We have data on Freddie Freeman in the playoffs, but it’s not relevant.
“Freddie wasn’t the marquee guy then,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Freeman is The Guy now. The Braves are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, when Freeman was a promising young ballplayer. Now he’s among the best hitters in the National League, and the playoff spotlight shines brightest on stars like him.
It’s no shock that Freeman doesn’t see it that way. It would be surprising if he said it was up to him to lift the Braves over the Dodgers in the best-of-five NLDS.
“I feel like it’s the same,” Freeman said Thursday before Game 1. “I’m penciled in the three hole, and I’ve got to go out there and play hard. I try to lead by example. I speak very rarely but hopefully when I do speak, it means something to the guys.
“I’m just going to try to put (together) quality at-bats and get on (base) and keep the line moving. That’s the beauty of our team. We’ve had 30 to 35 guys to get us to this point. It hasn’t been one guy specifically.”
For six years, Freeman has been the one Braves hitter you could expect would deliver All-Star production. Freeman went on the disabled list a few times, and probably played through some injuries he shouldn’t, but bad luck and a stubborn streak were the worst things you could say about him.
For the past three years Freeman has put up good numbers for losing teams. It looked like 2018 would be the fourth. It wasn’t because Freeman produced, as always, and finally he had more help.
This year’s lineup features two other All-Stars, Nick Markakis and Ozzie Albies. Rookie sensation Ronald Acuna Jr. had a great year. Freeman isn’t the only Braves hitter who can hurt the Dodgers.
“I don’t think he is going to feel the need to carry us,” Snitker said.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the Braves toppling the Dodgers without Freeman playing like The Guy. The Braves can win without a monster series for Freeman, but he’s the player most likely to provide it, and I think he will.
And here’s the beauty of it: Freeman can make an impact without raking. It’s long been a strong element of his game that, when he’s not hitting, he still gets on base. Everyone considers 2015 a bad year for Freeman, but his on-base percentage (.370) that season was tied for ninth-best in the NL.
The importance of not making outs often gets overlooked even as sabermetrics has taken hold. Maybe Freeman just getting on base didn’t have as much value when the Braves were a one-man show. It has a lot of value for the Braves in 2018, when he scored the second-most runs of his career (94).
“He understands the value of getting on base,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. “That’s a big thing. Of course, he wants to drive in runs and hit doubles and homers and all that. But there is a time for that, and a time to pass it down the line.”
It had been a while since that line was worthy. Just when Freeman showed he was the real deal, the Braves sent away the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons. They mostly got back a bunch of prospects. The Braves put filler around Freeman.
In 2015 their second-best hitter was A.J. Pierzyknski, who surprisingly produced one more good year at the plate. In 2016 it was Markakis, who was about average that season. Last year it was probably Matt Adams, who only played a lot because Freeman got hurt.
“He was to an extent the Lone Ranger in the middle,” Flowers said.
Former Braves GM John Coppolella famously said in November 2015 that he would “give my right arm” before he traded Freeman. Coppolella was banned from baseball for cheating, but his vision of building the Braves with prospects has been redeemed.
Coppolella’s decision to keep Freeman through the rebuild also proved prescient. The Braves still have their lineup linchpin. Freeman said the rebuild “has always been worth it.”
“(The Braves) drafted me when I was 17, and they called me up when I was 20 and they gave me that contract when I was 24,” he said. “Ultimately, I owe everything to the Braves. I didn’t feel like I had a right to ask for a trade. It was my job to get this team back to the playoffs as quick as we can.
“I feel like three years of rebuild is pretty quick, and I feel like we are going to be here for a lot of years.”
The Braves didn’t get to the NLDS only because of Freeman, but they wouldn’t be here without him. Maybe they can beat the Dodgers without a big series for Freeman, but I doubt we’ll have to find out.