It has been an eventful 12 months for Freddie Freeman. About 11 months in the past, he plucked the closing out of the World Series from the leather-based of his glove, screamed to the heavens and deposited it in his again pocket as he ran to have a good time with his Atlanta Braves teammates. In the afterglow of that capstone fulfillment — for the franchise and the participant who had come to embrace it — supervisor Brian Snitker mentioned, “I don’t know what I’d do without him, quite honestly.”
In that second, no person actually concept he must determine it out. Freeman, a 12 months got rid of from an MVP award, made no secret about his aim of returning to Atlanta even supposing he used to be set to go into loose company. But 4 months later, on the different facet of a lockout and a few negotiations that didn’t produce a signed contract, GM Alex Anthopoulos swung a business for Matt Olson. In one stunning tweet, it changed into obvious that Freeman and the Braves — inseparable for goodbye — would cross ahead one after the other.
Both events, by some means, gave the impression shaken by means of the seismic alternate. The Los Angeles Dodgers quickly swooped in and inked Freeman to a six-year, $162 million deal, however the league’s resident juggernauts including a 3rd ring-wearing famous person to the best in their lineup by some means took a again seat. When Freeman returned to Atlanta for the first time in June, the breakup used to be nonetheless contemporary. The feelings flowed freely, after which got here the intrigue. Days later, Freeman reduce ties with his brokers at Excel Sports Management. That escalated right into a complete sideshow when Fox Sports Radio basketball commentator Doug Gottlieb tweeted an accusation that Excel had did not relay a Braves contract be offering to Freeman. Gottlieb retracted that once being sued for libel.
And after we all regarded past the intrigue, there used to be Freeman, perpetuating the Main Character Energy on the box. In his new environs, Freeman is having the superb complete season of his profession. By FanGraphs’ calculations, he’s about to notch his first 7 WAR season.
His absolutely advanced excellence has melded with that of Mookie Betts and Trea Turner to offer the Dodgers a terrifying, October-tested 1-2-3. Now, with the Braves having summited the NL East as soon as once more, Freeman, the Dodgers and the Braves are careening towards a brand new disagreement, person who could repeat for years to return.
Freddie Freeman demonstrating his price in 2022
It’s true that intrigue does now not require significance in 2022. But the maximum eyebrow-raising drama in baseball did certainly encompass the superb participant who modified groups. While he’s nearly undoubtedly going to run a hearty 3rd or fourth in NL MVP balloting — 15 homers and a few narrative oomph shy of Paul Goldschmidt — Freeman has a valid case.
He’s batting an eye-popping .325 and attaining base at a .407 clip, outproducing the reasonable MLB hitter by means of 56%, in line with park-adjusted metric wRC+. All the ones marks would rank 2d in his profession at the back of the dominant 60-game 2020 season that received him his NL MVP nod. Oh, he additionally has a career-best 13 stolen bases, as a result of positive.
Max Scherzer calls Freeman the hardest hitter he’s ever needed to face, and the complete scope of Freeman’s mastery has become visible as pitchers’ ways have advanced. Long one in all the sport’s maximum devastating fastball hitters, Freeman has maintained that standing whilst additionally punishing the sliders and cutters proliferating round the league.
Those late-breaking, continuously high-speed choices made up 20% of the league’s pitches in 2015, and 24% in 2019. In 2022, 28% of all pitches were sliders or cutters, in line with Statcast. The reason why is discreet: They are simpler than fastballs, in mixture. Just now not in opposition to Freeman. He’s batting an MLB-best .382 in opposition to sliders and cutters this 12 months. His general efficiency in opposition to them, by means of wOBA, trails simplest Aaron Judge.
Zoom out, and also you finally end up with a brick-by-brick figuring out of why Freeman relentlessly bats .300 with pop, and the way treasured that consistency will also be when in comparison to hitters — like, say, Matt Olson — whose manufacturing is extra simply knocked off kilter.
Choose your fighter: Dodgers vs. Braves, Freeman vs. Olson
The selection between Freeman and Olson used to be at all times a sumptuous one. They are each relatively excellent. But it used to be a call, and the Braves’ transfer for Olson will proceed to reverberate.
Thanks largely to Olson’s monster sequence in opposition to the New York Mets, the Braves clinched the NL East and the No. 2 seed in the NL bracket on Tuesday evening. A 3rd consecutive conflict with the Dodgers in the NLCS could be very a lot on the desk. Both first basemen at the moment are tied to their aspects thru no less than 2027, with Olson’s Atlanta deal probably working thru 2030.
Olson’s sport hasn’t ever a lot resembled Freeman’s. Yes, they each play first base and bat left-handed, however the distinction is plain. Freeman swings like somebody who desires to be the batting champ. Olson swings like somebody who desires to be the house run champ.
Olson’s impressive 2021 noticed him reduce his strikeout fee to a Freeman-esque 16.8%, however his profession mark is inside of a rounding error of this 12 months’s 24.5%. His general numbers have fluctuated, mainly alternating between MVP candidate stage (50% higher than a league reasonable hitter, or a 150 wRC+) and excellent starter stage (a 115 to 120 wRC+). His depressing 2020 dipped not up to that. Freeman’s lowest wRC+ of the previous decade used to be 132.
All of this is to indicate to the most important distinction between the elder Freeman and the more youthful Olson: Consistency. We have a perfect concept of what Freeman will appear to be in the playoffs. He has 183 October plate appearances beneath his belt, and his .290/.393/.523 line is a spitting symbol of his profession common season line (.298/.386/.509). Olson has simplest 36 postseason plate appearances, most commonly in a 2020 season the place he used to be obviously off, and the line isn’t beautiful.
The postseason has a tendency to push the sport towards the extremes, and slightly into the long term. For example, over the previous 5 finished common seasons, MLB pitchers have thrown fastballs (now not together with cutters) 52.9% of the time. Over the identical finished postseasons, they have got thrown fastballs simplest 50.8% of the time. That level favors Freeman. However, postseason video games have additionally been extra reliant on house runs for scoring in fresh years and, neatly, Olson is undoubtedly extra of a house run danger.
With each and every hit and each and every whiff, somebody in the breakup goes to be scoring issues. It’s simple to put out of your mind that we’ve in truth noticed important avid gamers soar from titan to rival titan not too long ago — Gerrit Cole going from the Astros to the Yankees springs to thoughts.
But Freeman’s emotional reaction and open connection to Atlanta infuses this comparability with drama. He is taking swings the Braves selected to move up. He can’t win any other ring for the Braves, and they are able to’t win any other ring with him status in the manner. In no less than a method, they’re caught with every different.