Perhaps no one will want to relive the sports landscape in 2020 enough to make a movie about it, but if someone does decide to go that route, Freddie Freeman would make a great main character.
He was coming off a pretty stellar 2019 in a lot of ways. In fact, if the veteran first baseman had not slumped in September due to an elbow injury, Freeman almost certainly would’ve notched higher than an eighth-place finish in MVP voting. And as great as his career-high 38 home runs with a .295 average and .938 OPS were, he didn’t hit a homer after Sept. 1, leaving plenty room to wonder what might’ve been.
That’s not even mentioning what went on in the 2019 NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
So perhaps more than most, Freeman was looking to put the finish to 2019 behind him. Then 2020 spring training was cut short, and the season was put on hold until late July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Freddie wasn’t just inconvenienced like most of his peers; he actually caught the virus. Beyond that, his case was not a light one, leading him to tell reporters that he once prayed, “Please don’t take me” in the throes of a 104.5-degree fever.
Somehow, perhaps as we all should’ve expected, Freeman was in the Opening Day lineup despite having very little time to prepare for the shortened season. Also predictably, he struggled a bit. Through his first 13 games, Freddie was slashing .190/.346/.310 with just one home run and more strikeouts than hits.
That 13th game wasn’t a start, though. He got a rare day off to start the game in Toronto, only played the last few innings, and Freddie caught fire from there.
Freeman absolutely torched opposing pitchers from that day forward. In the next game, he went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double and only failed to reach base in three games for the rest of the season. Despite the slow start, he finished the year hitting .341 with a 1.102 OPS and led the majors in doubles with 23 and runs scored with 51. His 13 home runs in the shortened year would be about a 35- or 36-homer pace for a full season.
Due to just playing 60 games, of course, Freeman wasn’t able to add a fifth All-Star Game appearance, which would’ve been his third consecutive trip. He was able to win his second consecutive Silver Slugger award, though.
Oh yeah, he also won the National League’s MVP Award.
At long last, after finishing in the top five in voting twice and top 10 four times total, #MVFree became a reality. Including his top marks in doubles and runs scored, Freeman finished top five in the NL in RBIs (second only to teammate Marcell Ozuna), walks, batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and total bases (also second to Ozuna).
What won’t show up on the stat sheet, unless you go beyond the initial lines, is Freeman’s move from his traditional third spot in the batting order to bat second when Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies were out with wrist injuries. In 125 plate appearances in the 2-hole, Freddie hit a blazing .395 with a 1.202 OPS that included a .512 on-base percentage. With Ozuna crushing the baseball behind him, Freeman perhaps earned his MVP as much as a table-setter as he did a run producer this time.
The big question now: How does Freddie follow this up?
For several years now, the 31-year-old has gained a reputation as one of the most underrated superstars in baseball. That’s gone now. He has joined the list of less than 20 active players with an MVP award, and several of those are well beyond their prime. The company he now keeps is a very small group of MVP-caliber talents that are still on that level, and it will be exciting to see where this stage of his career takes him.
From a strategic standpoint, it will be interesting to see where Brian Snitker puts Freddie in the lineup. Of course, he could always slot back into the third spot behind a healthy Acuna and Ozzie or even Dansby Swanson. But with Freeman’s willingness to move up in the order, he could also take over that second spot long-term to accommodate any big bats the Braves sign from here. He’s certainly proven capable of hitting in that spot.
Either way, here’s hoping Freddie stays hot in 2021.
Alex Remington (Another Alex R.)says:
November 30, 2020 at 7:58 am
Mikie Minor’s off the board, the Royals brought him back for two years.
November 30, 2020 at 8:26 am
Urena at 3.9 MM… He would stir the pot. Which is just what we need.
Well written. Good old Fred. Thank you.
Thanks, Jeremy. Hoping FF5 can stay in the second spot with the addition of a big bat.
Yes, really nice reminder of what Freddie did for us as the heart and soul of the lineup and heart and soul of the team.
I don’t want anything to do with Urena, unless it’s hitting a bullseye with an apple core to drop him into a carnival dunk tank.
Today’s tough Braves history quiz: Name the four Atlanta Braves to hit walk-off grand slams with 2 outs. For extra credit, name the only Braves pitcher to yield a two-out walkoff grand slam (and note: it isn’t Kevin McGlinchy because there was only one out and the grand slam wasn’t actually a grand slam.)
