Did Freddie Freeman Become a Top 10 Ballplayer?

BattedBallFreemanFEATURE

Folks………… we still exist.

Since the last time we’ve posted anything Dansby Swanson has been called up, Fat Kemp has been acquired, Ender Inciarte has proven has worth, and the team as a whole has continued to be mostly bad. Someone should probably blog about our second half offense. Someone should probably blog about our impressively mediocre pitching staff. Someone should probably blog about Tyler Flowers’ long term value. There’s honestly a lot of interesting talking points about these here Braves, but we’re just too damn busy lazy to dig into it. Anyhow, before this intro gets too far off the rails, I’d like to get to why I’m choosing to break the silence today.

Back in May we published one of the most incredibly well written and extensively researched blog posts to ever appear on the internet. It was about Freddie Freeman’s early-season struggles with striking out, and it was written by yours truly. At the date that post was written, Freddie has a 98 wRC+. In the 570 plate appearances since that date, he’s produced a wRC+ of 165. It turns out what appeared to be an early season struggle may have actually been a change in approach that’s led to more strikeouts but also a tremendous increase in power. If you go back and listen to some of our old podcasts, you’ll find that I once urged Freddie to change his approach in exactly the way that he has. Now that my wish has come true it’s time to pat myself on the back and examine what this might mean for our Mayo Boy Hero.

I should begin by establishing that there has been drastic, league-wide increase in dingers this season that has been covered extensively by pretty much every baseball website on our wild wild web. Everybody has their theories on why (I hold to the belief that MLB juiced the ball), but nobody is ignorant to this development. However, Freddie’s power surge has been even more pronounced than most. If we look at all qualified batter’s 2016 ISO1 compared to their 2015 ISO, Freddie’s 37 percent increase puts him in the top quartile. Looking beyond just this year and last, Freddie’s 2016 ISO is a 47 percent improvement over his average ISO from 2013 to 2015.

To get an idea of what we can expect from Freeman based on this development, I took a look at all hitters who increased their ISO by at least 40 percent compared to their average ISO over their previous three seasons. These hitters saw sustained ISO increases of roughly 28 percent in the season following their High Power year. This indicates that while Freddie is likely to see some regression toward his career power numbers, he has clearly shown some legitimate skill improvement. This improvement has already been reflected in his rest-of-season projections, which expect him to produce a .382 wOBA through the end of the year. Based on the analysis above, along with the league-wide shift in power, I think it’s more likely to be closer to around .390, which would make him one of the top 5 hitters in baseball.

At the beginning of 2016, ZiPS projected Freddie to be a .364 wOBA hitter and be worth around 3.4 WAR. If we assume his baserunning and fielding projections to be identical for 2017, giving him a .390 wOBA would make him close to a 5 WAR player. That would likely put him just inside the top 10 players in baseball, much better than the maybe top 30 player he appeared to be heading into this year.

Maybe I’m jinxing him, and my bold proclamation today will turn out to be as wrong as my bold proclamation back in May. There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of all this, but it looks like Freddie has turned a corner in his game.

  1. A measure of a hitter’s power based on extra bases per at bat.

Stephen came up with the idea for this blog shortly after graduating from Tech. Realizing that life is ephemeral, he decided to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and catalogue his thoughts. His thoughts are series of numbers and spreadsheets, casually categorized as “research,” and said research is usually conducted on the margins of what is both relevant and socially acceptable.

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