2012 player preview: Freddie Freeman

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Freddie FreemanBy most accounts, Freddie Freeman's rookie year of 2011 was a rousing success. After all, he was the runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year race (behind teammate Craig Kimbrel, who won the award unanimously), he finished third on the team with 21 homers, and he had a very good .794 OPS. But advanced stats hated Freeman, with him just logging 1.0 fWAR, and there's talk that Freeman's offensive stats will peak around where they did last year. What gives?

Let's tackle these issues one at a time. Freeman's low fWAR is due in part to UZR's absolute hatred of him. His UZR was -12.6 on the year, more than halving his value. Braves fans, of course, spit venom at this notion, claiming that Freeman is a magnificent fielder (because that's what Chip Caray and Joe Simpson tell them every night). DRS rated him as neutral, which I think is a more apt valuation of his defense. Tangotiger did a fantastic study on first base defense, comparing Freeman to Carlos Pena, and came to the conclusion that Freeman has very few opportunities to actually make a play, and the opportunities he had were much easier than other first basemen in the league. The link is definitely worth a read.

Now, to the other elephant in the room: Freeman's offense. People point their finger at Freeman's stellar minor league stats, and expect that performance in the majors. Well, look at his MLEs according to THT for his final three seasons in the minors. 

2008: .278/.326/.470, .343 wOBA
2009: .250/.313/.370, .304 wOBA
2010: .277/.332/.465, .344 wOBA

His MLEs for the next six years peak with a .356 wOBA. Last season, he was at .345. That's not much of an improvement. The metrics do not like Freeman's overall future projection, because despite his lack of strikeouts, he possesses below average power for a first baseman (his .166 ISO ranked 18th among 24 qualified first basemen).

You know what I think a good comp for Freeman would be? Braves-era Fred McGriff. McGriff was electric over his first year and a half in Atlanta, but fell to the .355-.365 wOBA level before departing. There is nothing wrong with having Fred McGriff as a first baseman. But Fred McGriff isn't exactly an elite player, and expectations for Freeman are probably going to be set too high going into 2012. I'd settle for 20 homers and an .800 OPS. Anything more is a bonus. 

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