Dwight Smith hit one in 1995 to win a game 4-0. I believe it was even a pinch-hit, walkoff grand slam.
@7: You are correct, and I thought that one was going to be the hardest one. May 19th, off of the Marlins’ Richie Lewis.
Happened to be right in my wheelhouse. I was 11 years old at the time, it was the season we won the World Series, and I watched that game in its entirety. I could tell you more about some games in that season from memory than I could about most games from the just-completed season, in all likelihood.
@6 did the Folk Hero, Brooks Conrad, hit one?
Not to hog all the answers, but come to think of it, I think Brian Jordan’s walkoff grannie in late September ’01 off John Franco, which basically sent the Mets home for the winter, came with two outs.
@10, The famous Brooks Conrad walkoff grand slam came with one out. I don’t recall him hitting another one, but I could be wrong.
@6, Jeff Francoeur was one of them.
You guys are doing well… well, all except Alex. You are correct about Brian Jordan, Nick, Sept 29, 2001. And you are also correct, sdp: Frenchy off Chad Cordero, 5/13/2006.
Only one left, and the one the Braves yielded. Both of them are from the 70’s.
BTW: Jordan’s was the only one with 2 strikes, and it was an 0-2 count.
Did Joey Devine give up the grandslam with 2 outs?
I also weirdly remember the Dwight Smith granny. I was 9 years old then. I think it was my earliest Braves memory.
It’s definitely my favorite obscure Braves moment from the 90’s. His swing, his pimp, Caray’s call. Just really continue to love it for some reason.
Great write-up, Jeremy. I appreciate you highlighting Freddie’s move to the second spot. I originally thought that it wouldn’t be a permanent thing, and I’ve programmed myself into thinking that hitters need to stay in “their spot”. But not only did Freddie take the change in lineup order, he played even better in it.
I feel like there are so many underrated aspects of his game that he might end up with a Hall of Fame career and will have never been considered one while he played. He’s in a tough spot in the analytics age where he’s being knocked for his defensive position, but we’ve not yet been able to quantify the contribution that a first sacker who can pick the ball can make. I could easily see a scenario where, like pitch-framing, they become able to quantify the contribution, and they retroactively increase a player like Freddie’s fWAR considerably. So we might wake up one one day and he’s got 4-5 more career fWAR, like what happened with Tyler Flowers.
Call me crazy, but overall like his boring persona, I even think that his boring swing causes him to be underrated. It’s a short, compact swing with almost no follow-through, so the average fan isn’t entertained by watching it. He has almost no toe-tap or dramatic weight shift before the pitch comes. He goes straight to the baseball, has a low plane finish, he doesn’t pimp anything, and it’s just… boring. It’s not like Ken Griffey Jr.’s or Chipper Jones’ or someone with an interesting stance. But accordingly, how simple his swing is leads me to believe that he’s a likely candidate to stay elite longer than most hitters. But for now, he just doesn’t “act” like a power hitter, so I think that hurts his reputation.
He currently sits at 38 fWAR, and I think it’s very possible that he gets to 65-70 fWAR, which seems to be a line for the majority of Hall of Famers. 3 5 WAR seasons, 2 4 WAR seasons, and 2 3 WAR seasons, and a couple 2 WAR seasons, which would be a slightly longer peak and a slower decline than your average Hall of Fame power hitter, and I think he’s in.
Could he have careers similar to Rafael Palmeiro and Eddie Murray, but for a little longer keeps his first baseman’s mitt on and steroids out of his body?
Thomas Burrows was our pick. If some team wants to stick him on their roster, they can take him. No tears.
@14: Joey’s two grannies came in his first two games in the majors, but the first one was in Atlanta (in the top of the 13th) so it can’t be a walkoff, and the second one came in the 5th inning. And the walkoff 18th inning homer he gave up in the playoffs to end the season in the 2005 NLDS was a mere solo shot. So he gave up grannies, and he gave up walkoff homers, but he never combined the two.
In my mind, the biggest key for Fred is going to be health.
He’s been remarkably durable for the first decade of his career. But his back already hurts a lot, as we’ve read in the stories, and he’s had a lot of those dings around his bone chips and his wrist and his elbow and everything else. He’s an incredibly smart player and those clean mechanics that Rob mentioned will definitely help him to get the most out of his body. I just hope that his body holds up on him.
