Freddie Freeman is the linchpin of the Atlanta Braves offense in more ways than one. By nature of his massive eight-year, $135 million contract, Freeman carries the weight of significant pressure on his production, and given that the Braves are largely void of surrounding talent in the lineup (Nick Markakis excluded), the team simply can't afford to have Freeman struggling in the middle of the batting order.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what took place to begin the 2016 season.
Despite blasting a home run on Opening Day, Freeman began the season in a 2-for-25 slump and, as it would for anyone, that hiccup reflected poorly on the 26-year-old's year-long numbers for a long while. With that ugly level of production, rampant speculation (from myself included) began that Freeman wasn't healthy or even that the contract would soon become an albatross to Atlanta's already restricted payroll.
Since April 15, though, the real Freddie Freeman has returned. In 104 plate appearances across 24 games, Freeman has posted a .344/.413/.570 slash line (.983 OPS) with six doubles and five home runs, and his peripherals have transformed from terrifying to encouraging. Part of the reason for skepticism in the early going came from his underlying numbers, but while his hard-hit rate (31.8%) remains at a career-low mark, Freeman's line drive rate (29.8%) is now higher than his career average and he is making all kinds of quality contact.
Whispers about Freeman's overall "upside" persist, and they are, quite frankly, reasonable. With five full seasons and more than 3,000 plate appearances under his belt, the first baseman has never produced more than 23 home runs or a .501 slugging percentage in a season, and while his overall numbers (131 wRC+, etc.) are quite good, it is somewhat logical to conclude that this is the player that Freeman will always be. Still, he is young enough that some level of improvement is still possible or even probable, and this recent binge certainly aids in that belief.
Just as it was relatively silly to discuss the downfall of Freddie Freeman after 25 at-bats to begin the season, we must also temper the excitement brought forth by this sample of just over 100 plate appearances. At the same time, though, Freeman looks like himself again, and in a lineup that needs all the help that it can get, that is a very good thing.
Now, about those other spots in the lineup...