Note: All stats are as of August 31, 2014; Labor Day stats are not included. Although, considering the Braves were collectively no-hit by the Phillies, there wouldn’t be much to change, anyways.
Let’s back up a few months: In March, Freddie Freeman was a borderline third round pick, according to ESPN’s draft data. He was coming off a fantastic season, in which he set career highs in batting average, on base percentage, and RBI, while tying his career high in home runs by swatting 23 home runs. Freeman’s power ceiling was in question: How many home runs is a reasonable expectation? Can he possibly get near 30? His contact ability wasn’t, though. The latter has been fine; the former, not as much. But maybe that’s alright.
In Freeman’s first 114 plate appearances – taken from March 31 through April 30 – he hit six home runs, posting a .416 wOBA. In the 492 plate appearances since May 1st he’s left the yard only 11 times, posting a .370 wOBA. Make no mistake about it, Freeman has still been good. But his power – which was already in question compared to his peers – has taken a step back. So, the question is: What should we do regarding Freeman next year?
The components of Freeman’s game haven’t changed very much. He’s walking more than ever, thanks to the lowest swing rate of his career; although, as Dave has pointed out, he isn’t letting strikes sneak by. His strikeout rate remains virtually unchanged. And, lastly, his ISO is right in line with his career line. He’s hit fewer flyballs, but his line drive percentage – which, admittedly, isn’t the best of stats – is tops in the league.
Freeman’s batted ball distribution hasn’t swayed much throughout his first four seasons. And, at this point, it seems like 2012 was an outlier, as far as his BABiP is concerned. Freeman’s batted ball profile has been very consistent in general, but his distribution on balls in the air has changed a little.
|Year||Pull%||Pull HR||Oppo%||Oppo HR||Center%||Center HR||Overall AVG FB Distance|
When hitting the ball in the air, Freeman has gone the other way a little less frequently over the past two seasons, trading opposite field balls in play for ones of the pulled or up the middle variety. One interesting note (which sort of relies on the fickleness of the line drive stat), though: When pulling the ball this year, Freeman has hit 56 line drives, compared to 19 flyballs. That fact, which is somewhat backed up by his spray chart, could be why he’s pulled fewer home runs. Back to balance: It has has allowed him to showcase power to all fields, even if that power hasn’t been of the light-tower variety.
Since 2013, not many people have excelled more than Freeman has using all of the diamond, which could help explain why more balls in play have gone for extra base hits this year than ever before.
|Pull wRC+ Rank||—||Center wRC+ Rank||—||Oppo wRC+ Rank|
|Freeman (2013 – 2014)||78th (172)||9th (203)||12th (191)|
Freeman’s skill set is important, and versatile. When you’re slow, spreading the ball around is important. And it goes without saying that being less predictable for the defense opposing you is important, too.
As many have written before, it’s not the typical slugger profile we still expect while evaluating corner infielders. But, honestly, typical slugger profiles don’t exist quite as much anymore.
So, About Next Year…
Despite his power drop-off, Freeman’s still been roughly a top 60 player in standard leagues. (For some reason, that shocked me. I had guessed he’d be closer to 75th.) He’s provided positive value in every category, excluding stolen bases.
As of today I can confidently say I’d choose: Jose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Edwin Encarnacion, and Anthony Rizzo over Freeman next season. After that, it gets a little dicey. Sure, Victor Martinez is nice, but are you banking on his power staying, despite his age? I could maybe lean towards Carlos Santana in an OBP league, but never in a standard setup. Adrian Gonzalez will be a year older; ditto for Albert Pujols, Mike Napoli, and David Ortiz (if he’s eligible).
It really isn’t hard to see a scenario in which the first six men mentioned above are taken before pick 40 or thereabouts; meaning Freeman’s draft position isn’t likely to change all of that much. Looking at the surface, it might seem too high, but it might not be. The most reasonable scenario I see: Freeman’s a mid-fourth round pick next year. His power hasn’t grown, or even stayed the same – if we’re only talking about home runs, of course; his ISO is fine – yet he’s nearly returned his expected value. And it feels like he has more in the tank. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t.
Barring a huge finish, Freeman isn’t quite going to be worth his original price tag. And he’s likely going to be somewhat overpriced next season, but when you factor in his consistency, his production shouldn’t be too weighed down by his cost.
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