David Freese Coming Back to Reality, or Change in Approach?

During the offseason there was a lot of discussion about David Freese after his highly productive playoff run. 2011 was a magical year for Freese and the Cardinals. David posted career numbers both in the regular season and carried that success into the playoffs, leading St. Louis to a World Series title. However lately he has entered into a slump that some, including myself saw coming.

Some elite hitters have the ability to hit for higher BABIP rates than others due to their ability to not only create more contact, but to drive the ball when they do make contact. As a function of this, the ball finds more holes and the hitters are able to post seemingly unsustainable stats year in and year out. Players such as David Wright and Matt Kemp drive the ball with a lot of force AND make consistent amounts of contact. Then you have players such as Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson who not only make a lot of contact, but their speed allows them to squeeze out infield hits and force defenses to hurry and make mistakes. This is something Ichiro was famous for year in and year out until, well, he got old.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 25: David Freese #23 of th...

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The difference with Freese is essentially all of those factors. While a prospect there was always talk that his doubles power would eventually develop into home run power. That hasn’t really happened. In 2012 Freese has actually seen an increase in his Swing% and a regression in his contact rate. David is also hitting more balls in the air this year, less on the ground. His ground ball % is currently at 45.7% in 2012, where in 2011 he posted a 52.3%. His flyball % is up to 34.3%, much higher than his 2011 average of 23.1%. His 22.2% home run per fly ball rate is a career high by a long shot.

Point being is that Freese’s batting average will drop this year. But it looks like there has been a change in his approach at the plate as well. If Freese is intentionally trying to hit for more power, forgoing his high average for more extra base production, could he in the end be actually MORE valuable to the Cardinals? 2012 ZiPS projections have Freese on pace to increase his ISO, and post 17 home runs in 2012 compared to the 10 he hit in 2011. So is this the new David Freese? It will be interesting to watch him go through the inevitable struggles. Freese has had a reputation for not handling “failure” very well, which bodes trouble for a player going through an approach change. One thing for sure is that his batting average is going to come down, but if Freese can provide 20 home-run power with a solid .275 they might be better off for it.

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