What Should St. Louis Cardinals Fans Expect from David Freese in 2012?

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: David Freese #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a two-run double in the first inning off of Matt Harrison #54 of the Texas Rangers during Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

In the NLDS, David Freese hit .278/.278/.556/.833 with 5 RBI. Freese smacked a double and home run off veteran Roy Oswalt in the do-or-die Game 4 at Busch Stadium. In the NLCS, Freese picked up where he left off, posting the high-popping line of .545/.600/1.091/1.691 with 3 homers, 3 doubles, and 9 RBI. The Iceman cooled off so to speak in the World Series with a somewhat more human line of .348/.464/.696/1.160.

Understandably, Freese was the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series. His good postseason fortunes have made him a national figure, appearing on late-night talk shows, awards shows, and an ill-fated sitcom. Despite his dynamic postseason play, should St. Louis Cardinals fans expect production on the field in 2012 on par with his stature off it?

After the 2007 season, John Mozeliak, then the new St. Louis Cardinals general manager, traded all-time great Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres for David Freese. At the time, Freese was coming off a season in high-A ball in which he hit .302/.400/.489 for a .419 wOBA (121 wOBA+). The Cardinals aggressively promoted the third baseman to AAA Memphis and Freese responded very positively. In 2008, he posted a .306/.361/.550/.911 line for the Redbirds that was good for a .394 wOBA and 114 wOBA+ in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Freese was named the Cardinals' minor league player of the year and was touted as the 2009 big-league third baseman. An offseason car accident dashed those hopes. In St. Louis, Brian Barden and Joe Thurston manned the hot corner until Mozeliak could trade for Mark DeRosa. Upon returning from injury, Freese his .300/.369/.525/.894 in Memphis over 225 PA. His .394 wOBA equaled a 117 wOBA+ in the PCL.

In 2010, Freese won the job of starting third baseman. He hit for a high average that was fueled by an unsustainably high BABIP and didn't walk that much or hit for a lot of power. Freese sprained his ankle in early June, fractured his big toe by dropping a weight on it during a workout, and, during a minor-league rehab stint, suffered a significant ankle injury that required tendon reconstruction surgery. Prior to having his season ended prematurely by injuries, Freese posted the following statistics.

Year

PA

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

BABIP

fWAR

2010

270

4

36

.296

.361

.404

.765

.341

.375

1.5

In 2011, Freese again entered the season as the starting third baseman and again got off to a good start. However, Scott Linebrink hit Freese in the hand with a pitch and the fracture which resulted led to Freese missing 51 games. In about two-thirds of a season, Freese posted the following line last season:

Year

PA

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

BABIP

fWAR

2011

363

10

55

.297

.350

.441

.791

.348

.356

2.7

This is very solid production; but, as azruavatar noticed during the season, it does differ from Freese's hitting profile as a minor leaguer. Namely, the reduction in power. In the minors, Freese slugged at a high level, posting ISOs of .397 in low-A, .211 in A, .187 in high-A, .244 in 2008 with Memphis, and .225 in 2009 with Memphis. In St. Louis, Freese has a career ISO of .131 in 667 PA.

There is reason to hope that the power we saw from Freese during the postseason may carryover somewhat in 2012. In a profile for ESPN the Magazine, Freese is quoted regarding his injuries being fully heeled.

"Breaking my hand actually allowed me to play through the postseason," says Freese. "My ankles got to recover. Funny how things work out."

The Bill James projection for Freese foresees an uptick in power will accompany a downtick in batted-ball luck come 2012. After an ISO of just .108 in 2010 rose to .144 in 2011, the James projection projects it to rise a bit more--to .154--in 2012. Rotochamp expects it to fall to .138 and ZIPS to .137.

Perhaps linked to his lesser power numbers as a major-leaguer, Freese's walk rate has been trending downward. Never one with a truly excellent walk rate, Freese walked in 7.6% of his 2008 Memphis PAs, 9.8% in 2009, 7.8% with the Cards in 2010, and only 6.6% in 2011. This is worrisome as his low walk rate causes Freese's offensive production to be tied to a batting average of around .300, making the October hero's hitting profile similar to Schumaker and Theriot in this regard.

With this as a backdrop, the 2012 projections present the legitimate concerns regarding Freese as we enter 2012. First and foremost, there is the question of health as evidenced by the PA totals. Next, there is the quesiton of his continued batted-ball luck. Despite high LD rates and a BABIP significantly above league-average, Freese struggles to hit for .300. What would become of his offensive production if he had average or, heave forbid, bad luck on batted balls? Unless Freese walks at a rate on par with what the James projection expects, it could be a very rough season.

System

PA

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

BABIP

Bill James

426

12

66

.299

.357

.452

.809

.353

.356

RotoChamp

523

13

69

.293

.346

.425

.771

.340

.350

ZIPS

360

9

51

.269

.323

.406

.729

--

--

It seems that every postseason sees a hero emerge for a championship team. Sometimes the success of fall can carry over into the following spring and summer. On other occasions, October's success is never again seen. Freese's 2011 postseason numbers are so high that expecting production on that level in 2012 would be way off-base. The question in our minds should not be whether Freese can recreate his postseason numbers but whether or not he can recreate his minor-league numbers. If he can, the Cardinals will have a very potent lineup.

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