I wonder what impact the DH will have on his health. He’ll be able to DH a good chunk of games as he gets into his mid-30’s. I think that will help a lot. To follow the Eddie Murray comparison, Murray had a couple seasons where he didn’t play a full season. Rafael Palmeiro, undoubtedly due to the DH and regular injections into the meaty part of his arse, was able to appear in no less than 154 games until his 40th birthday.
If I remember correctly, Alex compared him to Will Clark some years back. He battled injuries throughout his career it seems. He only played more than 130 games in 1 of his last 6 seasons, and he was done by age 36. But he was still able to amass 52 fWAR. The DH probably would have helped Clark tremendously. Compare that to John Olerud, who stayed in the lineup consistently until his age-36 season. He collected 57 career fWAR, but he didn’t hang out past being a full-time player, retiring at 36. Freddie is decided better than both of them, and if he takes a cushy DH gig into his twilight years, he can probably figure it out, should he choose.
Adrian Beltre would be another guy he could model: splitting time in the field and at DH hitting in a hitter’s park until he was almost 40. Freddie won’t match Beltre’s defense, but he doesn’t need to. Beltre grabbed 84 fWAR (93 bWAR!), and he’s a likely first ballot Hall of Famer.
Of course, it’s fun to compare him to Chipper, and Chipper battled injuries while effectively playing third base until the coroner was brought in. If Freddie has the staying power that Chipper had, then Freddie is headed for the Hall.
For those of you wondering, the Dwight Smith clip Rob posted references it as the first ninth-inning grand slam by a Brave since 1978 and gives the exact date. I was curious if this was our last elusive two-out, walkoff grand slam (and no, I wouldn’t have said who if it had been…that would be cheating). It wasn’t, to save you the time. It was, somewhat interestingly, a top-of-the-ninth slam hit by a young Dale Murphy – playing catcher, no less – to beat the Pirates 8-4 in Pittsburgh on June 5.
Also, a note I found on the Brooks Conrad walkoff slam (which came with one out): It is the only “ultimate grand slam” in Atlanta Braves history. The ultimate grand slam, a concept of which I was unaware until stumbling upon it this afternoon, is a walkoff grand slam with your team down by three runs, thereby giving you an instant one-run victory.
Jose Ureña was DFA’d by the Marlins. I’ll admit, I liked the intensity brought when he took the mound against the Braves.
Freddie is in a weird position entering his last year before free agency. On one hand, he deserves all the $, but on the other, he’d be crippling the franchise that he loves. Hope there’s a common ground. If I were the Braves, I’d do 8/$175MM.
I would think the Braves would do 8YR/$175M. Not sure if Freddie would.
Time’s up… On May 17, 1977, the late Biff Pocoroba, batting for Vic Correll, came to the plate against Bill Atkinson and the Expos, trailing 5-4 with the bases loaded. He deposited the first pitch in the stands for a 9-5 win. A very tasty 0.72 WPA on that play.
On the other side, the nearly forgotten (completely forgotten by me, for example) Craig Skok, a year later on the 6th of July, faced Davey Lopes in a 1-1 game with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, which quickly became a 5-1 Dodger win. He was only somewhat comforted by the fact that all four runs were unearned, because Jerry Royster had booted a ball earlier in the inning. That’s the way the 69-93 Braves lost games to the eventual NL champion Dodgers that year.
Both of these games had knuckleballers getting the win in relief: Knucksie for the Braves in 1977 and Charlie Hough for the Dodgers in 1978.
Thanks for those who took guesses, particularly the really good guesses.
This has been a boffo thread, pop quiz and all.
Never fear guys, just excited to announce that I won the World Series in OOTP 21 with our beloved Braves in 2023 against the Red Sox.
Keep the faith.
However, Austin Riley never develops. C’est la vie.
26 – You know I would take that trade off. Something to look forward to anyway.
@26, how about Waters?
He’s an incredibly smart player and those clean mechanics that Rob mentioned will definitely help him to get the most out of his body. I just hope that his body holds upon him. The ultimate grand slam, a concept of which I was unaware until stumbling upon it this afternoon, is a walk-off grand slam with your team down by three runs, thereby giving you an instant one-run victory.Retaining Walls