It’s actually not that often that a tweet really gets my attention. Maybe it’s the character limit.
However, I saw this one today from David O’Brien and it did garner some thought:
My first thought was what would Jo Bennett’s printer company have to say about baseball? What, has Gabe Lewis been transitioning from watching awful Japanese horror movies to watching baseball?
However, my second thought was more along the lines of what DOB was attempting to portray. There are some people who, in addition to living in their mother’s basement and drinking a lot of Red Bull, also think that Freddie Freeman is not a good first baseman. He further clarifies that to be an indictment of Freeman’s defense by saying that over the last 14 or so days, three (that’s more than two) out-of-town writers have said that Freeman is a Gold Glove talent. Not only that, but two coaches (still more than one) for other teams have agreed with those three writers.
Case closed. Freeman is the greatest first baseman in the
National League Majors. No, in the world. NAY! In the entire universe!
But here’s the thing and this is why DOB pisses me off from time-to-time. He has a well known history for not valuing the opinion of saber guys. Probably hates that sport bloggers, like blogging in general, are killing newspaper print as we know it. A lot of those idiot bloggers who sometimes don’t even have credentials are also saber guys in that they do use statistical analysis. For the record, so does DOB. Just last night, he added this nugget: Among 278 major leaguers with at least 250 PAs, Frenchy’s .536 OPS ranks 277th (B.J. has a .554 OPS).
But I digress. What does “good 1B” really mean? Because, to my reasoning, most people say he’s good in that he’s not bad. I guess that’s a way to place Freeman in the “average defender” category. If he was great, he would be a Gold Glove candidate, right? And according to grammar rules, to be great at something means you’re better than good. So, which is it, DOB?
Here’s the common narrative I have seen written about Freeman’s defense and I personally also subscribe to it. He makes nearly all the plays he can get to. He has a pretty good arm for a first baseman. He doesn’t, however, have much range and that is why he’s not a Gold Glove-quality player. Of course, that’s implying that Gold Gloves go to the best defenders at their position.
Let’s see what the numbers say and if that narrative has much support. The following table shows Freeman’s rank this season and since the beginning of 2011 in a few advanced metrics including rPM (plus or minus runs saved), DRS (defensive runs saved), RZR (revised zone rating), OOZ (plays made out of zone), and UZR (ultimate zone rating). To make it tidy, I am not including the actual numbers, but the rank. For the numbers defensively for Freeman, see his fangraphs page. The ranks are among qualified MLB 1B for this year and qualified MLB 1B for the last three years. I realize that does little to answer the question about NL Gold Glove, but it’s easier this way.
This basically supports the narrative. He makes all the plays, but his range is limited. Note that only Ryan Howard has had weaker range and only Eric Hosmer has had a worse UZR over the last three years among qualified 1B. He saves a decent amount of defensive runs and seems to make a good deal of defensive plays out of his zone. I wonder how much of that comes down to the liberal use of defensive positioning by the Braves braintrust.
There are some potentially good things to add to this. Freeman is having – by a significant margin – the best defensive year of his career. His 1.7 UZR is not gaudy, but it’s marginally better than his -2.0 UZR last year and a huge improvement over his woeful -11.8 UZR from 2011. I believe that the rookie number is the outlier here, not the positive UZR this year. To me, he’s likely to have years where he is a little below average, years where he is a little better. It’s the defender that he is. He could continue to show marketable improvement next season, though, and set a new higher baseline of the defender we should expect.
Either way, he fits the narrative I have heard and told myself. He does certain things well, but his range continues to limit him from potentially being a great defender. Truthfully, his range only looks that bad because Dan Uggla is next to him. Of course, all defensive metrics have to be taken with a little grain of salt. They aren’t quite as good as offensive metrics, but are improving. The numbers do support where I stood on his defense, though. Regardless, in the end, it’s better to understand the criticism about Freeman. No one seems to say he’s bad. He’s just not great.