Freddie Freeman – It Was A Very Good Year

Freddie Freeman hits a walk off two-run homer in the ninth against Marlins. The Braves won 4-3 to clinch a NL wildcard spot. Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

To look at the final stats one might think Freddie Freeman’s 2012 was about the same as his 2011 with a slight drop off in his batting average. It’s true his overall OBP and OPS were about the same as last year but you have to look deeper than numbers to understand how much Fab5Freddie as the Twitterverse knows him he improved and how important he was to the Braves  success.

Don’t Look At The Tall Man behind The Curtain

While the world was quite right impressed at the way Jason Heyward bounced back from his injury plagued season Freeman quietly became one of the most dependable Braves bats with men on base.  Early in the season he was moved into the three spot in the lineup and responded so well Chipper Jones who was just relegated to the sixth spot told skipper Fredi Gonzalez he expected to see Freeman in that spot for a the next few years. That all changed when Freeman was hit in the finger while sliding into second base in Miami, an injury that would continue to bother him the remainder of the season. That injury made it hard for him to grip the bat and his average dropped as a result but he continued to drive in runs and his slugging percentage remained around .450. As the hand got better the swing returned but trouble with his contact lenses brought on by the dry air in Denver drove his numbers down and  forced him to sit out until he was able to get that corrected. Just a note here for anyone who’s thinking about saying the eye issue shouldn’t have affected him that badly. Until you’ve stood in the batters box with blurry vision as pitchers threw 90+ mph fastballs in on your hand or played first base and seen two baseballs coming at you from shortstop at 90 mph, take a big cup of “shut-up you don’t know what you’re talking about” and go sit on the corner until I call you.

The Numbers No One Mentions

You hear a lot about the familiar stats and the current hot sabremetric numbers but here’s a few you may not have seen mixed in with those old and new standby’s.

Stat Final # Lg FB* Team Rank
BA .259 8th 5th
OBP .340 7th 5th
SLG .456 6th 2nd
RBI 94 2nd 1st
HR 23 3rd 2nd
2B 33 6th 2nd
BB 64 3rd 3rd
Sac Fly 9 Tie 1st 1st
Run Created 87 4th 4th
Total Average .778 6th 3rd
2 Out RBI 42 1st 2nd
2 out High Leverage RBI 18 1st 2nd

*League first baseman with 100 games or more at 1st base

We all know Freeman is a first pitch swinger.  He led the team with a 45% first pitch swing rate but was still tied for fourth seeing 3.98 pitches per at bat. By the way his slash when swinging on the first pitch is .463/.465/.793 with 6 homers, 9 doubles and two sac flies for a BAbip of .410 20 RBI and a tOPS+ of 211. (That means it works for him folks even I wish every batter would make a pitcher work a bit harder than that.)

Freeman’s K percentage dropped to 20.8% this year and his walk rate went up by almost the same amount to 10.3%. His homer rate was up four tenths of a percent to 3.7% and his double rate jumped a full point to 9.4%. Those numbers seem to indicate that he’s hitting fewer ground balls and that turns out to be true. His GB rate dropped fro 42.4 to 37.1% this year and that was accompanied by a 3% increase in line drives to 26% and a 2.3% increase in FB to 36.9% and his homer/fly ball was up as well. The only negative in this trend ( yes I know ground balls are great but this is a power hitter; let the line drives fly!) was a 3% increase in his infield popups. All things considered Freeman had a really good offensive year. .

I like Citi Field, and Bank One and Citizens Bank and . . .

There was a lot of talk when we played the Mets this year about the way Freeman seemed to pick up the mantle of  Mets nemesis from Chipper. He has hit them well this year but other teams would also like to forget he beat on them too

 

Split BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
Arizona Diamondbacks .481 .516 .889 1.405 .524 247 277
New York Mets .303 .356 .621 .977 .288 141 168
Philadelphia Phillies .306 .421 .435 .857 .370 119 144
St. Louis Cardinals .375 .524 .750 1.274 .417 219 261
Toronto Blue Jays .364 .364 .455 .818 .571 107 112
Washington Nationals .300 .348 .533 .881 .340 119 158
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/21/2012

Not on the list are the just below the .300 BA line like Marlins where he only hit .295 this year.  Let’s hope he bring that number up next year and continues to share the pain across the division and the league. That brings me to defense

I Know Good Defense When I see It

Defensive metrics do not like Freeman; none of them. Which proves that defense is really impossible to measure precisely. I can hear all the UZR gods revving up now so lets go there. Here’s a list of National League first basemen and their UZR for 2012.

