Perhaps no one will want to relive the sports landscape in 2020 enough to make a movie about it, but if someone does decide to go that route, Freddie Freeman would make a great main character.
He was coming off a pretty stellar 2019 in a lot of ways. In fact, if the veteran first baseman had not slumped in September due to an elbow injury, Freeman almost certainly would’ve notched higher than an eighth-place finish in MVP voting. And as great as his career-high 38 home runs with a .295 average and .938 OPS were, he didn’t hit a homer after Sept. 1, leaving plenty room to wonder what might’ve been.
That’s not even mentioning what went on in the 2019 NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
So perhaps more than most, Freeman was looking to put the finish to 2019 behind him. Then 2020 spring training was cut short, and the season was put on hold until late July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Freddie wasn’t just inconvenienced like most of his peers; he actually caught the virus. Beyond that, his case was not a light one, leading him to tell reporters that he once prayed, “Please don’t take me” in the throes of a 104.5-degree fever.
Somehow, perhaps as we all should’ve expected, Freeman was in the Opening Day lineup despite having very little time to prepare for the shortened season. Also predictably, he struggled a bit. Through his first 13 games, Freddie was slashing .190/.346/.310 with just one home run and more strikeouts than hits.
That 13th game wasn’t a start, though. He got a rare day off to start the game in Toronto, only played the last few innings, and Freddie caught fire from there.
Freeman absolutely torched opposing pitchers from that day forward. In the next game, he went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double and only failed to reach base in three games for the rest of the season. Despite the slow start, he finished the year hitting .341 with a 1.102 OPS and led the majors in doubles with 23 and runs scored with 51. His 13 home runs in the shortened year would be about a 35- or 36-homer pace for a full season.
Due to just playing 60 games, of course, Freeman wasn’t able to add a fifth All-Star Game appearance, which would’ve been his third consecutive trip. He was able to win his second consecutive Silver Slugger award, though.
Oh yeah, he also won the National League’s MVP Award.
At long last, after finishing in the top five in voting twice and top 10 four times total, #MVFree became a reality. Including his top marks in doubles and runs scored, Freeman finished top five in the NL in RBIs (second only to teammate Marcell Ozuna), walks, batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and total bases (also second to Ozuna).
What won’t show up on the stat sheet, unless you go beyond the initial lines, is Freeman’s move from his traditional third spot in the batting order to bat second when Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies were out with wrist injuries. In 125 plate appearances in the 2-hole, Freddie hit a blazing .395 with a 1.202 OPS that included a .512 on-base percentage. With Ozuna crushing the baseball behind him, Freeman perhaps earned his MVP as much as a table-setter as he did a run producer this time.
The big question now: How does Freddie follow this up?
For several years now, the 31-year-old has gained a reputation as one of the most underrated superstars in baseball. That’s gone now. He has joined the list of less than 20 active players with an MVP award, and several of those are well beyond their prime. The company he now keeps is a very small group of MVP-caliber talents that are still on that level, and it will be exciting to see where this stage of his career takes him.
From a strategic standpoint, it will be interesting to see where Brian Snitker puts Freddie in the lineup. Of course, he could always slot back into the third spot behind a healthy Acuna and Ozzie or even Dansby Swanson. But with Freeman’s willingness to move up in the order, he could also take over that second spot long-term to accommodate any big bats the Braves sign from here. He’s certainly proven capable of hitting in that spot.
Either way, here’s hoping Freddie stays hot in 2021.