Similar to the way he started the 2016 season, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman David Freese was a nice surprise to start the season.
Then came a trip to the disabled list.
Once healthy again, Freese lost what helped him off to a productive start throughout the first 19 games of the season.
Instead, his old nemesis, the strike out, has caught up with Freese in a big way.
Freese is striking out more and the number keeps growing.
Since he has come back of the DL, Freese has struck out 18 times in 56 at bats. He’s fanning 32.1 percent of the time compared to just 12 percent in the same amount of at bats prior to heading to the DL.
Earlier in the season I took a look at what was behind Freese’s good start.
Now it’s time to look at why he’s struggling.
Prior to Friday’s contest against the New York Mets, Freese sits with a .250/.356/.420 line with five homers and just 16 RBI.
He finished the month of April slashing .321/.418/.536 in 56 at bats, but fell to just a .179/.292/.304 line in the month of May.
A big result of that is the growing number of strike outs.
Freese isn’t walking, drawing only seven free passes in the month of May. He’s never been a guy that walked a lot, but when he was hot in April, he drew 10 walks, including five in his first 22 at bats. In addition to not drawing walks, Freese is making contact on a lot of bad pitches, putting 65.8 percent of the pitches he swings at outside the strike zone in play.
To put that into perspective, one out of every three pitches Freese swings at is outside the zone. For every three times he swings at a pitch outside the zone, he’s putting two of them into play. Those aren’t turning into hits.
Freese has to get back to being more selective at the plate. That’s never really been his game, but the couple times he has been hot since joining the Pirates, he’s been able to do exactly that.
Not Seeing Enough Pitches
A big part of Freese’s early success is that he was able to see a lot more pitches per at bat than he typically has in his career.
Freese saw 4.32 pitches per plate appearance in April and that number dropped to 4.0 during the month of May. That may not seem like a big drop, but average that out over the next few months and it is.
His approach needs to stay consistent, especially when he is struggling.
Not Hitting Good Pitches
Perhaps the biggest reason for Freese’s struggles and the reason the strike outs are creeping up again is he isn’t hitting good pitches.
Freese swung and missed just 3.2 percent of the time during the month of April. During the month of May, that number climbed to 13.4 percent. He’s just missing a lot of pitches. When he does make contact it isn’t usually good contact.
Freese started the season with a 53.3 percent hard contact rate. Obviously that wasn’t sustainable, but that number dipped to just 15.7 percent during the month of May.
When Freese gets good pitches to hit, he’s not squaring them up. This was my biggest fear once Jung-Ho Kang’s legal troubles arose.
Freese getting too many at bats and putting up numbers like the .670 OPS last August and .697 in September. His BABIP is just .280, which means there could be some bad luck involved as well but more signs point to Freese chasing more pitches and not squaring up the ones he does hit.
A lot of strike outs aren’t the worst thing in the world, but it is somewhat troubling from a guy that is being counted on to drive in runs.
Good or bad, Freese’s May struggles is just another reason why we shouldn’t get too high or low over April numbers.
Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography