Nate Freiman is one of the bigger players in all of MLB baseball, standing at a listed 6 feet 7 inches. He was old for the level in 2012, but he had a nice year in AA for the Padres organization. The Astros then selected the 1st baseman in the Rule 5 draft, but designated him for assignment before the start of the season. Rather than going unclaimed and returning to the Padres, he was claimed by the Athletics, who have kept him on the roster since then. Frankly, he hasn’t been very good so far, not showing the power that he should produce with the frame, but has about an average strikeout rate and a plus walk rate so far. Since Freiman fascinated me in AA last year, I wanted to look at the Pitch F/X data of his time in the Majors so far, and see if we can project Freiman going forward.
First, let’s look at his spray chart according to Texas Leaguers, and see where the right-handed batter is hitting the baseball:
He has been rather balanced so far it seems, showing power to both his pull side and up the middle (and a little the other way as well). While, as mentioned above, the numbers haven’t shown it, he has hit the ball with some serious authority, with an average batted ball distance of 211 feet according to Baseball Heat Maps (267 if you tease out the balls hit under 150 feet).
This opposing pitcher release point chart will show us the kind of pitchers Freiman has faced, along with the results of the pitches:
Despite swinging through a healthy amount of pitches against lefties, he is putting a lot in play and having good results. The balls he is putting in play against righties all seem to be outs, but two of the three pitches he has seen from far out righties have been put in play, which is a good sign. This spin and speed chart will show us what kinds of pitches he is seeing:
While he is having success against high spin curves (usually lefty curves), he seems to be having a lot of problems with sliders (those pitches between 80-85 MPH with little to mid spin).
This is where Freiman has been pitched on average, by result and by (MLBAM tags, though I combined all fastball types) pitch type:
Not surprisingly, he is seeing a lot of arm side changes from lefties, and curves down the middle and low, but seeing a lot of sliders in is surprising. Most sliders are thrown to the glove side of the plate and with the platoon advantage, so you would expect most of the sliders to be away from him. The fastballs and average pitch are thrown in normal spots, on the slight inside part of the plate for Freiman (with the fastball a little higher than the average pitch). His runs scored plays (homers or RBI plays) are on pitches high and on the outside part of the strike zone, while his whiffs and other contact plays are almost in identical spots (the outside part of the plate).
As you might expect from both the strike zone chart and the fact that he is a gigantic slugger that was old for the minors, his bat speed may be a question. Freiman has seen 54 fastballs 92 MPH or over (what you might call “above average” fastballs). Here are where they were located along with result:
He obviously isn’t doing much with them, getting a lot of them in the middle or the inside part of the plate, and really only getting a couple of hits and a lot of swinging strikes. Something I thought about when looking at this strike zone is his height. The strike zone above is just the traditional strike zone, not taking into account height. Notice that some low pitches in the strike zone were called balls, while balls above the traditional strike zone were called strikes. So here is his called strike zone (along with the traditional strike zone for bearings) to give us an idea of how umpires are calling pitches against him:
There only appears to be one absurdly high called strike, and there is one that was really low too, so I don’t think the strike zone caused by height is a real factor for Freiman (or, it hasn’t been one so far).
Freiman clearly has the raw power to succeed in the big leagues, and he has flashed it in games so far this season. There are some questions about whether or not he can really hit big league fastballs, but his power comes from balls up as well. So for now, he is a high risk high reward hitter, as the pitch that can get him out is the same pitch and location he can launch out of the park. This makes sequencing important, and this is where slow bat speed sluggers usually get exposed at the big league level. They have to sit on fastballs and then big league pitchers throw them quality breaking balls and they swing too early or at pitches out of the strike zone. This is what makes Freiman’s early struggles on slider like pitches (even with the weird location) concerning. If he can’t hit (or select the right breaking balls to hit) he is in a lot of trouble and the raw power will never be fully tapped and he will be destined to be a AAA slugger. I don’t think he has the hitting tools to be an every day player (as he needs to really hit almost like an all-star to be an even average player as he has no positional value and his defense is poor), but if he proves he can recognize breaking pitches (the sample seems to small to really tell with the data right now), he could be a good platoon player or good bench bat for a National League team.