On the final day of the regular season in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They were facing the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball, but this would be no guarantee as no baseball outcome is attached with a guarantee.
However, the guarantee wouldn't take long. The first four batters singled off of starter Brett Myers and then David Freese doubled to send in Albert Pujols and make it a 3-0 game. The Cards won easy, 8-0, and Freese finished 2-for-4 with an RBI and 3 runs scored.
Freese continued this momentum in the playoffs: .278/.278/.556 in the NLDS, .545/.600/1.091 in the NLCS against the Brewers, and .348/.464/.696 against the Rangers in the World Series, where he was named MVP. I'm not sure that anything in sports will ever belong to "lore" in quite the same way that it was in the days of black-and-white (there's just something more special about "history" to me) but what Freese did in game six of the World Series is as close as you're ever going to get.
Rangers lead 7-5, bottom of the ninth, two outs and runners on first and second. It's almost the exact scenario that every eight-year-old kid runs through his head time and time again as he swings a whiffle bat in his backyard. I can imagine a young David Freese now:
"1-2 count facing Feliz. That big, mean man! Here's the pitch, THE SWING, IT'S A DEEP DRIVE TO RIGHT FIELD AND IT'S GOING TO FALL IN AND THE GAME IS TIED!! EVERYONE IS CHEERING FOR ME, DAVID FREESE! FREESE! FREESE! FREESE!"
"David, come in the house!"
Except that little David eventually got to live out his dream.
The Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series and Freese said, "No."
The scrappy Cardinals tied the game again in the 10th after Josh Hamilton hit a go-ahead two-run home run that spelled doom. The Rangers had a scoreless 11th.... only one more batter would come up to the plate in that game:
His home run was not a game-seven home run, as kids would imagine it to be, but it will always be a legendary one. His game six performance in total, will always be one of the greatest World Series higlights in major league history. There is one caveat to those legendary hits though that is always forgotten (and probably rightfully so) and that's that most of the greatest hits of all-time came not from the greatest hitters of all-time, but from the role players, the scrappers, the castoffs.
Kirk Gibson was an NL MVP and hit perhaps the greatest home run in history and he also spent a total of one year on the Hall of Fame ballot: 2.5% of the vote.
Bobby Thomson hit "The Shot Heard Round the World" and never got more than 4% of the Hall of Fame vote.
Bill Mazeroski is one of only two players to end a World Series on a home run. Of course, he a is a 7-time All-Star, and a Hall of Famer, but also a career .260/.299/.367 hitter that didn't steal bases. If they played fantasy baseball back then, he'd be the best player in baseball that you couldn't roster.
Joe Carter hit the other home run to end a Series, and he's probably the best offensive player of any of these guys and was an excellent fantasy contributor. (Not close to the Hall of Fame, which I'm just adding because I brought it up earlier.)
So what will David Freese be? Did he just spark something inside of him that will make him a great hitter or is he forever trapped in lore and legend? At the age of 29, have we already passed by the best of him, or is he a Jose Bautista waiting to bust out?
Through seven games of the 2012 regular season, he's a lot closer to Bautista than he is to Bobby Thomson.
Freese has been the best all-around hitter potentially so far: .429/.448/.750 with 3 HR, 10 RBI, 12 hits, 5 R and a 229 OPS+. He's at the top of a lot of leaderboards, but can he stay there? Where will he settle?
There are several things to be concerned about with Freese (including injury, of which he has a history but I won't get into it because I can't predict the future) and here are a few:
Freese Don't Walk
David Freese walked only 6.6% of the time in 2011 in 363 plate appearances. If Freese is to become a "power hitter" than he'll have to learn how to use his intimidation factor to draw more walks, get on base more often, and score more runs. So far this season he has walked only one time and that's a pretty bad sign. It's even worse when you consider that he struck out 20.7% of the time last year and is striking out 24.1% of the time in the early part of this year.
Three true outcomes: Walks, Strikeouts, Home Runs. Right now Freese is displaying two of those outcomes and they aren't the right two. If he's going to strikeout, he needs to hit a lot of home runs. If he's going to hit home runs, he's going to need to walk more. This separates him quite a bit from a power-hitter like Bautista. Speaking of which...
Where did all of this magic power come from? David Freese hit five home runs during 18 games of the 2012 postseason after hitting 15 total home runs in his first 184 regular season games. He posted a .144 ISO last year and a .108 ISO in 2010 (70 games) and now all of a sudden it's .321.
Nobody expects the .321 ISO to hold up based on this incredibly small sample size, but a good number is .200 and even then that number is REALLY far from .144. Can he hit and maintain at a .200 ISO and hit 15-20 HR this year? Is he actually going to explode for 25-30 home runs? Or MORE? Or is he going to hit like 10-15 HR, as he was on pace to do last year?
Last season 16.7% of his fly balls went for home runs. This season: 37.5%. Ryan Howard over the last two years: 21.7%
A lot of hitters can post stupidly-good power numbers over a seven game sample size, so it's no surprise that Freese could do the same. What's really odd is that it comes the season after he wins World Series MVP, after he becomes a St. Louis legend, after an offseason where a lot of people were talking about David Freese.
We wouldn't expect THIS kind of power to last, but is it possible that he'll post an ISO of .250, a HR/FB% of 21 and hit 30 home runs?
I highly doubt it.
Freese is not as bad as his Spring Training numbers: .188 with 16 strikeouts in 48 at-bats. He's not as good as his seven-game start of the season. Few players to ever play where quite as amazing as he was in game six of the World Series. (Technically speaking, lots of players hit a triple and a home run in one game, but given the stage you have to give credit where it's due.)
Given his strikeout and walk rates, which have never improved and have only gotten worse to start the year, I have to expect that David Freese compares pretty good with another player and this is the kind of production you can expect from him. He reminds me a lot of:
That's who he is. He's 29 and it's highly doubtful that he'll ever be more than what he was, which was "a pretty good player." The power numbers he has put up this year (which, by the way, is three home runs and zero other extra-base hits) can come from anyone. They just happen to come from the star of the 2011 World Series.
The power numbers will go down. What you would actually want to see from a player like Freese, is better plate discipline and he hasn't shown that at all. He needs to cut his strikeouts down to under 20% and get his walks over 10%. If he can do that and find himself an ISO closer to .200, then he'll be a much better hitter.
If someone in your league is blinded by the hoopla known as "David Freese" then what you should do is sell Freese off while he's at a certain peak because you don't know when this train is going to end.
Then again, just when you think something is over, someone might just step up and surprise you.