Freddie Freeman’s Strange BP Technique by Eno Sarris July 6, 2017 “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. #Braves BP and cage chatter with Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Dansby Swanson. pic.twitter.com/v2YcT6mVxI — Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) February 20, 2017 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.