By Mike Moritz
Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier (among many others like Jose Bautista and Joey Votto) have been getting full-fledged attention for getting off to hot starts this season without the help of 100% luck (in other words, not all of their performance has been BABIP'd for the better). David Freese is one of the overlooked players that has been red hot right off the bat (no pun intended).
Freese has looked to be legitimately good so far. He's hit .342/.378/.474 and a .374 wOBA. His BABIP is obviously unsustainable, sitting at .444 but he is leading the league in line drive rate at 35.7%. A ridiculous rate that seems to be carrying Freese right now. There is no doubt in my mind that he is also getting pretty lucking but still, the fact that he is hitting line drives at a staggering rate helps a crap load. I also highly doubt that he can keep this up, I don't think he is this good, but yes, he is a good player. We often tend to attribute a hot streak to complete luck, but this is not always the case. And Freese can be used as a good example because he is doing well and not just getting lucky. Hits come at complete randomness so I guess you could argue that Freese has gotten lucky that he is hitting line drives at such a high rate, but when a player gets lucky, we mean that hits are dropping in that should not be.
He could also just be seeing the ball well.
You could say that, but this is where Freese is in a danger for hitting a huge slump.
A look at his plate discipline stats suggest to us that he is actually seeing the ball badly. His O-Swing% has jumped from 24.3% in 2010 to 32% this year. What makes that statistic even worse is that his O-Contact% has also jumped up from 52.9% to 63.8%, meaning that he is probably making a lot more of "bad" contact then he was last year. To make matters even worse, his Z-Swing% has gone down from 67.1% to 63.1% meaning that he actually struggling to make contact on pitches that stay in the zone (mostly fastballs). And because fastballs tend to be one of the few pitches that are meant to stay in the strike zone when thrown and because pitchers are throwing fastballs to Freese 63.3% of the time, we can say with confidence that Freese is struggling with the fastball. Sure enough, his pitch type values rate Freese's "fastball hitting" at -0.53 wFB/C. To finish things off, his Z-Contact% in 2010 was 84.4% and is now 73.7%. His SwStr% has gone up from 10.5% to 12.9% and overall, his Contact% has dropped from 76.1% last year to 70.1% this year.
In total? His punch out rate this year is 27.6% and his walk rate is an abysmal 4.9% and a slim 36 points separate his batting average and OBP.
The thing is, it's kind of a wonder to me why he is hitting so well yet he is performing so poorly with his batting eye. In fact, it is a HUGE wonder to me.
Not only will Freese stop getting lucky in time, but it does not seem as though he will be able to sustain this kind of absurd-type line drive rate, partly because I doubt he is this good and mostly because his plate discipline is just so bad so far this year.
The catch is that we are, once again, dealing with small sample sizes so all we can do is say "we have to keep a close eye on him" just like we are keeping an eye on his teammate, Albert Pujols (or at least I am). If you haven't seen my post on why we should be on the look out for Pujols, click here.
I just wanted to take the time to have people recognize a player that is off to a similar kind of hot start along with Kemp, Ethier, Votto, Bautista, Matt Holliday and others....and then tell why I think he might not only regress, but crash too.
"Only time will tell."
(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com)