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Unironic Praise for a Scrappy White Guy

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Ryan Freel, utilityman for the Reds, committed suicide last Saturday.

From 2003-2006, his prime seasons, Freel hit .274 with a .368 OBP–he walked in almost 11 percent of his plate appearances, and he was hit by 33 pitches. Over that span, he averaged 46 steals and 90 runs scored per 162 games. Of course, he never came close to playing 162 games in a season, both because he was a supersub and because he couldn’t stay healthy. The most Ryan Freel season was 2005, when he suffered day-to-day back soreness in May, left foot inflammation that disabled him in June, and his second knee surgery in as many seasons in August. Despite that, he was worth nearly three wins in 103 games and 431 plate appearances, posting a TAv just below league average and more than doubling the totals of his closest teammates in both Baserunning Runs (5.7) and Fielding Runs Above Average (10.7).

We haven’t come up with a perfect way to quantify the value of positional flexibility, which saves roster spots and allows GMs greater freedom in constructing their teams. But it usually takes more than one player to do what Freel did, and even when one player wears as many hats as he did, he rarely wears them all so well. “Flexibility in the field,” as we wrote about Willie Bloomquist in last year’s annual book, often “boils down to an ability to be bad at a multitude of positions.” Look at a list of last year’s utility players. You won’t find any Freels.

I had the opportunity to watch Freel for the better part of four seasons.  It was always a joy.

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  • Wow, that’s a sad story. He’s the kind of player you want to make it good, the kind who can fit in anyplace and anytime, a manager would love him. There are precious few like that…Jose Valentin post-2004 is about as close as I can remember.

    • Kurzleg

      Thanks for bringing up Valentin. One of the few brightish spots on some bad Brewers teams.

  • Given the internet tradition of everyone hating LGM obituaries, someone is going to find a way to attack you over this.

    • Jim Lynch

      Obituaries can be fun! Whatever will be, will be.

      “..included among the disinterred was Harvard president (2019-2020) Eric Loomis, whose decapitation by the student body was immortalized in the ‘Head On A Stick In The Yard’ photo taken by Yang Drang during the university riots of 2020”.

  • timb

    Man, I remember Freel as the one of the scrappy, white dudes Marty loved who I thought was valuable.

    That is so sad. He was a fine baseball and, I wish, a happier person

  • c u n d gulag

    Very, very, sad story.

    That’s all I got, because I don’t remember seeing him play except maybe once or twice, back when I was working and could afford the Baseball cable package.

  • Uncle Ebeneezer

    I wonder where this death falls on LaPierre’s good guy/bad guy spectrum.

    Sad news.

  • OzarkHillbilly

    This hurts…. Really. He was just a guy, doing a job. Like me.

  • That’s awful, I feel bad for his wife and three children especially.

  • a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q)

    He was wonderful to watch play. I always suspected based on his scrappiness, that he more concussions than most MLB players. And I can’t help but wonder whether that was a factor. Tragic – he continued to give much after his playing days were over.

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