To say the Pittsburgh Pirates and David Freese were a perfect match for each other last season would be an understatement.

David Freese, who signed a $3 million deal during spring training last season appeared in 141 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates a season ago and put up surprisingly decent numbers. The 33-year old Freese posted a .270/.352/.412 slash line, hitting 13 homers while driving in 55 runs.

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A Pleasant Surprise

It was surprising to the point that after a couple of down years with the Los Angeles Angels, the former World Series MVP was still available for the Pittsburgh Pirates to sign last March. That discounted deal earned Freese a two-year, $11 million contract beginning this season. There is a club option at $6 million for a third season as well.

With Freese in tow for the season, the Pirates are going to have to count on him a lot, especially in the early going with Jung Ho Kang in limbo at the moment. Freese’s versatility is a plus as he showed last season he can play both third and first base so that will likely be the plan this season as well as he should be able to spell Josh Bell some at first base during the season.

With his role being set in stone, you have to wonder what the team can realistically expect from him in 2017.

Already Ideal

Ideally, realistic expectations for Freese should be about what he produced last season.

That’s who he is.

Nothing more.

And there is nothing wrong with that from a guy that will be Clint Hurdle’s top reserve for most of the season.

Freese has only gotten 500 at bats, hit over 20 homers and driven in over 60 runs once in his big league career.  That was the 2012 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s not the World Series hero who drove in 21 runs in one postseason, capturing a World Series MVP in the process. That was a magical month. It would be unfair for the Pittsburgh Pirates to expect a season’s worth of that.

Instead Freese has been the model of consistency the past four years as he has put up similar numbers every season.

His four year averages from 2013-16 produce a slash line of .262/.334/.399. During that span he averaged 11 homers and 56 RBI. I’m sure the Pirates would take that.

One thing to keep an eye on is the .352 OBP Freese put up last season. That was his best mark since that 2012 season and it would be beneficial to the Pirates if he could stay in that realm. However, if there were one area where Freese may see a slight decline, OBP would likely be it. Freese had the highest strikeout rate – 28.9 percent – of any Pittsburgh Pirates hitter with at least 450 plate appearances. This was the highest mark of his career, and one can’t help but wonder if it is the start of a trend.

Concerning Concerns

Perhaps the biggest concern that the Pittsburgh Pirates have about Freese is the way he ended the season last year.

He posted OPS numbers of .789, .829 and .819 in April, May and June. That was an outstanding start to the season, but those numbers dipped every month.

Freese finished with a .782 in July, but dipped to .670 in August and .697 in September.

Ideally, realistic expectations for Freese should be about what he produced last season.

The concerning part is those are the months of the season he got the most plate appearances of the season in any month except March.

Most of his metrics were solid as well, but his ISO (Isolated Slugging Percentage) dropped from .163 in 2015 to .142 last season, which was well below the league average. His strikeout rate also ballooned to 29 percent last season, up from 22 percent in 2015.  The league average was 21 percent. Freese has always been above the league average for his career, but that is the most he has whiffed in a season above the league average.

Freese’s .372 BABIP last season would also suggest a decline in inevitable this season. That was a staggering number and well above the MLB average of .300. To give you an idea, during Freese’s best season as a pro in 2012, he only put up a .352 BABIP. He’s likely to be back down to the .330-.340 area, which is going to mean a lot less hits.

One of the keys to Freese putting up similar numbers as last season is the base on balls. His walk rate was at nine percent last season, which was the second best mark of his career and also only the third time he walked more than the league average.

If he can get on base more and keep that OBP up, he will be a guy the Pirates can count on.

Another key is hitting with runners on base. Freese hit .290 with men on last season. If he can come close to duplicating that number it will be huge for the Pirates, as a player who is more than part-time but definitely not a regular.

Freese also did a solid job off the bench as a pinch hitter last season, a role he may frequent more often this season. Last season Freese hit .300 as a pinch hitter with a .967 OPS.

Still a Lot to Like

Overall there’s a lot to like about what Freese can bring to the Pirates ball club in 2017.

The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t a better team with him in the lineup every day. He won’t duplicate what Kang and Bell should be able to give the team as regulars. But Hurdle should be able to find Freese enough at bats and use him in the right situations. Freese will likely produce the same numbers he does almost every season.

Overall, Freese should hit over .260, hit 25-plus double, double digit home runs and drive in 55-60 runs.

And for the Pittsburgh Pirates, that will be just fine.

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.

  • before last season..

    .286/.356/.427 over 1755 PAs In the NL

    .258/.322/.401 over 981 PAs in the AL

    Maybe he just likes the NL better (and who can blame him lol)

    guys a ball player, unless his legs fall off in a freak accident involving a tuna samich and a popsicle stick a great signing especially with only 11M guaranteed.