I spent a lot of time contemplating what David Freese is going to do as an Angel. Just as many of you have.
The reception has been largely underwhelming, though I feel this to be not his fault, but that of the front office. He came here at the expense of our best defensive player and a top outfield prospect who was blocked for at least four more years to come and bound to be trade bait. So when a fan favorite and a prospect finally starting to come into his own are traded, it seems like the only way it could've been remotely remedied is by the team getting a stud pitcher in return. That didn't happen, and so Freese got the backlash.
But does he deserve it? Is it Freese's fault that the Angels gave up Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk? No. Should we take our frustrations out on him when he's not even yet suited up in a spring training uniform or taken batting practice with the team? No. So the front office made a short-sighted and unintelligent trade, sacrificing two great trade chips for a third baseman and an average reliever instead of a top-flight pitcher. Place the blame where it's necessary and cast your eyes upon the owner's box and the GM's office, not on the man at the hot corner.
Anyway, beyond the morals of the trade, let's look at its fruit. We get Fernando Salas, a reliever whose flashes of brilliance have been nullified by AAAA-quality pitching as of late. But besides him, we get Freese, a third baseman who, when healthy, is a stud. Even with an injury-interrupted down season last year, his career slash of .286/.356/.427 is better than that of any Angels third baseman to have manned the hot corner since the start of 2010 (Alberto Callaspo's 2011 season beat Freese slightly on average and OBP, but was more than 50 points below Freese's SLG).
But what can we expect from Freese in Anaheim?
I went VERY in depth for my projection of Freese. I did not give his past seasons the benefit of the doubt. I am not trying to cast an optimistic light on Freese, but rather simply be realistic. This is not a floor, nor a ceiling, of what to expect of Freese, but rather a middle ground.
What I first did was projected the numbers that Freese would post across a full 81-game schedule at home for the Angels. To do that, I took the three games Freese has played in Anaheim in his career (very small sample size) and simply added a 78-game average of his home totals in St. Louis to them for my first set of totals. My second set of totals was an 81-game average of his totals in St. Louis, without any Anaheim influence. My third set of totals was an 81-game average of his totals on the road in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, Anaheim and St. Louis have played out as three similar environments going by multi-year park factors up to 2013. From there, I averaged the three sets of totals and got this: David Freese's projected home totals in 2014.
DAVID FREESE IN ANAHEIM, 2014
I'll admit, it does look a little Callaspo-ish, but these are strictly home numbers, and this doesn't take his health or playing time into account. I'll have numbers with intangibles considered at the end of the post.
Where it gets interesting, are Freese's road totals. Now, for his career with St. Louis, his home slash (.287/.353/.424) and his road slash (.285/.359/.429) have been relatively consistent. In the American League, however, the disparity will become a bit clearer. This is where I got intricate. I took the Angels' 2014 schedule into account, and how many road games they play against each team they play on the road next year. For places he has already played on the road, I simply adjusted his career totals in those stadiums to however many games the Angels will play in that stadium (for example, the team will play 9 games in Oakland next season, and Freese has played 3 there; therefore, I simply multiplied his career totals by 3 and applied them to his road numbers). For places he has NOT played on the road that he will next season (which, by the way, are Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field and Progressive Field), I took the average of his statistics in parks of similar factors, and applied them to his stats in those parks (for example, for Fenway's 102 park factor, I accounted for parks such as Miami and Philadelphia, both within 1-2 points of Fenway's 102). This gave me a perfect 81-game factor since I based it on the Angels' exact schedule next season. And it certainly proves true that the American League is more hitter friendly. Take a look.
DAVID FREESE ON THE ROAD, 2014
This is beautiful. By the way, Freese is going to LOVE playing in Arlington, Chicago, Houston and Kansas City next season. I did use Freese's stats in the 2011 World Series in Arlington as his base for his 2014 production--but a real game is a real game, and those three in Arlington certainly weren't exhibition games. Anyway, the disparity between his home and road numbers is certainly much more glaring than seasons past. Freese's 14.5% difference between home slugging and road slugging would be the second-highest differential in his career between home and road slugging (his 28% in 2013 was the only one more drastic).
So across 162 games (which it's almost certain Freese won't play all 162 next season), Freese gives us this:
162-GAME TOTALS FOR DAVID FREESE, 2014
A .280/.354/.421 would be slightly beneath his career slash, but it shouldn't come as a surprise. No Angels third baseman has put up more than 65 RBI since Troy Glaus brought in 111 in 2002, so Freese's 85 are nice. Not that RBI should be the end-all, be-all of this entire thing, because it isn't, but it's a point worth making. Since 2010, only Alberto Callaspo's 2011 OBP of .366 would beat Freese's .354 in terms of Angels third basemen in that time, and stretching back to 2002, only Maicer Izturis' 2006 OBP of .365, and Chone Figgins' .393 (2007), .367 (2008) and .395 (2009) join that club. What do Figgins, Izturis and Callaspo all have in common? Limited pop, but they got on base. Freese is no exception and his ability to at least plant himself at first base when he comes up will be welcomed with open arms.
However, it's pretty apparent that Freese won't play 162 games. The most he's ever played is 144 in 2012, and then 138 this past season. Before that, it was 97 (2011) and 70 (2010), both seasons riddled by injury. Suffice to say, since 2011, Freese's health has actually improved, and I have no reason to believe he can't play, say, 131 games in 2014, which is where I have him projected. To yield these final results--the OFFICIAL David Freese projection for 2014--I took his average ratio of home and road games played per 162-game season, and set it proportionate to 131 games. This gave me 67 home games and 64 road games, which gives us this to expect as a middle ground with Freese next season.
OFFICIAL DAVID FREESE PROJECTION, 2014
Freese's .768 OPS would be the highest by an Angels third baseman since Figgins' .789 in his career 2009 season. He's not the ideal fit at third base for most people, but let's face it, he's a better option than Chris Nelson, Luis Jimenez OR Grant Green at third. Green will likely claim second if Howie Kendrick is traded, and become our new infield utility man if Kendrick stays. Jimenez is likely to see a Grichuk-esque fate as a trade piece, or even lower as a waiver claim or DFA. Nelson, if he isn't DFA'd to make room for Joe Smith, will likely be non-tendered or (slightly) possibly retained as a bench piece or AAA depth. If Freese does indeed miss 31 games, as this projection would have it, one of Nelson, Green or Jimenez will still be here to fill in.
Don't take this projection to be solid gold; many others will have their opinions, their projections, their predictions and their rationales for all three. This is my personal projection that I will stick by for next season, however, and I believe Freese will, at least on offense, make the loss of Bourjos tolerable. As far as defense...Trout has center field taken care of. It isn't the end of the world, folks. We're gonna make it.