The first base position in Atlanta had been a revolving door for nearly two decades before the emergence of Freddie Freeman in 2011. Everyone from Andres Galarraga to Scott Thorman to Troy Glaus tried to solidify the position, though no one was able to replace what Fred McGriff had meant to the organization for so many years.
Now just 22 years old, Freeman already has an impressive rookie season under his belt and projects to be the Braves' first baseman for a long time to come.
The first month of Freeman's career as a starter was not kind to him. He batted just .217/.314/.380 in the month of April and his wOBA of .306 had some wondering if he was ready to be an everyday player. Fortunately for the Braves, he turned it around in the next three months and carried the team offensively at times.
The months of May and June were the first time Braves Country caught a glimpse of the potential that scouts had drooled over while Freeman came up through the Minor Leagues. Despite a slow start, Freeman had a monster end of May to finish with an OPS of .802 and wOBA of .357, which was the best of any month for the rookie. He continued his solid hitting at the plate in the month of June, batting .287 with an OPS of .819.July was the pinnacle of his rookie season. Freeman hit an absurd .362 and set personal records with six homers and 18 runs batted in. Along with Dan Uggla, the first baseman carried his team offensively, leading the pack with an OPS of 1.033 and wOBA of .444. To absolutely no one's surprise, Freddie was named the National League's Rookie of the Month.
While his numbers in the afore mentioned three month period were incredible, they were bound to regress a substantial amount. With a BABIP of .401, it was only a matter of 'when' and not 'if' in regards to when Freeman would come back down to Earth.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, Freeman suffered through his two worst months of the season in August and September and his lack of production greatly hampered the team.
Freeman batted .277/.310/.404 during the month of August and recorded his second-lowest wOBA of the season at .304. His luck ran out and he saw his BABIP drop nearly 60 points from May, June and July. He also drew just three walks in 94 at-bats, which comes out to a miserable 3%. It is nearly impossible for any player to have a successful month if he draws just three walks, and Freeman learned that the hard way.
September was, for the most part, a huge struggle for the first baseman. He hit just .226 and ended with an OPS of .670 and wOBA of .291. To Freeman's credit, he walked in 10% of his at-bats and struck out just 19% of the time, but that would not be enough to escape something that continually plagues hitters who rely on contact to be successful: bad luck.
In the final month of the year, Freeman's BABIP fell to .254. Compare this number to the .401 that he hit in May, June and July and it is no wonder he struggled so mightily. Fortunately for the Braves, this number should routinely be higher and thus his production will increase going forward.
Judging a player's defense at first base is a difficult thing to do. For many, an eye test is all they require to determine a player's value in the field. For others, they want to look at stats in order to judge one's ability, even if those stats only judge a player for his range and not what he does while fielding a throw.
This is a split debate and this is all I will say regarding Freeman: he needs to get a lot better if he hopes to join the upper echelon of first basemen in the league. His defensive numbers on FanGraphs rank him among the worst fielders in baseball at his position and, to me, he failed the eye test more times than not.
Freddie Freeman's rookie season should be viewed as a big success. He is still years away from his prime yet still managed to rank in the middle of the pack offensively among first basemen. His production for the Braves was critical throughout the summer months and the team would not have been in contention without him. His defense and approach at the plate remain a work in progress, but if 2011 is any indication, the Braves have found their first baseman of the future.