After a scorching start to the season, Pittsburgh Pirates INF David Freese has seen his production fall by the wayside
The Pittsburgh Pirates had to have been very happy with David Freese‘s play during the 2017 season’s first month.
Not only did Freese post a .321/.418/.536 slash, he also lowered his strikeout rate to 14.3 percent for the month of April. This, after striking out at a 28.9 percent clip in 2016.
His 153 wRC+ for April was robust, and the early returns had many believing that his already-affordable contract extension might even amount to a steal. As May loomed, so too did a hamstring injury that took Freese out of action until May 12. Since then, it has been a struggle for the 34 year-old veteran.
Still disciplined, yet unproductive
Upon his return, Freese stayed selective, to a degree. He posted a solid 10.8 percent walk rate in May, though his strikeout rate raised up to 27.7 percent. That figure can almost become understandable given that Freese was still finding his footing — hamstring injuries in particular can mess with hitters at the plate. A deeper look shows that his strikeout rate normalized as May drug on.
The difference between April and May’s returns from Freese’s bat were simple – the Pittsburgh Pirates were not reaping any benefits from a solid approach. Freese only posted a wRC+ of 57 in May, well below the accepted average of 100. His .179/.292/.304 in May was decidedly ugly. A BABIP of .222 during May could have been partially to blame, and there is some truth to that as Freese made hard contact 36.8 percent of the time in May as per Fangraphs.
If Freese’s low production in May could be attributed to coming all the way back from his hamstring injury, surely better days were ahead as the calendar turned to June.
A new month tells a similar story
Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates run production efforts, a new month did not equate to new results.
To be sure, Freese maintained startling patience as the temperatures started to feel more like summer. His walk rate reached an elite level at 13.8 percent, while his strikeout rate came in at an average 20.2 percent rate. Always something of a free swinger, that strikeout figure — part of an overall rate of 19.9 percent in 2017 — would be welcomed by any team utilizing Freese as a middle-of-the-order bat as the Pittsburgh Pirates choose to.
Yet again, the Pirates have not seen this patient approach translate into production. Over 99 plate appearances in June, Freese posted a .247/.374/.296 slash — an acceptable line for a Billy Hamilton-esque player — which leaves observers with a mixed feeling of appreciation and disappointment.
Freese had just two extra base hits in June, despite a normalized BABIP of .311. Actually, batted ball is a good place to start in explaining Freese’s low production in June:
Freese Batted Ball - June Rates
Those are woeful figures, and tell the tale of Freese’s lost month. Freese’s wRC+ of 90 in June also signifies just how ‘meh’ June was for Freese – a solid notch below average, but just high enough to make you wonder if he can get closer to his April ways.
A deeper look shows that the hamstring could still be plaguing Freese. If we narrow our focus to plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Freese actually hits well — 7-for-21 for a .333 average with four walks added in. However, six of those hits went for singles. It can be entirely plausible that Freese is still having issues with the hamstring that is hindering his ability to drive the ball.
By his own admission, Freese is at a point in his career where his lower half “just doesn’t recover like it used to.” Manager Clint Hurdle agrees, and will be managing Freese’s playing time accordingly going forward.
Early returns for July have been encouraging, and the Pittsburgh Pirates certainly hope they continue as such. As things stand now, the club desperately needs more production from the veteran as they fight to keep their fading NL Central hopes alive.