There's a growing case to be made for Freddie Freeman as the best first baseman in baseball. However, that conversation is going to be put on hold for a while as Freeman is expected to miss 8-10 weeks after getting hit on the wrist by a pitch last night. What's funny about the elite group of his position, which also includes Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto, is that they're all underrated due to the uncompetitive, small market teams they play for. But not only does Freeman play for the lowly Braves, he doesn't have the fantasy baseball pedigree Goldy does or the MVP award that Votto has. Then there's the case of his reputation. Ever since he debuted in Atlanta Freeman has been known as a guy who would hit for average, but maybe only 20-25 homers. That's good, but it's not what we've come to expect from the position coming off a decade of Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder.
Year after year through 2015 Freeman was a very good hitter. His skill set of hitting tons of line drives while also showing patience at the plate resulted in good batting averages and OBPs, but the lack of power kept him out of the elite group of first basemen. When the Braves decided to start rebuilding there was a lot of talk over whether or not Freeman should be a part of their future, and whether or not he was truly a franchise player. Turns out Atlanta made the right decision.
The point here is that sometimes hitters just get better. It doesn't always happen in year one or two for everyone, and Freeman is an example of this. In 2016 he broke out for career highs in both homers and slugging percentage. His .267 ISO was the eighth highest in all of baseball. That's a huge improvement for someone who had never hit more than 23 homers entering the year. A deeper look into the advanced stats this off-season also showed his breakout likely wasn't a fluke. His 2016 performance was validated with his great start to 2017. Actually, he was getting even better this year before Wednesday night's wrist injury.
And that's why it sucks so much that this injury happened to Freeman last night. Entering Thursday he ranked first in baseball in home runs, second in OBP, second in slugging, second in total bases, and third in offensive WAR. What was most encouraging to see this year, though, was how consistently Freeman was hitting for power. Somehow Freeman had homered against all 10 teams the Braves have played this year. Not to take anything away from Eric Thames or Aaron Judge, but their home runs have mostly come in bunches. Freeman was hitting them consistently enough to think a 50 homer season was possible.
So what now? Wrist injuries are never good for power hitters. Even if Freeman comes back in this initial 8-10 week timeframe it can't be assumed he'll start hitting homers at the pace he was before Wednesday night. It'll take him a while to get his timing back and it may not even be until next year that he's fully "back". This isn't a killer for the Braves, since they aren't going to compete this year anyways. They currently sit at 16-21 and though they're in second place in the NL East they won't come close to sniffing the Nationals or the wild card race. Their season now has an even bigger focus on the struggling Dansby Swanson and the rest of the "Baby Braves".