Freddie Freeman, the Cardinals, and Coming Through When it Counts

A few weeks ago, Dave Cameron wrote a piece on RE24, explaining that, because RE24 measures offensive production with respect to the specific base-out state, one could compare it to a context-neutral offensive metric, such as Batting runs, in order to measure the effects of situational hitting.

Situational hitting is a vague term often used to laud making outs as long as it moves the runner up a base, but as I see it, all the phrase means is hitting differently depending on the situation. That is, good “situational hitting” is distributing your hits and extra base hits into the times that you hit when runners are on base, and especially in scoring position.

Subtracting Batting Runs (or Bat) from RE24 works as a good measure of situational hitting because it compares the value of the context-neutral event (single, strikeout, home run, etc) with the value of the actual change in base-out state. A single is worth more in certain situations; that “more” is measured using this method.

However, while this subtraction is a simple measure in some ways, it is unnecessarily complex in others. Both Bat and RE24 are park-adjusted and league-adjusted, but they make these adjustments in very different ways, not to mention the fact that FanGraphs’ RE24 includes stolen bases and caughts stealings, while Bat does not, so the differences between the two is actually a measure of situational hitting with a little bit of baserunning mixed in for fun.

To fix this, I recalculated RE24 to not include a park adjustment or include SB/CS. I then compared this new version of RE24 not to Bat, but to wRAA, the non-park adjusted version of our context neutral linear weights metric. Let’s take a look at the leaders and laggards based on this comparison this season (as of Wednesday):

Num Name Team PA newRE24 wRAA Difference
1 Freddie Freeman Braves 611 56.7 34.2 22.5
2 Allen Craig Cardinals 563 43.4 21.7 21.7
3 Daniel Descalso Cardinals 349 8.5 -8.8 17.4
4 Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 690 66.4 51.1 15.3
5 Brandon Barnes Astros 437 5.3 -9.6 14.8
6 Chris Davis Orioles 661 69.4 54.7 14.7
7 Adrian Gonzalez Dodgers 625 29.6 14.9 14.7
8 Yoenis Cespedes Athletics 568 16.6 2.5 14.1
9 Brandon Phillips Reds 655 10.7 -2.4 13.1
10 Matt Holliday Cardinals 591 41.2 28.3 12.9
344 Clete Thomas Twins 318 -21.6 -10.9 -10.7
345 Troy Tulowitzki Rockies 496 24.1 35.0 -10.9
346 Will Venable Padres 499 -1.1 10.2 -11.3
347 Will Middlebrooks Red Sox 355 -15.1 -3.6 -11.5
348 Gerardo Parra Diamondbacks 644 -8.2 3.7 -11.9
349 Michael Young Phillies 552 -8.4 4.4 -12.9
350 Rajai Davis Blue Jays 355 -15.2 -1.5 -13.7
351 Adrian Beltre Rangers 666 20.2 34.5 -14.2
352 Rickie Weeks Brewers 399 -19.4 -4.6 -14.8
353 Jedd Gyorko Padres 502 -18.0 0.5 -18.4

Freddie Freeman, by context-neutral standards, is having a very good year. He’s been about 50% better than the average hitter; he walks, hits for moderate power, and makes a lot of contact. First basemen are supposed to be above average hitters, and Freddie Freeman, without considering context, has been better than the average first baseman.

Considering context, Freeman has been not just a very good hitter, but one of the best hitters in baseball. His RE24 is second in the league, whether you make a park adjustment and include stolen bases or not. This 2+ win jump based on the timing of Freeman’s hits is unsurprising when you consider the fact that he is hitting .440 with runners in scoring position this year. That’s right. .440. I’m almost surprised that the above difference isn’t greater given a number like that.

You may also notice that two Cardinals are in the top three, and three are in the top ten. This makes sense, since St. Louis has a remarkable 138 wRC+ with runners in scoring position this year, compared to a 105 wRC+ overall. Their batting average with RISP is .329, better than the next best Tigers by an incredible 47 points.

But why are we talking about batting average with RISP when we have this fancy new situational hitting tool!  If we sum the new RE24 and wRAA for every team, and again take the difference between the two metrics, we see the following results:

