The Freeman-To-Third 120 Inning Checkup

The Freeman-To-Third 120 Inning Checkup

Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter

I hated the idea of moving an elite first baseman to third base. It’s difficult enough to play third base, but to chance your franchise cornerstone at a position he seemed unlikely to play at a decent rate? Why in the world would you do something like that? Just because he suggested it? Who’s running the team?

And yes, I put a few of these arguments on this blog. I compared the hypothetical third-base-playing Freeman to Johan Camargo, which was unfair because Camargo is a very good third baseman (better than he is a shortstop, I’d wager). I compared the idea of Freeman playing third to Miguel Cabrera playing the position for the Tigers and how poorly Cabrera played it. My overall point was, “Freeman’s bat will make up for some of the defensive issues he’ll have at the position, but is it a good idea to sacrifice some of the value your best player provides by shifting him to a position he’s unlikely to be able to play at a reasonable level – especially when considering that the Braves starting staff relies so heavily on their defense as they are worst at striking out batters this season?”

Boy, that looks like a typical blogger’s overreaction. To this point, Freeman looks quite capable of playing the hot corner and maybe even staying there. Let me give you some numbers. Of major league third baseman with 120 innings at the position this year…

Freeman ranks tied for 12th in DRS with some pretty good defensive players in Adrian Beltre and Martin Prado. He ranks 13th in rPM. He ranks 10th in RZR.

But short sample size…

Freeman is now 24th in UZR/150 and climbing. He could be in the top 20 by mid-August and even higher by season’s end.

But Tommy, it’s just 120 innings…

And did you see some of the plays he’s been making? The double play he started the other day? Catching this liner? The guy’s a natural.

But…

Okay, I do hear you. It’s an exceedingly short sample size. There are 54 players who have played 120+ innings at third base this year and defensive metrics, in general, aren’t valuable until we have a couple of years in the tank to compare-and-contrast with. It’s not that I don’t get that and his numbers could regress to the point that Freeman isn’t a better-than-average third baseman. Or maybe not even an average third baseman. Regardless, we might know a few things.

He’s not an embarrassment at the position – something many of us (myself included) feared he’d be. He might not even lose overall value at the position. In fact, because third base is a more difficult position to play, he might see his value increased. That’s a pretty difficult thing to do when you’re an elite superstar at another position, but league-average defense at a tougher-to-play position is a more valuable asset. Finally, the Braves could head into next year with Freeman penciled in at third base and not feel like it is a huge problem.

None of that should be construed as believing Freeman shouldn’t be moved back to first base. I do feel the Braves would be better off with that because, in a perfect world, the Braves have Dansby Swanson back and hitting at shortstop with Camargo slotting over to third base for the time being. But while Freeman isn’t Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, or Jedd Gyorko at the position, to this point, he’s also not Maikel Franco or Jake Lamb. For that matter, he’s also not Chris Johnson or Adonis Garcia. He won’t win a Gold Glove, but he seems capable enough of not hurting the team. Isn’t that all the Braves were hoping for in the first place?

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