Draft Day Decision: Why David Freese Is A Borderline Top 15 Third Baseman, At Best

There often is a lot of love for David Freese, given a perceived sense of potential. I say perceived, because while there is a lot to like there also are numerous signs of concern. The latter will likely keep me from owning Freese in any league this year, since third base is not quite as shallow as it once was.

Before we get into specifics, let’s take a look at his statistics from 2012:

501 At Bats
.293 Batting Average (147 Hits)
20 Home Runs
79 RBI
70 Runs
3 Stolen Bases
.372 On Base Percentage
.467 Slugging Percentage
.352 BABIP

The first number that has to jump out at us is his BABIP. I know that he has consistently posted a number in that range (.359 over his first 1,105 Major League AB). I also know that the number comes courtesy of a solid line drive rate, which sat at 21.8% in 2012.

In those regards the number was not completely unreasonable, though at the same time I have a hard time believing he is a lock to replicate it. Keep in mind there were numerous batters in 2012 who posted line drive rates above 23%, yet held a drastically lower BABIP. A few examples include Adrian Gonzalez (24.1%, .334), Andre Ethier (24.1%, .333) and Prince Fielder (25.4%, .321).

Couple a strikeout rate that is consistently above 20% with the chance of a regression in his BABIP and you get an average that is simply less than stellar. Is he going to kill you in the category? Of course not, but I would be willing to bet that he hits closer to .270 than he did .300.

That assumption alone would send Freese dropping down draft boards. However, there also is a major question mark about his ability to hit for power. Yes, he hit 20 HR last season, but how much more upside does he have?

Just look at his fly ball rates the past three seasons:

  • 2010 – 29.1%
  • 2011 – 23.1%
  • 2012 – 26.2%

It took a 20.0% HR/FB for him to reach the 20 HR plateau, as he simply does not put the ball in the air enough to maintain high home run totals (a 52.0% groundball rate and a lack of speed also helps the argument for the fall in average). Could he start adding more fly balls and power as he matures? Absolutely, as we saw a similar change in Jason Heyward in 2012, but keep in mind Freese is already 29-years old. It is not like he is a young rookie still maturing.

There also is going to be concerns about the number of runs he may score. Last season he hit primarily fifth or sixth and, in the NL with shallower lineups, those spots are not conducive to huge run totals. He scored 70 runs a year ago and that could be about his limit again this season.

Throw in the consistent threat of injuries and I simply have too many concerns heading into 2013. Maybe he proves me wrong, but at this point there is too much risk involved. There’s a good chance you get a .270 hitter with 15-18 HR, which is fine. I would just rather take the gamble on someone like Mike Moustakas, Kyle Seager or Brett Lawrie, all of whom have significantly more upside.

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One comment

  1. Ross says:

    Hey professor,

    Love the site, I check it out pretty much every day, and usually I think your spot on, but I have to take exception with this article. Freese a top 15 option at best? Maybe at worst barring injury. Id say top 7-8 at best. I’d looked back at freese compared to the other 3 options you’d take over him and I can only see Lawrie having the upside to take over freese. I mean freese is about as consistent as you get average wise over his career, even in the minors he’s never finished below .290. Moustakas has more pop but is as likely to hit sub .250 as anything. And other then youth I don’t see where seager has more upside. He hit 20 HR last year with 100 more at bats. when I’m drafting in the middle to late rounds I want a guy who will be a solid contributor week in week out not a guy who might carry me a week and disappear the next 4….that being said I got freese as a back-up in the 20th round (6 keepers14thround) to Sandevol. Anyway thanks for interesting topic…keep up the good work!

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