Num Team newRE24 wRAA Difference
1 Cardinals 99.4 29.0 70.4
2 Athletics 71.5 44.4 27.1
3 Orioles 49.5 32.5 17.0
4 Yankees -24.8 -38.7 13.9
5 Reds 20.4 8.1 12.3
6 Indians 58.0 46.4 11.6
7 Mets -62.7 -69.5 6.8
8 Royals -50.0 -55.3 5.3
9 Astros -61.9 -61.5 -0.4
10 Marlins -165.2 -162.4 -2.8
11 Blue Jays 13.9 17.3 -3.4
12 Braves 14.2 17.7 -3.4
13 Nationals -15.2 -11.0 -4.1
14 Tigers 145.0 151.2 -6.3
15 Red Sox 138.4 145.6 -7.3
16 Angels 54.8 62.4 -7.6
17 Cubs -46.3 -37.0 -9.3
18 Diamondbacks -4.4 7.1 -11.5
19 Giants -51.7 -39.2 -12.5
20 Padres -79.5 -66.4 -13.0
21 White Sox -72.8 -59.4 -13.5
22 Phillies -58.9 -42.0 -17.0
23 Brewers -34.4 -16.7 -17.7
24 Rangers 9.0 27.6 -18.6
25 Rockies 14.5 33.2 -18.7
26 Pirates -46.0 -26.8 -19.2
27 Rays 24.0 43.5 -19.4
28 Dodgers -18.9 10.9 -29.8
29 Twins -69.9 -37.9 -32.0
30 Mariners -62.7 -28.7 -34.0

70 runs. The Cardinals have seen a 70 run difference based on the timing of when they get their hits. That’s seven additional wins created only from sequencing. In other words, the Cardinals situational hitting was essentially the equivalent to adding Miguel Cabrera to their line-up.

Is this situational/timely hitting something that we can expect to continue? Probably not. Of the 30 teams, only 14 were on the same side of zero last year in this difference. The Cardinals, despite their ridiculous situational hitting this year, were almost exactly average with regards to their situational hitting last year. On an individual basis, there is only about a 0.1 correlation between this difference last year and this year. It’s not a large sample, but is some confirmation of what we already knew about the lack of a sustainable clutch hitting skill.

Not everything has to be predictive, though. This measure might not tell us much about what will happen, but it helps us understand what has happened in the past. When you look at Freeman’s RBI numbers or the Cardinals average with RISP, it’s difficult to know how much of an actual advantage their performances conferred to their teams. This gives us an idea of just how valuable those performances were, and reminds us again that sequencing can be a huge part of wins and losses.

Matt is the founder of SaberSim, a daily sports projections and analytics company. Follow him on Twitter @MattR_Hunter and @SaberSim, or email him here and tell him all the things he should do to make the site better.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
10 years ago

“Not everything has to be predictive, though. This measure might not tell us much about what will happen, but it helps us understand what has happened in the past. ”

Thank you. I think both sides of the statistical argument in baseball get this wrong way too much. Not everything is predictive, some things just tell us what actually happened, but there’s no reason to expect them to continue. It’s the difference between looking back and looking forward.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
10 years ago
Reply to  Brian

You should have heard the Braves broadcasters talking about Freeman and the CLUTCH metric during the game last night. You’d think someone had slapped their mothers. They seemed to think that some math whiz had too much time on their hands, decided to make up a stat for the hell of it, then use it to sell to people. For money.

I’m glad you pointed out that it might not be predictive. I think saber nay-sayers assume we back these metrics 100% and consider no other possibilities. Although I’m sure the creator of CLUTCH would admit that it’s a flawed, but somewhat helpful look at how things shook out.

10 years ago

Braves broadcasters are always painful when talking about anything more advanced than batting average. It was painful last night listening to them “explain” babip. One of them was going on about how a hard hit line drive that was caught was still going to help their babip and they kept arguing that a home run was in play…

I don’t understand how you can get paid to discuss baseball and not bother to try and understand something that’s pretty simple. It’s just being obstinate to refuse to even listen to what a stat is before rejecting it, which they’ve clearly done. Even funnier is how proud they can be sometimes of absolutely stupid stats that obviously have no meaning and were far more complicated to come up with.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
10 years ago
Reply to  Brendan

I’m mostly just offended by how they shun anything math related. They are broadcasters, and I don’t see how pissing off at least some portion of your viewers could pay off for them. Even if they don’t believe in this stuff, they don’t have to make it sound like we’re all kooks looking for money by writing formulas. I just think about all of the kids, or even adults (hey, it IS the South), who actually listen to what they say, and then completely close off a path of useful knowledge. They admit that they don’t know anything about the field, so why are they making such rash judgments? I think it’d be tough to find someone versed in sabermetrics that would say something is wholly meaningless, even if it is less useful than something else. No one is claiming to be perfect other than the people who refuse to learn something new.

10 years ago
Reply to  Brendan

I can no longer get offended by those two, I just get irritated and wish they’d shut the hell up. Forever.

My ability to get really bothered ended the first time I heard the Chipstick refer to ERA as an ‘advanced statistic,’ and spend 20 minutes making the case as to why it was worse than useless and only W-L record should be used to judge pitchers.

10 years ago
Reply to  Brendan

I miss having schiambi in the booth. He was a nice sabr-friendly balance to joe simpson’s old school approach.