See what I did with that title there? A pun, a play on words! I am writing from the beautiful land of 64 degree Austin, TX, but know many Cardinals fans are dealing with wintry precipitation goodness. Last week, we had a warm fuzzy remembrance of the Wizard, and took a look at the Cardinals shortstop position heading into the 2012 season. This week, I figured we could move one spot over in the infield and look at third base. Be prepared that you are about to be put on “Freese Alert”!
David Freese must have had the off-season of a lifetime, following his 2011 postseason heroics. His story of hometown hero leading his team to a World Series championship has been well documented to this point. More than a hometown hero, Freese exemplified the humility and character that Cardinal Nation loves following his postseasons successes.
With yesterday being Valentine’s Day, my twitter timeline was filled of thoughts of fondness towards Freese from female Cardinals fans. A lot of them think he is pretty easy on the eyes and make their opinion known in the cybersphere! So for many reasons, Cardinal Nation is pulling for Freese to have a great 2012 season on the heels of the 2011 playoffs. Everything is wine and roses right now, with all of the excitement of spring training just around the corner. As much as I do not want to be the guy that rains on that parade, I do want to bring to the forefront areas of concern for the Cardinals at the hot corner this season. You are officially on Freese Alert!
For the 2011 season, Freese hit seven home runs and batted .315 in 213 at-bats. The natural tendency is to multiply those numbers by three and project what kind of production we could see from him in a full season. The problem is he has yet to play a full season since coming to the Cardinals. From 2009-2011, Freese has a total of 667 plate appearances.
Digging even deeper into the numbers provides some telling statistics. Last season, Freese had a .357 babip (batting average on balls-in-play). This is extremely higher than league average. Also troubling is percentage of ground balls to fly balls. Of balls-in-play off the bat of Freese last year, 52% were hit on the ground and only 23% were fly balls. Freese does not have good speed to turn many of those ground balls into base hits, and the best power hitters in the league will have a 35-45% fly ball ratio. Freese was aided by the fact that 17% of the fly balls he hit left the yard. Obviously, he hit the ball well enough to leave the park, but the point I am making was that 17% was well above career norms for Freese. The prior two seasons, his home runs/fly ball ratio was 8 and 9%. Historically, league average always falls to 10% hr/fly ball.
So if (and that is a big if), Freese gets 600 at-bats in 2012, we know that he usually strikes out 20% of the time. That leaves 480 ABs where the ball is put in play. Of those, if he bumps up his fb% to 30 from 23, he will hit 144 fly balls. If hr/fb ratio falls back in line with his 09-10 totals and league averages (10%), we could reasonably expect 14 home runs from Freese over a full season.
My goal is not to bore you with stats, but hopefully provide a balanced perspective on what we saw last season. If healthy, Freese could hit 20 home runs this season. He also could get 400 ABs and hit 5 home runs with a .270 average.
Certainly not here to rain on anyone’s start of spring training parade, but I do feel the need to raise an issue of concern at the hot corner for the Cardinals this season.