Freddie Freeman, the owner of a top-5 MVP finish in 2013 and a .407/.515/.704 slash line on the young 2014 season, has been producing at an elite offensive level since the beginning of his breakout 2013 campaign. Considering what he said to his buddy Chipper Jones last night, it's safe to say that he's feeling quite confident at the dish:
Chipper said Freeman came by his house after game last night talked hitting for hour. Oozing confidence "they got nothin to get me out with"— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) April 10, 2014
It's clear that Freeman, one of the premiere under-25 talents in the game of baseball, hasn't lost any of his edge during the offseason following his fantastic 2013 season, in which he finished 10th among qualified ML batters with a 150 wRC+. He was rewarded from the organization with an eight-year, $135 million contract extension, entrusting Freeman with the responsibility of being an offensive anchor in the middle of the Braves' order for years to come.
Although major projection systems such as ZiPS (.290/.371/.485, 137 wRC+) and Steamer (.289/.370/.493, 138 wRC+) universally expect a bit of regression from Freeman in the 2014 season, largely due to an expected drop in BABIP (his mark in 2013 was .371, perhaps anomalously high), Freddie himself likely wouldn't be too keen on such a prognostication. Of course, we're only eight games into the season, and Freeman won't sustain anything close to the ridiculous line he's posted thus far as the only real offensive threat in Atlanta's lineup, but I think there's plenty of merit to Freeman's confidence.
As someone who watches the majority of Braves games, and consequently, Freeman at-bats, it's evident to me that he's a preternaturally gifted hitter. He doesn't feature any apparent, glaring weaknesses at the plate, so it's difficult for pitchers to find any one hole in Freeman's approach at the plate and exploit it. He uses all fields, and sprays hard-hit balls to all thirds of the field, making it difficult for defenses to employ a Ryan Howard or David Ortiz-esque shift on Freeman (this helps him sustain an abnormally high BABIP).
Embedded above, courtesy of Fangraphs, is a visualization of Freeman's batted balls from the 2013 and 2014 seasons. It's striking to note the high frequency of red dots (line drives) present to all areas of the field on Freeman's spray chart, as well as the dearth of infield pop-ups (I count 4, unless we're using Sam Holbrook's definition of "infield"). His 26.7% line drive rate in 2013 placed him 12th among qualified batters, and his 2.6% infield fly rate was the 9th lowest among qualified batters. Now, there are some areas where Freeman could be a little bit better. He doesn't generate an elite number of home runs from his fly balls, as 15% of his fly balls last season were deposited over the fence. This puts him at the same tier as players such as Matt Holliday and Hunter Pence, who are good, but not great, power producers. However, Freeman's abilities to make quality contact to all areas of the field while producing a non-elite, but acceptable, level of power, all while exhibiting top-tier strike zone judgment and on-base skills, help make him the total package at the plate.
If we want to focus a little more on the specific "(pitchers) have nothing to get me out" portion of Freeman's statement, let's take a look at how pitchers can attempt to attack Freeman and generate outs. Freeman is a notoriously good fastball hitter, and the numbers bear that out. in 2013, Freeman produced a 2.33 wFB/C, which sounds statistical and scary, but essentially just states that he produced 2.33 runs above league average on fastballs, good for 5th among qualified batters. So, if I'm a pitcher, I'm probably thinking "well, it might be a good idea to come at this guy with my off-speed offerings." Unfortunately for pitchers, Freeman produced at a well-above-average clip against curveballs (1.95 wCB/C, 22nd) and changeups (1.22 wCH/C, 39th). He doesn't hit those pitches as well as he does fastballs, but he's clearly more than competent. If Freeman has had a wart at the plate against a specific offering, it's been against sliders. He's never had an above-average season against sliders in his career (-0.40 wSL/C career). This isn't really too shocking, as left-handed pitchers tend to heavily utilize sliders against their counterparts on the left side of the plate, as they are generally effective pitches in that L/L matchup.
This isn't meant to be an exhaustive criticism and breakdown of an off-handed comment that Freddie made to Chipper over a drink last night, but I think it's interesting to look at just how well-rounded and impressive his offensive game is (at the tender age of 24, no less). While Atlanta's offense has largely been frustrating thus far, it's nice to know that the Braves have an anchor in the middle of the lineup who's consistently productive. Although Freeman isn't Miguel Cabrera, and pitchers probably don't literally have "nothin'" to get Freeman out with, his offensive competency is something to behold.