David Freese: Learning What It's Like to Go from Hot to, Um, Freesin'

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click to enlarge David Freese: Learning What It's Like to Go from Hot to, Um, Freesin'
For most of this season, David Freese has been sort of the unsung hero of the Cardinals' season. With the exception of one game (and actually really just about one inning), early on, his defense has been anywhere from solid to excellent (and seems to have improved as the season has gone on). He's been durable, missing only a handful of games with a twisted ankle, and much of the magic clutch juice Matt Holliday has been lacking (until recently) seemed to have settled mostly in Freese's bat. 

He's hit .400 with the bases loaded, and .625 with men on first and third. He has an .826 OPS overall with runners in scoring position, and an .872 with two outs and RISP. His average with two outs in all situations is .351; he's almost magical when it comes to extending an inning. (Of course, he only hits .244 w'no outs, so he isn't exactly starting a ton of rallies, at least not early in an inning, but that's much easier to overlook.) He's been very quietly excellent, and one of the real bright spots in a season which has been very frustrating at times. 

Now, though, David Freese is mired in the first real slump of his young career, just as the rest of the offense seems to be finally getting some traction. 

Over the last five games, Freese is hitting .067, with a .243 OPS. Over the last two weeks, his OPS is just .558. His slash line on the year has dropped to .301/.367/.416, which is still pretty good (an OPS+ of 111), but definitely down from where he's been most of the season. 

So what has been the culprit in Freese's recent struggles? Anecdotally, I would say it seems to be a dropoff in his plate discipline; Freese seems to be swinging at an awful lot of pitches out of the zone of late. His strikeout rate has been very high lately; he's struck out in 10 of 37 plate appearances since the beginning of the series against the Dodgers on the 7th of June. That's a 27% K rate, which isn't good, and especially worrisome for a player who isn't hitting for much power either. 

Further along the lack of discipline trail, Freese has walked only twice in the month of June, against thirteen strikeouts. That just isn't a ratio anyone is going to have much success with. It seems to me Freese hasn't had great discipline the whole season, as his walk rate for the year is just 7.8%, and pitchers have really started to zero in and adjust to simply not throwing him much in the way of strikes. Ricky Romero in last night's game was clearly following a game plan of pitching Freese well off the plate with offspeed stuff, and David repeatedly went fishing, striking out twice and looking bad both times. 

Unfortunately, I don't have time to go mining though all the Pitch f/x data for the past month to see if there's really been a change in the way pitchers are attacking Freese, but it certainly appears to me that's what is happening. Pitchers have made the adjustment to Freese, and it's now up to David to make an adjustment to what they're doing to get him out. 

This is a fairly important time in the career of David Freese, I believe. We've seen him good and we're now seeing him bad; the next step is to see if he can turn around a bad patch and make the adjustment to get back on track. It's easy for a guy to look like he belongs when he's playing well, but what really separates quality major leaguers from the warm bodies just filling in spots is that ability to adapt and improve on the fly. We'll see if Freese has it or not. 

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