Our 40 in 40 series, which takes a look at each player on the 40 man roster for the Pittsburgh Pirates, continues today with a look at David Freese.
Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman David Freese is entering his third season with the team and the final year of his contract. If the Pirates struggle this season, he’s a decent trade candidate despite not having years of control. At only
Contractual reasons are not the only ways that Freese is valuable. The nine-year veteran has proven himself over the past decade as a steady hitter at the plate, posting a triple-digit wRC+ in every season.
He isn’t at the same place in his career now as he was when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2009-13, but Freese is still a valuable bat for the Pirates and could continue to be one again this year.
Last year, Freese led the Pittsburgh Pirates qualified hitters with an 11.5-walk percentage and .368 on-base percentage. The walk percentage represented a career-high while the on-base percentage was the second-best of Freese’s career.
These high marks are signs that Freese has adjusted late in his career. Last year, Freese posted a career-worst .108 isolated power in seasons in which he had at least 300 plate appearances.
In 2016, Freese had a .142 isolated power, which was his then-career-worst in seasons with at least 300 plate appearances. Freese also had a 28.9-strikeout percentage, which was his worst of any season.
To find ways to be productive, Freese began being more selective at the plate. Freese saw the 20th-most pitches per plate appearance in 2017, averaging 4.13. He also swung at just 44.4-percent of pitches (fewest of his career) and only 26.8-percent of pitches outside of the strike zone (fewest in seasons with at least 300 plate appearances).
Freese’s adjustments are good, but it makes him more useful at the top of the order or at the bottom; not in the middle as he was when signed by the Pirates in 2016.
Freese does a great job at drawing walks because he extends at-bats. As a result of shortening up his swing and fouling pitches off, Freese isn’t afraid to hit to opposite field. In fact, it’s where the bulk of his hits are. Freese finished last season with the second-worst pull percentage in MLB.
No one pulled the ball less than DJ LeMahieu last season.
— Inside Edge (@InsideEdgeScout) March 1, 2018
What makes this very interesting is that upon further examining Freese’s spray chart last season, it’s clear that he didn’t just hit to the opposite field more than most: he made outs more often when he pulled the ball.
It’s not as if team’s learned and shifted him heavy either. Freese hit better in the second half (.282/.361/.380) than in the first half (.244/.374/.362) of last season. If opponents shift Freese heavier on the right side of the field in 2018, he’ll have to make adjustments to pull the ball more often.
With the acquisition of Collin Moran in the Gerrit Cole trade with the Houston Astros, Freese will see his playing time reduced in 2018. Last season, Freese started in 119 of the 130 games that he played in.
He admitted midway through the season that he wanted to get more rest. It’s hard to blame him since he’ll turn 35 in late April. This isn’t exactly 2011, when Freese was the NLCS and World Series MVP.
With Moran as the starter against right-handed pitchers and Freese likely in against lefties, the Pirates can exploit these matchups and have the other as a solid pinch-hitting option.
Freese, in particular, should enjoy primarily facing left-handers more often.
In this role, Freese’s abilities are maximized and he’ll get the opportunity to get more rest this season. In a week of six games, Freese should play in five but only start in three max, excluding stretches of injuries around the team.
Freese isn’t an everyday player any more or much of an extra-base hit threat. He can still get on base and draw walks better than most players on the Pittsburgh Pirates can. As a result, he still has a useful place on this team.