The Angels needed to add starting pitching this spring, so naturally the first thing they did was trade for third baseman David Freese. Of course! While Freese carries a lot of brand name recognition, will he actually prove to be a legimitate upgrade?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
Freese had his worst season as a pro, bar none. His average took a big dip, he hit for almost no power and he was simply dreadful on defense. The excuse we are being given is that Freese was dealing with a bad back. There were also a few theories that Freese was also struggling a bit with the pressure of playing in his hometown and possibly also with his off-the-field transgressions.
Whatever the reason, Freese just wasn't very good, but he really just had two terrible months. He had a .459 OPS in April and a .588 OPS in July. Every other month, he was no worse than .712. There are arbitrary endpoints at play here, but it seems relevant that his struggles were broken out into two very different parts.
The other telling part is that Freese still walked at a very high rate. That lends credence to his claims that it was his bad back that hurt his productivity and not that he just up and forgot how to hit. That's good news for the Angels who are betting on him rebounding even though he is going to turn 31 not long after Opening Day.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
None of the projections foresee Freese being able to replicate his excellent 2012 season. Even though he had hit over .290 over the entirety of his career before last season, all the systems have him hitting no better than .276. A lot of that seems to be predicated on Freese's BABIP. Despite being lead-footed, Freese has a career BABIP of .347. Even for a guy that hits a lot of grounders, that's a pretty high BABIP. So when it crashed down to .320 last year, it actually kind of made sense. Projection systems like it when things make sense
They also don't like Freese's power much. Again, a lot of that has to do with him hitting so many grounder. Even last year, his HR/FB was 10.5%, which isn't terrible, but it was a far cry from 20.0% that he posted in 2012, which is just not sustainable for him. As a result, the power projections just aren't very good. In fact, they are very middle infielder-like which might be hard to swallow since so many people remember Freese from his post-season heroics which very much involved him hitting for power.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
I'm bullish on Freese, but even I have to admit that I am probably projecting my hopes onto him. I truly think he has more power than he has shown most seasons, but probably not quite as much as he showed in 2012. He hit for power throughout the minors, so it wouldn't be a big shock to see it pop up again in the majors despite him having a few seasons, most of which were injury-plagued, where it was well down.
What I'm not buying is the BABIP. The projection systems are onto something there. Plodders like Freese just can't sustain that kind of crazy high BABIP, no matter how good they are at making contact.
My only other caveat with him is that I think we have to expect a dip in walks and increase in strikeouts. A big part of that is him switching leagues. The other part of it is that Freese will be featured more in the Halo lineup, likely batting fifth much of the time. In St. Louis though, he was largely batting sixth or seventh where teams could be far more careful with because the pitcher and lousy hitters like Pete Kozma were batting right behind him. It isn't going to cause a massive shift in his numbers, but there should be some effect.
What are the known unknowns?
The one thing we really don't know is just how fragile Freese is. He has a long history of foot problems, ankle problems and now back problems. He just can't seem to stay healthy and as we saw with Pujols, foot problems tend to linger; that goes double for back problems. The Halos might be able to hide him at DH a bit to keep him healthy, but that will be minimal.
We have also heard a lot about how Freese feels relieved to get away from playing in his hometown as it had really put him under the microscope. Leaving St. Louis will now somehow magically free him from stress and allow him to be more productive than ever. I don't know how much we should actually buy into that as we are simultaneously hearing stories about sad Mark Trumbo being so sad to sadly leave his sad hometown of sad Anaheim. There are also just as many stories about Tyler Skaggs being so excited and motivated to play for the team he rooted for growing up as well. It can't work both ways. Can it?