Posting pedestrian offensive numbers in his first two full seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman came into his own at the plate in 2013. Over 147 games, the former second-round pick accrued a .319/.396/.501 slash line with 23 home runs and a .385 weighted on-base average from the left side of the plate, en route to a career-best 5.4 bWAR. Those numbers were much improved from his 2012 campaign in which he batted .259/.340/.456, tallied 23 home runs and garnered a .343 wOBA over the same number of games for 2.3 wins.
The key to Freeman's significant improvements lies within the outside portion of the plate -- a region of the zone that typically presents problems for young hitters as opposing pitching becomes more advanced are exploit their weaknesses more frequently. But it is here where the first-time All Star made his most noticeable advancements last season.
Freeman's batting average by pitch location, 2012
Freeman's batting average by pitch location, 2013
We can see that Freeman has transformed from a belt-high, inside hitter in 2012 to one who has few weaknesses within the strike zone. The biggest improvement between his last two seasons, as previously mentioned and plainly shown in the images above, stemmed from his success against offerings located on the outside half of the plate.
In 2012, only B.J. Upton (.184), Mark Reynolds (.191) and Carlos Pena (.195) had lower batting averages on outer-half offerings than Freeman, who batted .209 on such pitches, far below the .267 league average. This was a likely product of his struggle to place those offerings in play at just a 33.2% rate compared to the 41.9% league average, and his inability to find holes in defenses, evidenced by a .237 BABIP that was also well below the .312 league mark.
This all changed last season, where Freeman's .336 average against outer-half offerings was the best among qualified batters and, therefore, much higher than the .265 league average. Of course, there was little difference in the frequency of pitches he placed in-play (34.5% compared to 33.2% in 2012), yet his BABIP skyrocketed to .402 -- second only to Starling Marte (.410) in 2013.
Freeman has developed as a hitter -- there's no denying it -- and a big reason for his improvements has been his success using the outer half of the plate. But to suggest he will sustain a .402 BABIP in that portion of the zone in 2014 seems unlikely at best if his in-play rate remains at a steady 34%. It will be interesting to see how Freeman's game adjusts once that number inevitably comes back down to earth.