Freddie Freeman Is Quietly Having an Awesome Season
You may not have noticed the Atlanta Braves all that much in the second half. No one would blame you if you haven't.
When Atlanta acquired Matt Kemp in a deal with the San Diego Padres on July 30th, they were 36-68, 32 games under .500. On August 20th, they lost their 7th straight game, falling to 44-79, 35 games under the break-even mark. At that point, they were 29 1/2 games out of first place.
So yeah, we weren't talking much about the Braves. And hey, we still aren't, really. And that's OK, because we've had playoff teams and MVP candidates and Cy Young contenders upon which to focus.
But that's a shame, because lost in the shuffle is the outstanding season that's being put together by Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, who did it again in the Braves' series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. Freeman went 2-for-3 with a solo home run, his 33rd of the season, and extended some pretty impressive streaks in the process.
Heck of a Season
He now has a 29-game hitting streak, the longest active streak in baseball, but more impressively, he has a 45-game on-base streak. On the season, Freeman is batting .307/.404/.576 with those 33 dingers, 88 RBI's, 99 runs scored, a .406 wOBA and 155 wRC+.
His 6.2 fWAR, per Fangraphs, ranks 8th in all of baseball, and his 6.3 rWAR, according to Baseball Reference, is tied for 10th. Here is where he ranks in the other major categories.
Freeman is having an MVP season, but of course, there's no way he's going to win it playing for the Braves. Chicago Cubs' megastar Kris Bryant is having a better season by most metrics, and voters love giving that individual award to players who make the playoffs.
Spike in Power
The thing about Freeman is that he's always been a solid hitter. He's been an everyday regular since 2011 and has a .289/.373/.485 slash line for his career. What's really developed this season is his power. His previous high in homers was 23, which he did twice. Last year, hit 18 balls out (although he played in just 118 games), and he's seen his slugging percentage jump from .471 last year to .576 this season.
One of the main reasons Freeman's numbers are so much better is a massive decrease in his ground-ball rate. His career ground ball-rate is 36.9%, but this year, he's hit the ball on the ground just 30.2% of the time, more than 6% less than his previous career low. He's exchanged those grounders for fly balls, with his fly-ball rate up from a career 35.7% clip all the way to 40.1% in 2016.
That is a massive change. And when you couple it with his home-run-per-fly-ball ratio jumping up to a career high of 20.0%, his spike in power numbers make perfect sense.
The Only Thing Left(y)
The other huge reason for Freeman's surge is his complete 180 against left-handed pitching. Last year, Freeman batted .219/.341/.316 against lefties with a wRC+ of just 88. His career numbers heading into this season were .253/.337/.391 with a .727 OPS and 104 wRC+.
This year, Freeman is hitting .307/.388/.524 against left-handers with a .912 OPS and 142 wRC+.
The difference is huge.
So even though you're probably not paying much attention to the Atlanta Braves, you should be paying attention to the incredible play of Freddie Freeman, one of the best -- and most anonymous -- players in the National League.