Name UZR UZR/150
Joey Votto 6.5 7.5
Adam LaRoche 6.1 5.7
Yonder Alonso 4.2 4.4
Paul Goldschmidt 3.5 3.5
Carlos Lee -0.5 -0.5
Jordan Pacheco -0.7 -2.9
Brandon Belt -1 -1.3
Allen Craig -1.5 -3.4
Ike Davis -1.8 -2.1
Corey Hart -3.9 -7.2
Freddie Freeman -4 -4.2
Garrett Jones -4.5 -12.1

I know that Joey Votto is smooth as glass at first base and I remember Adam LaRoche being a super fielder as well. However I would suggest that if you ask any manager in the league except Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson and perhaps Buddy Black ( I haven’t seen enough of Alonso to make a judgment but the kid can hit)  if they’d like to have Freeman at first instead of the other names on the list above him they’d grab him in a minute.

I understand the principle of UZR, really I do. But the eyes tell me after watching 140+ Braves games this year and last that Freeman’s a top notch first baseman. The problem I have with UZR is the way it’s thrown around as some exact science that is descriptive, predictive, and rock solid. It just isn’t that at all. In fact it doesn’t claim to be any of those things. Fangraphs UZR primers spells out the problem.

A player’s UZR does not necessarily tell you how he actually played just as it does not necessarily tell you what his true talent is . . . just because a player has a plus UZR does not mean that he necessarily played good defense – the same for a negative UZR. . . .there is still a potentially large gap between what you might see on the field if you were to watch every play of every game and what UZR “says” happened on the field. And that is one of several reasons why one year or even 10 years of UZR (or any other sample metric) does not give us a perfect estimate of a player’s true talent or even an accurate picture of what actually happened on the field.

It also says that UZR is only meant to show how a player compared to others playing that position in that league in that specific year. So let’s see, it doesn’t tell you how well he played, it doesn’t tell you how good he is, it doesn’t tell you what happened on the field and yet it’s supposed to mean something?  I’ve got a flash for those stringers watching Freeman, get a job you know something about because anyone who thinks Freeman was next to the worst at first base in the NL this year is out of their tiny rabbit eared mind ( you thought I was gonna say something else didn’t you ..shame on you… ).

Having said all that I doubt Freeman wins a Gold Glove this year. LaRoche had a superb season and they went to the NLDS, Votto will get votes because he’s Votto and they wen tot the NLDS and one of them will likely win. That doesn’t mean I’d give up Freeman.

That’s A Wrap

I was asked to write at least 500 words, Lee should know by now I don’t say good morning in less than 250 words so this is a bit longer than most.  The National League has a fine crop of young first basemen and at 23 Freeman is on of the best. He will be arbitration eligible in 2014 but I expect him to get a good raise this off season and hopefully the front office will move to lock him up along with Jason, Martin  Prado and Kris Medlen. Those young men could be the face of Braves Baseball for a long, long time.

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman, Gold Glove

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  • Lee Trocinski

    The problem with 1B UZR is that they don’t have values for scoops or “on base range.” At 6’5″, Freddie reaches a few balls that a first baseman a couple inches shorter wouldn’t get. If they can get those two things sorted out, then UZR will take a big jump in reliability.

    • fireboss

      The Fangrpahs super gurus wizards of everything sabremetric say scoops make little difference
      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/first-basemen-scoops/
      So before you start opining about how your favorite first baseman is so
      great defensively because he “saves so many errors,” consider that
      scooping ability is probably worth less than a ¼ of total defensive
      ability or value at first base. Fielding grounders is at least 75% of
      the package and “scooping” is the rest. But every little bit helps.

      Of course the assumptions made are full of holes as is UZR but if folks want to use it that’s fine. What isn’t fine is hearing the talking heads on MLB network or MLB XM talk about a player like this:
      Well Joe is a good but he’s not gold glove / all star / hall of fame or / worth a big contract because his UZR the last three years is low.

      If they truly knew what they were talking about they wouldn’t say anything like that. But they do and the casual fan takes it as gospel. In 2011 Michael Bourn had a -6.4 UZR behind such luminaries as Marlon Byrd (2.2) this year he had a +22.5 ahead of the second coming in LA Mike Trout in in fact double Trout’s 10.6. while Andrew McCutchen had a -6-4. I love Bourn’s defense but McCutchen can go get ‘em with the best and I though Trout better than half as good as Bourn defensively. That’s why UZR makes no sense. There is no way McCutchen was below the average center fielder in the NL this year.

      UZR is and will remain useless until it reflects how a player played which as I pointed out, even it’s backers say it doesn’t do

      • Lee Trocinski

        Do you think it’s better to just assume everyone is average? Otherwise, without these metrics, you’d have to create your own system to make sure every position summed to zero. I usually divide the UZR in half and use that for evaluation.

        As far as Bourn’s up-and-down ratings, it could just be struggles, just like at the plate. It doesn’t mean his true talent level changed, but just that he could or couldn’t quite get a lot of the close balls. I won’t say it’s great yet, but one can’t analyze every defensive play, so I still think UZR is better than nothing, at least for actual value, though 3-year averages are still better for projections.