Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Examining the excellent sophomore season of Atlanta's first baseman.
After watching Jason Heyward slump badly in his second year with the Braves, there were more than a few fans worried that the mythical "sophomore slump" would bite the Braves' first baseman of the future as well. But in 2012, Freddie Freeman put those doubts to rest, improving on many facets of his game from 2011.
One of the biggest critiques of Freeman during his rookie campaign was that he was a free-swinger. His penchant for unloading on the first pitch was well-documented, and that led to a good number of strikeouts. In fact, in his rookie year, Freeman struck out in 22.4% of his plate appearances, while only drawing a walk in 8.3%. While these numbers are not necessarily bad per se (especially for a power hitter), Freeman - like so many other Braves - put an added emphasis on patience coming into the 2012 season. This year, Freeman managed to improve on both of those numbers, drawing a walk in 10.3% percent of his PAs while cutting his strikeout percentage down to 20.8%. Surprisingly, Freeman's BB% would end up being the second highest (qualified) on the Braves, behind only Dan Uggla's 14.9%. Freeman actually improved his ISO power by .030 as well, which is impressive given that he also cut down his strikeout numbers. On the year, Freeman notched 33 doubles, 2 triples, and 23 homers - all improvements on his 2011 numbers (32, 0, 21).
Freeman did see his batting average fall slightly, down from .282 in 2011 to .259 in 2012. While on the surface this may seem a little worrisome, Freeman's BABIP fell sharply, from .339 to .295. A .023 drop in batting average can more than be explained by a .044 drop in BABIP. Since Freeman has only been in the league for 2 years, it's tough to say what his natural BABIP is, but I don't think it's a stretch to say 2012 was actually a low-point for him in terms of BABIP. Freeman notched BABIPs of .338 or higher at A, high-A, and AAA (he didn't stay at AA long enough for a meaningful sample size), so it seems fair to think that his .339 BABIP in 2011 was closer to normal than his 2012 number.
The final point of Freeman's 2012 season that bears noting was his ability to drive the baseball. Amongst qualified hitters, Freeman had the 4th highest line drive percentage in the majors. When you increase the qualifier to hitters with at least 600 PAs, Freeman's 26.0% is first. Perhaps more amazingly, Freeman is first despite having the lowest BABIP of anyone in the top 20. It's not hard to see that with a little more luck, and continued improvements, of course, Freeman's 2013 could be even better than his 2012.
Statistics aside, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Freddie's greatest moment of 2012, and what will be my lasting image of the Braves' season. The Braves played the Marlins on September 25, and needing a win to clinch a spot in the playoffs, they sent Kris Medlen to the mound. After 8 and a half innings, the home team was down 3-2, and Medlen's streak was in serious jeopardy. Chipper Jones led off the inning with a booming double into the gap, and moved to third on a wild pitch from Mike Dunn. Needing only a fly ball to tie the game, Freddie Freeman stepped to the plate and got a whole lot more, drilling a Dunn fastball deep into the Atlanta night for a two-run, walkoff, playoff-clinching home run - an awesome cap on an excellent season by Atlanta's young first baseman.