9%). Huff is pretty awful, but you can see why pitchers would avoid throwing something over the plate to the other three. Freeman is kind of in the middle there, not useless but not a huge threat. Either way, with rates like that you can see why his walk rate and strikeout rates continue to get worse as the season marches on.
Freeman’s recent spike in batting average has to do with hitting more line drives, always a fine recipe for raising the ol’ BABIP and AVG. Over-the-fence power was never really his calling card, but 15-20 homers were expected and that’s just about what he’s on pace to provide. ZiPS projected a .272/.333/.442 line with 18 homers before the season, which is middle to bottom shelf production at first base in standard mixed leagues. Freeman’s just a few doubles short of that triple-slash line and a good week away from the homer projection, so he’s doing almost exactly what we thought he was. The problem is that it’s easy to find that level of production at first. I really liked Freeman as a first base sleeper coming into the season, though he’s performing as expected and unfortunately for him, that makes him about the 20th best fantasy first baseman.