Freddie Freeman was well on his way to an MVP-type season when a broken wrist cost him six weeks of the season. Freeman returned and continued to play at a high level and the Braves will be looking for him to continue that in 2018.
What were the expectations?
Freeman was coming off of a career-best season in 2016 where he was worth 6.1 fWAR and finished sixth in MVP voting despite Atlanta’s last place finish, thanks to his torrid assault on pitching in the second half.
The Braves were hoping for more of the same from Freeman in that he would again be the key piece of the team’s offensive attack.
Freddie Freeman 2017 Projections/Stats
|Freddie Freeman (ZiPs)||148||639||153||34||26||94||.281||.382||.498||.880||.373||3.7|
|Freddie Freeman (Steamer)||147||639||149||32||26||84||.275||.378||.491||.868||.367||129||3.5|
|Freddie Freeman (2017)||117||514||135||35||28||84||.307||.403||.586||.989||.407||152||4.5|
Freeman for his part didn’t disappoint as he got off to a blistering start hitting .381/.485/.798 with nine home runs through the first 23 games of the season. It looked like Freeman was going to enter into the MVP discussion before an inside fastball from Toronto reliever Aaron Loup changed everything.
Loup hit Freeman with an inside heater on May 17. He underwent tests and was expected to miss 8-10 weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist. Freeman’s injury led to the acquisition of Matt Adams who performed well in Freeman’s absence. So well, in fact, that Freeman shifted to third base upon his return to the lineup.
Freeman saw action in 16 games at third and despite limited range, was worth three defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs. (By UZR, he was marginally below average. Overall, it could have been a massive boondoggle, but Freeman played reasonably out there.) As Atlanta fell further out of the race and began clearing the way for younger players, Freeman eventually shifted back to first on a full time basis. The possibility of him manning third in the future, however, has shifted from “outlandish idea” to “intriguing possibility.”
Freeman was unable to sustain his MVP-type pace after returning but still turned in an impressive season. He was hitting .341/461/.748 with 14 home runs through his first 37 games before suffering the injury. He returned to the lineup about two weeks early on July 4 and hit .292/.375/.515 with 14 homers and 24 doubles over the final 80 games.
Freeman sparked a mini-controversy late in the season when after failing to come up with a hit in a big spot in a game, he told reporters that he felt like he was losing strength in the wrist and compared his bat to swinging a wet newspaper.
Despite many suggestions that Freeman should just shut it down and not risk further damage to his wrist, he was in the lineup the next day and proceeded to finish the season playing pretty much everyday. He did his best to bury the controversy and hit .282 with five more home runs in September.
Freeman played in just 117 games but finished with 28 home runs which was six short of his career-high total that he set in 2016. He posted a career-best ISO of .280 and finished sixth in the majors in wRC+ (152) and wOBA (.407). Freeman was worth 4.5 fWAR which was almost one win better than his ZiPs or Steamer projections despite only playing in 117 games.
Nothing really changes here. The Braves want Freddie Freeman to be Freddie Freeman although they hope to put a little bit more help around him. Freeman unquestionably the leader of the team and that isn’t going to be changing anytime soon. It’ll be interesting to see whether Freeman’s efforts in 2018 suggest that he just had a few hot months between the latter half of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, or whether the end of the 2017 season was a result of injury-plagued performance and he’ll continue his MVP pace once he’s had a chance to rest up.