Woof. If you thought there were a lot of dogs at Pup Night at PNC Park last Tuesday, there’s just as many permeating through the Pirates’ batting lineup to start the season. Sure, there have been some pleasant surprises, like Adam Frazier (his bat, not his glove) and his 125 wRC+, which means he’s producing 25% more offense than a league average player. Chris Stewart has been strong in his spot starts. Josh Harrison is getting hot with the bat (again, not his glove) and is sporting a 139 wRC+.
But there’s a huge swath of key players that are simply not performing to their career norms right now.
- Andrew McCutchen — 107 wRC+ (career mark of 139, albeit he’s trending up)
- The erstwhile Starling Marte — 79 wRC+ (career mark of 120)
- Francisco Cervelli — 84 wRC+ (career mark of 95)
- Gregory Polanco — 75 wRC+ (career mark of 96)
- Jordy Mercer — 58 wRC+ (career mark of 88)
- Jon Jaso — even though he’s a bench guy mostly, I’m highlighting his 43 wRC+, a whopping 57% less than an average player.
However, there’s been one man who has answered the bell all the way from Opening Day until the end of April. The man that you probably couldn’t pick out of police lineup because he’s got an everyman’s face. Thankfully, David Freese has been the steady hand on the tiller for the Pirates’ ship so far this season. It’s a shame that he’s been on the 10-day DL since April 26th and hasn’t played since April 24th.
His triple slash line of .321/.418/.536 (954 OPS, 3 HR) translates into a 154 wRC+. That by itself is an impressive figure. You probably don’t have the time to go through Freese’s splits by month for every year of his career, so that’s where I come in. Freese April 154 wRC+ is his 3rd best month of his career by that metric. Only in July 2012 when he hit a ridiculously-locked-in .458/.562/.625 (229 wRC+) and September 2014 when he hit .315/.367/.562 (168 wRC+) did he post better months.
Among qualified hitters, not bench guys, Freese leads everyone in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging, and it’s not particularly close. His 3 home runs are second on the team, behind only Josh Bell and tied with McCutchen. Freese is also the only player on the team to have walked more than he’s struck out. In the games he’s started, Freese has not gotten a hit in only five of them. And of those five, he walked in three. So of the 18 games he’s started, he’s been on base for 16 of them.
And Freese is doing this all on a contract that was intended to pay him to be a bench player, at the going rate of $5.5M for each of the next two years, plus an option in 2019. I will continue to cling to the tinfoil hat theory that Neal Huntington sensed that something was rotten in Denmark with Jung-ho Kang last August, whether it was the unresolved sex assault case or concerns about his other off-the-field activities, and moved early to lock down Freese as an insurance policy that just happens to cover the same remaining timeframe as Kang’s contract.
Freese started off strong in the first half of last year, with three months all in the 120’s of wRC+, but ran out of steam in the second half of the year. He didn’t crater out badly, but it was definitely below the line. There is a distinct possibility he has the same fate befall him this year, too. But at least we’ll have April to remember and be thankful that at least one hitter earned his keep in those darkest of days in early April.