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Is Freddie Freeman Injured?

Or do the Cardinals have a great game plan?

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Freddie Freeman has appeared lost lately. In the last four games, Freeman is sporting a .136/.231/.136 line. He says the issue isn’t his elbow. Others are allowing him to continue to start, although begrudgingly. He had a .754 OPS and 95 wRC+ in September. He could be slowing down as the season winds down and his elbow starts to wear. But those numbers were .816 and 113 in July. Anyone can have an off month I guess, or in Freeman’s case, a roughly league-average month.

But what if I told you that he had a .342 xwOBA in the 2019 playoffs? With his swings he is taking, Freeman should be producing at about the same level as Rhys Hoskins or JT Realmuto (if were they playing this time of year). Sadly, he is getting .238 wOBA results (or like 2019 Martin Prado or Billy Hamilton level). So why is he getting so little bang for his buck? Is it small sample size? Is it good game planning by Mike Shildt? Is it voodoo priests in the Cardinals clubhouse?

It’s probably a little bit of all three. Have a look at Freeman’s work versus the slider.

Freeman versus sliders
Time Span Usage wOBA xwOBA wOBA-xwOBA
Regular Season 14.9% .227 .274 -.047
Playoffs 33.7% .224 .333 -.109

The 2019 Cardinals-Braves NLDS has become the battle of the slider. Mike Foltynewicz leaned heavily on the slider in Game 2, putting together seven innings of no-run ball. Freeman is seeing the slider two and a half times more often in the playoffs than in the regular season. In the regular season, he underperformed his xwOBA by .047. In these four games, that gap has more than doubled. League-wide, hitters outperform on the slider by .010.

Time Span Even or behind in count
Regular Season 67.6%
Playoffs 81.7%

Freeman is spending nearly the entire series even or behind in the count. When hitters are ahead this year, they accumulated a .432 wOBA while ahead versus a .269 when behind. When ahead, hitters are Mike Trout. When behind, they are Orlando Arcia.

How are they getting ahead? If you guessed slider, you win 10 internet points.

First pitch of AB
Time Span Slider Fastballs
Regular Season 15.1% 57.8%
Playoffs 44.4% 33.3%

The Cardinals are working backwards and staying backwards. A slider is all he saw on the first pitch from Jack Flaherty and Andrew Miller. Adam Wainwright and Tyler Webb have not gotten ahead on the slider, but only because they don’t throw that pitch. As mentioned above, Freddie has a .224 wOBA versus the slider, although with some bad luck. It’s .224 wOBA in the playoffs with worse luck. They are probably thinking that they would accept .274 wOBA (as his season xwOBA suggests) from Freddie so long as he hits it on the ground somewhere or swings through it.

I don’t know Freddie’s health status this week. I imagine that he isn’t feeling great, but nothing that is affecting his swing. He has a .517 xwOBA on pitches in Zones 2-5-8 (that’s the horizontal middle of the strike zone) in the playoffs. So he is hitting the ball OK enough. Middle-of-the-Phillies order input suggests that he is probably OK. The issue appears to be that the Cards can read a scouting report, and giving Jobu rum works over a small sample set.

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