Freddie Freeman’s Strange BP Technique

“Watch a batting practice of mine and it’s real boring,” said Freddie Freeman with a smile. The Atlanta first baseman is back, and he’s playing third base right now. You’d think the change of position might be the strangest thing about him. After studying angles with the team’s infield coach Ron Washington, though, he feels like playing third won’t actually be so difficult. What’s weirder is his approach during batting practice. As both his numbers and geometry suggest, however, his unusual BP strategy makes sense for him.

“I’m trying to hit a liner to the shortstop,” admitted Freeman about his batting-practice routine. He agreed that, if he did exactly what he was practicing, he’d produce an out every time. When there are batters like Yonder Alonso attributing some of their newfound success to just trying to hit the ball over the infield — instead of through it — Freeman’s strategy even sounds behind the times.

There’s a mechanical reason why that strategy helps, though. For one, staying up the middle means a batted ball will remain more “true.” Balls hit to the power alleys won’t have that side spin that converts the ball’s energy into lateral movement. That appears to be the reason why batted balls with equal exit velocity go further in the power alleys. “You won’t top the ball to right field” with this strategy, is how Freeman explains it.

There’s also another reason why the strategy might help and it concerns the limit of human sight and cognition. Batters can’t necessarily see pitch type out of a pitcher’s hand, at least not well, and an up-the-middle approach allows a hitter to be productive even when he’s wrong about the pitch. “Stay up the middle and you stay in the zone longer,” said Freeman. He also agreed with what Michael Conforto’s comments from the week before:

“Fastballs, I try to stay middle of the field, gap to gap. That really keeps me on offspeed stuff,” Conforto said. “If it’s soft away, and I’m staying middle with the fastball, I can see it a little bit longer and take it oppo. If it comes back over the middle, power to the pull side.”

Still, there are plenty of players who have an up-the-middle approach and aren’t specifically aiming at the shortstop. Here’s where geometry comes into play. Take a look at one of these batting-practice sessions, thanks to Grant McAuley. You can even hear Freeman explaining to Matt Kemp that he wants to hit the ball at the shortstop, and in another clip, he exclaims loudly when he nearly hits shortstop Dansby Swanson with one of his line drives.

Note the angle of Freeman’s back over the first 10 seconds or so of that video. Now let’s take a look at one of his recent home runs.

In game, Freeman’s back is more bent over. If he’s bent over, he’s closer to balls low in the zone, and he’s going to catch them earlier. By practicing being late when he’s upright, he’ll be timed up — and up the middle — when he’s more bent over for live pitching.

Independent professional hitting coach Ryan Parker helped elaborate on the concept a bit further, since this method isn’t unique to Freeman. You might see Nelson Cruz doing it, for example, among others with a more bent-over posture at the plate. “In BP, he’s not going to side bend to that extreme,” points out Parker about Freeman. “He’s more upright. He’s hitting balls so deep in his stance that his bat might not have really had the chance to turn upwards yet. The result will be a low rocket to shortstop for a lefty. In games, he’ll bend over a bit, catch the ball earlier, and hit rockets to wherever.”

That echoes Freeman’s own explanation. “My swing has a natural finish to it. I lift at the end,” Freeman said. By practicing a low, opposite-field liner, he avoids becoming too pull happy when he bends down during games. During games, he bends down, gets the ball earlier, and finishes with lift. This cue, one that seems like it wouldn’t really lead to good outcomes, helps him avoid his natural tendency to pull the ball, in other words.

Though the more upright BP approach might have some health benefits — bending over is hard on the back and obliques, Parker pointed out, and hitters like Freeman and Cruz may not want to spend practice bending over — it also seems to have contributed to Freeman’s recent power breakout. He says be began employing this new philosophy in batting practice in mid-June of last year. You’ll see that something changed in his batted balls mid-year last year if you just look at a graph.

Those are Freeman’s rolling hard-hit, pull, and fly-ball rates over the last few years. Notice how the blue lines (which represent the hard-hit balls) are generally higher on the right side of the graph, while the reds ones (the pulled balls) are generally lower.

Now let’s break up the year-plus on both sides of the mid-June date so we can see if there really was a change in his hard-hit, pull, and fly ball rates.

Freddie Freeman’s Power Breakout
Time Period Hard% Pull% Fly Ball% Exit Velo Launch Angle
2015-mid 2016 37.9% 41.3% 38.0% 90.9 15.6
mid 2016-present 45.4% 35.7% 39.6% 91.4 16.2
SOURCE: BIS, Statcast

Ever since Freeman started focusing on hitting a line drive to the shortstop, he’s hit the ball harder, slightly more often in the air, and has pulled the ball less often. So, even though he’s practicing for a bad outcome, the cue fits his personal strategy. Whatever works, really.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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6 years ago

Freeman, Goldy, Votto. We need all three players traded to an AL team. Freeman at 3B, Goldy at 1B, Votto at DH. Imagine facing those guys 1-3 in the lineup.

6 years ago
Reply to  JDX

who is this “We” you speak of…is it the Royal We?

PS, I like watching Freeman, Goldy and Votto just fine in the NL.

6 years ago
Reply to  JDX

Trout, Judge, Goldschmidt, we need all three players traded to an NL team.
Altuve, Betts, Kershaw, we need all three players traded to an NPB team.
Ruth, Mays, Williams, we need all three players traded to a Blernsball team.

6 years ago
Reply to  JDX

Perhaps more was needed to explain my random comment.

They all have similar approaches and batting practice styles. Watched Votto BP last night, then thought of something in the past from Goldy.

Blernsball. Yes.

6 years ago
Reply to  JDX

I think you’re onto something. We should vote for all the best hitters in the game and stack a lineup and have them play each other in an exhibition game. And we should do it… next week.

6 years ago
Reply to  JDX

Why do that when you can have Adam Dunn 1-9 in the lineup?