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Freddie Freeman: Baseball’s Least Talked About Superstar

Standing in at 6’5 and listed at 220lbs, Freddie Freeman is an imposing figure at the plate. After finishing off last year as one of baseball’s hottest hitters, Freeman has carried that momentum into 2017, not skipping a beat. Yet even though he’s lighting up the ball, I feel that he is not mentioned enough in the NL MVP conversation, partly due to playing on a rebuilding Braves team.

Freddie Freeman was drafted out of high school in the 2nd round of the 2007 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves, choosing to forgo his college scholarship offers, he signed with the Braves. Ten years later, this is looking like a smart move for both sides.

Freeman made his MLB debut in 2010 on the 1st of September and 4 days later got his first big league hit. He hit his first career dinger off of then ace, Roy Halladay, not a bad guy to hit one off of. For the past seven years, Freddie had become a mainstay at 1st for the Braves, and has become the face of the franchise since future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones retired in 2012. From 2010 to 2017, Freeman has hit a very solid .290 with a .375 on base percentage and a .491 slugging percentage. He’s hit 144 homeruns with 523 RBIs and 210 doubles. Many of those numbers have come when Freeman has been the Braves only real consistent power bat. With Justin Upton being so streaky at the plate, it was easy for pitchers to just “pitch around” Freeman. Up until July of last year, Freeman had little help since Upton was traded in 2014 to the Padres. Even still, Freeman is a 2x All-Star (2013 & 2014) and finished 6th in the 2016 MVP voting (Even though I feel he should have been higher). The Braves rewarded Freeman for his play in February of 2014 by giving him an 8 year/$135 million dollar contract.

2015 was a rough year for Freeman; he was only able to play in 115 games due to a wrist injury he sustained in mid June and which nagged him the rest of the year. He finished the year batting .276 and only hitting 18 home runs. Going into 2016, things were looking up: Freeman had a whole off-season to recover and prepare for the upcoming year. Yet he started off the year very slow. Until June 12th, Freeman was hitting a measly .242 with only 18 RBIs, not what you want from your number 3 hole hitter. Then on June 13th, a light switched on, and Freddie caught fire. In just 93 games, he hit .351 with 62 extra base hits, 24 of which were home runs, and added 70 RBIs. Some of the boost in production can be attributed to when the Braves acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the Padres on July 30th. Now, Kemp isn’t the player he once was, (Kemp finished 2nd in the 2011 MVP voting to Ryan Braun after hitting 39 homers and swiping 40 bags) but he added a sense of security for Freeman and the Braves. During his short tenure with the Braves, Kemp hit 12 homers, 15 doubles, and a solid .280. This meant that the pitchers weren’t just able to pitch around Freeman, they had to actually go after him, and he made them pay. Freeman finished off his 2016 campaign hitting .302/.400/.569 with 43 doubles 178 hits 34 homers and 91 RBIs. He also added a surprising 6 triples. Now, the 6 triples are probably not going to be a common occurrence, (Freeman is no speedster) but Braves fans sure don’t mind. From August 24th through September 29th, Freeman put together a 30 game hitting streak, and also had a 46 game on-base streak.

Freeman statsFreddie has carried over his blistering 2016 pace into 2017, and up until April 23rd, is second in the NL with a .381 batting average and has hit 7 home runs already. The problem for Freeman and the Braves is that Freddie only has 9 RBIs. Now, all of the blame doesn’t fall on Freeman, he’s doing everything he can to help the Braves win, but one man cant do it all. Dansby Swanson, the Braves young shortstop, has mostly been slotted in the 2 hole right ahead of Freeman and has gotten off to a sluggish start at the plate, batting only .139 with an on-base percentage of .162. Swanson has the talent to turn this around and he’s hitting balls squarely, but usually right at someone. Eventually, the hits will fall, and that means opportunity for Freeman to drive in runs.

No Kemp? No problem. Did I mention that Freeman is doing most of his damage without Matt Kemp in the lineup this year? Kemp has been on the disabled list since April 11th and just returned to the lineup on April 20th. Freeman, during Kemp’s trip to the DL, went 13 for 28 (a .464 average), with 7 extra base hits, and most of the balls he hit, even the outs, were hit hard.

The return of Matt Kemp, who also has started off the year strong, albeit in a small sample, could help this be a MVP year for Freeman. When we hear about the NL MVP talk, the names that commonly occur are Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and so on. All of those players deserve the talk, (the 3 listed are the last 3 NL MVPs) but I feel that Freddie Freeman shouldn’t be left out just because of who he plays for. With his approach and ability to put balls in play, Freeman has the ability to hit for high average. Freeman’s short, compact swing packs a punch and any ball low and inside usually ends up in the seats. His long frame and reach allows him to reach out and get to those pitches on the outer half of the plate; I’ve seen Freddie go opposite field for a homer many times. Freddie has the potential to lead the league in home runs. On the other side of the ball, Freeman plays solid defense down at first and can stretch to make the catch with the best of them.

At age 27, Freeman still has lots of good ball ahead of him. His power stroke that Braves fans have been waiting for has finally arrived and his consistency at the plate is promising. With the Braves being in a state of rebuilding, with lots of young talented prospects, Freeman has an opportunity to be the face of the franchise for the next decade. He already is in my eyes. Freeman looks to take his early momentum and use it to propel the Braves offense towards competing soon. Watch out NL, Freddie’s coming.

Photos:  Sports N GigglesESPN

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