It’s been an eventful year for Freddie Freeman. About 11 months ago he pulled the last one out of the World Series from the skin of his glove, yelled to the skies and put it in his back pocket as he ran to celebrate with his Atlanta Braves teammates. In anticipation of this milestone achievement – for the franchise and the player who came to make it happen – manager Brian Snitker said: To be honest, I don’t know what I would do without him.
At that moment, no one could have thought that he would have to figure it out. Freeman, deprived of the MVP award for a year, made no secret of his intention to return to Atlanta even though he was supposed to be a free agent. But four months later, after a lockout and some negotiations that did not result in a contract, general manager Alex Anthopoulos traded Matt Olson. In one shocking tweet, it was made clear that Freeman and the Braves – inseparable for so long – would be moving forward separately.
Both sides were somehow shocked by the seismic changes. The Los Angeles Dodgers soon swooped in and signed Freeman to a six-year, $162 million contract, but the league’s regular juggernauts, who added a third superstar with the ring to the top of their roster, somehow fell by the wayside. When Freeman first returned to Atlanta in June, the gap was still fresh. Emotions burst out, and then there was intrigue. A few days later, Freeman cut ties with his agents at Excel Sports Management. It escalated into a full-on sideshow when Fox Sports Radio basketball commentator Doug Gottlieb tweeted an accusation that Excel had not given Freeman a Braves contract offer. Gottlieb retracted this after he was sued for libel.
And when we all looked beyond the intrigue, there was Freeman, perpetuating the Energy of the Protagonist on the field. In his new neighborhood, Freeman is having the best full season of his career. According to FanGraphs estimates, he is about to surpass his first season 7 WAR.
His fully developed prowess combined with that of Muka Betts and Traya Turner to give the Dodgers a terrifying, October-tested 1-2-3. Now that the Braves have resurfaced in the eastern North Summer, Freeman, the Dodgers and the Braves are heading towards a new confrontation that could be repeated for years to come.
Freddie Freeman shows his worth in 2022
It is true that intrigue does not require much attention in 2022. But the most startling drama in baseball did indeed involve the best player to change teams. While he’ll almost certainly come in third or fourth in NL MVP voting – 15 homers and a bit of narrative appeal behind Paul Goldschmidt – Freeman has legitimate grounds.
He hits a staggering .325 and hits the base with a .407 clip, outscoring the average MLB hitter by 56%, according to the park-adjusted wRC+ metric. All those scores would rank second in his career behind a dominant 60-game 2020 season that earned him the NL MVP title. Oh, he also has a career-best 13 stolen bases, because of course.
Max Scherzer calls Freeman the toughest hitter he’s ever faced, and as pitching tactics have evolved, the full extent of Freeman’s skill has become apparent. Freeman, long one of the most destructive fastballers in the game, maintained that status while punishing the creepers and cutters proliferating throughout the league.
These latter, often high-speed offerings accounted for 20% of league fields in 2015 and 24% in 2019. According to Statcast, in 2022, 28% of all presentations were sliders or cutters.. The reason is simple: collectively they are more effective than fastballs. Just not against Freeman. He beats the sliders and cutters this year with an MLB-leading .382 record.. His overall game against them is second only to Aaron Judge according to wOBA.
Zoom out and you get a brick-by-brick understanding of why Freeman hits .300 relentlessly with pop music, and how valuable that sequence can be compared to hitters like, say, Matt Olson, whose production is easier to hit. not okay.
Choose Your Fighter: Dodgers vs. Braves, Freeman vs. Olson
The choice between Freeman and Olson has always been luxurious. They are both quite good. But it was a choice, and the Braves’ move for Olson will continue to be reflected.
Thanks in large part to Olson’s monster streak against the New York Mets, the Braves swept the NL East and finished second in the NL draw on Tuesday night. A third straight encounter with the Dodgers in the NLCS is expected. Both first basemen are now tied to their side until at least 2027, with Olson’s Atlanta deal potentially running through 2030.
Olson’s game has never been like Freeman’s. Yes, they both play first base and hit left-handed, but the difference is clear. Freeman rocks like a man who wants to be a champion. Olson rocks like a man who wants to be a home run champion.
An impressive 2021 saw Olson cut his strikeout rate to 16.8% Freeman-style, but his career record is within the 24.5% rounding error this year. His overall performance fluctuated, mostly alternating between MVP candidate level (50% better than the league’s average striker or 150 wRC+) and a good starting level (between 115 and 120 wRC+). His miserable 2020 has fallen below that. Freeman’s lowest wRC+ in the last decade is 132 points.
All of this points to the most significant difference between the elder Freeman and the younger Olson: consistency. We have a great idea of what Freeman will look like in the playoffs. In 183 games in October, his .290/.393/.523 line is the exact replica of his regular season career line (.298/.386/.509). Olson has only 36 playoff appearances, mostly in the 2020 season when he was clearly out of his depth and the line is not very pretty.
The postseason tends to push the game to extremes and a bit into the future. For example, over the past five completed regular seasons, MLB pitchers have thrown fastballs (excluding cutters) 52.9% of the time. In the same completed postseasons, they only hit fastballs 50.8% of the time. This moment is in favor of Freeman. However, postseason games have also relied more on home runs for scoring in recent years, and, well, Olson certainly poses a big threat to home runs.
With every blow and every breath, someone in parting will score points. It’s easy to forget that we’ve actually seen important players jump from titan to rival titan lately – Gerrit Cole moving from the Astros to the Yankees comes to mind.
But Freeman’s emotional response and open connection to Atlanta add drama to the comparison. He takes the blows that the Braves chose to refuse. He can’t win another ring for the Braves, and they can’t win another ring while he’s in the way. On one side at least, they stuck with each other.