With the Pittsburgh Pirates off to a very slow start offensively, it has been difficult to take many positives from their start to the 2017.
Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman David Freese is doing something worth taking note off that could be a very positive sign for the Pirates.
Quite simply, is not striking out at the prodigious rate that he did last season.
Disclaimer: Diving deep into the stats is pointless at this point of the season with such a small sample size. Is Andrew McCutchen really washed up after not having an extra base hit in his first seven games? Talk to me in a couple of months.
In the case of Freese, a big concern with him replacing Jung Ho Kang in the middle of the Pirates lineup was his contact rate.
Freese whiffed nearly a third of his at bats a season ago, posting a career-worst 28.9 percent strikeout rate. While he certainly did some positive things in his first season in a Pirates uniform, striking out 142 times in 437 at bats was certainly not one of them.
He is off to a nice .294/.455/.471 start to the season and while it’s only seven games, the nice part has been that Freese has only fanned twice in 22 plate appearances.
So what has been the difference in Freese being able to put the bat on the ball more consistently to start the season?
Change in Approach
It’s very noticeable that Freese is willing to see more pitches. He’s currently seeing 4.32 pitches per plate appearance, which is the 13th highest total in the National League.
By comparison, Freese didn’t place in the Top 75 in the NL last season and has only seen 3.9 pitches per at bat on average for his career.
He seems more patient at the plate and that has led to Freese getting his pitch more often than usual. His hard contact rate to start the season is a staggering 53.3 percent. That’s something he won’t be able to keep up, but if the approach at the plate doesn’t change Freese will have greater success getting good pitches to hit.
Another key is Freese hasn’t missed many pitches in the early going, just swinging and missing just 3.2 percent of the time.
Again, very small sample size, but it is something that could lead to Freese putting together a nice season for the Pittsburgh Pirates if the approach stays consistent.
Cause for Concern
There were plenty of red flags with Freese coming into the season.
Freese didn’t finish the 2016 season very strong, posting just a .670 OPS in August and .697 in September.
His.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.
However not chasing pitches and doing something with the pitches he sees could keep that number pretty high this season, which would obviously be a great thing for both Freese and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Need To Draw Walks Remains
The final aspect of Freese having a big year is drawing more walks.
Last season he posted his highest walk rate of his career at nine percent and this season has already drawn five walks in 22 plate appearances. That’s a positive sign to say the least. Like most hitters, Freese is going to benefit in all aspects of his game by seeing more pitches.
Again, it’s early and there is no point on getting too excited over positive and negative stats, but if Freese can stick to a similar approach at the plate, 2017 could turn into a very nice season for the Pirates third baseman, and alleviate any concerns the Pittsburgh Pirates had about third base in Kang’s absence
Photo Credit – Daniel Decker Photography