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Question No. 3: Is Freddie Freeman a .300 hitter?
Last year, in his age-23 season, Freeman hit .319. It looked like a breakthrough year, as he was spraying line drives all over the field. He made the All-Star team and finished fifth in NL MVP voting.
The interesting thing: In nine fewer plate appearances than 2012, when he hit .259, he had basically the exact same strikeout and walk totals -- 60 unintentional walks and 129 strikeouts in 2012, 56 and 121 in 2013. He hit 23 home runs both seasons and actually had fewer doubles in 2013 (33 to 27).
His improvement was all singles and didn't seem to come from a different approach. That doesn't mean it was all good luck. According to ESPN Stats & Info, his line-drive rate increased from 21.7 percent to 25.8 percent. He hit fewer fly balls, which go for base hits less often than ground balls and line drives.
One thing that impressed me was that he increased his average against fastballs from .291 to .367. I viewed that as the maturation of a young hitter, reading pitchers and counts better and knowing when to attack fastballs.
But you know what? His line-drive rate against fastballs was the same both seasons. His isolated power was the same. More balls simply found holes in the defense.
Then Freeman started 2014 red hot. Through 17 games he was hitting .413 and had eight unintentional walks and just eight strikeouts. Was he taking another step forward, cutting down on his strikeouts?
No, the low strikeout rate didn't keep up. Since that hot start he's hit .245 with 50 strikeouts and 29 walks in 53 games. Overall, he's hitting .280/.374/.492, on pace for 87 walks, 134 strikeouts and 26 home runs. He's walking a little more and also hitting more doubles (19 already), but the overall value is about the same as 2013.
The interesting thing about Freeman is that while the walks are high (he's 26th out of 171 qualified regulars in walk rate), he's in the bottom third of regulars when it comes to chasing pitches out of the zone. Considering the issues the Braves have had at the top of the order, one reason he's walking more often may be that there are simply fewer runners on base and thus more opportunities to pitch around him.
Anyway, it appears to me that Freeman has found a center between his low average in 2012 and his .319 mark last season. Via FanGraphs, ZiPS projects Freeman to finish at .283 and Steamer also projects a .283 final average.
I will leave you with one more piece of data: His line-drive rate is up from last year, but he's hitting .627 on line drives compared to .802 last year. (The MLB average is .674.)
Freeman is a very good hitter and there's still the possibility that he becomes a 30-homer guy as he matures. I'm just not sure he's a .319 hitter.
Where do you think Freeman finishes?