As a part of the analysis for this piece, I needed to speak with a pitcher who has confronted Freddie Freeman greater than a handful of occasions. Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright hasn’t ever been in the identical division as Freeman, however they’ve each been within the Nationwide League greater than a decade, and Wainwright has matched wits with the Braves’ first baseman 29 occasions in his profession.
That works. I snagged a couple of minutes with Wainwright in entrance of the Cardinals’ dugout final weekend, and advised him I needed to ask about Freeman.
“Do you need to speak about his hugs? Nice hugger, greatest hugger he’s,” Wainwright mentioned. “They’re Freddie’s Free Hugs.”
MORE: Assessing Jacob deGrom’s Corridor of Fame case
That could be a enjoyable reality, however contemplating that there isn’t any form of Hug Index within the combine when contemplating a participant’s Cooperstown credentials — not less than nothing that I may discover on FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference — we moved on to on-field stuff. Freeman has a .250 profession common towards Wainwright with a .379 on-base proportion, however solely two extra-base hits (each doubles) and a .713 OPS.
“Freddie’s a man who’s harmful on any pitch, on any depend,” Wainwright mentioned. “Doesn’t matter the velocity. Doesn’t matter the placement, if it’s a strike, he’s going to hammer it. He’s simply so comfy together with his strategy. He can go to all fields, he can take what you give him; if you happen to shift him big-time, he’s going to go to left. For those who don’t shift him, he’ll pull the ball to proper. He’s going to hit it the place it’s pitched, all around the yard.”
He stored going.
“That’s what nice hitters do. They’re not up there solely hitting one pitch, not hitting solely in a single depend, not solely hitting to 1 discipline,” he mentioned. “They’re utilizing the entire discipline, they’re doing it in any respect counts towards all speeds, and Freddie’s undoubtedly on the high of that checklist.”
That sounds annoying, I supplied.
“Yeah,” Wainwright mentioned, “it’s tremendous annoying.”
So, Wainwright’s scouting report on Freeman: Nice hugger, tremendous annoyingly good hitter. Now, let’s dig into another numbers and notes.
If he retired tomorrow, would he make the Corridor of Fame?
No, he wouldn’t. The fraternity of gamers who would have been a Corridor of Famer after simply 11 full seasons within the bigs shouldn’t be expansive. Amongst present gamers, Mike Trout’s on that checklist. Albert Pujols, too. Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera in all probability spherical out the no-doubters. Numerous different energetic gamers will someday wind up in Cooperstown, however they’ll get there the identical approach most enshrined gamers did, with a protracted and productive profession.
“He’s that kind of hitter, however I believe we have to let him get some extra years in,” Braves third base coach Ron Washington advised me. “He’s a really constant participant. He cares. He works. He does every little thing a celebrity’s purported to do, and he brings it daily. He doesn’t take off. He performs daily. He posts daily, each single day.”
Freeman’s hit the 162-game mark twice in his profession, and he’s solely missed 5 video games, complete, because the begin of the 2018 season. He leads the NL in plate appearances in 2021.
The Cooperstown case
We’ll begin with some primary numbers. That is Freeman’s eleventh full season within the majors. He has a profession .295/.384/.510 slash line, ok for an .893 OPS and 138 OPS+. He has 264 dwelling runs and 918 RBIs, with profession highs of 38 homers and 121 RBI, each in 2018, when he completed fourth within the NL MVP voting. His profession WAR is 41.0, by each the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs formulation.
Freeman, who turns 32 in September, completed second within the 2011 NL Rookie of the Yr voting. He was fifth within the MVP voting in 2013, fourth in 2018, sixth in 2016 and eighth in 2019, incomes a spot within the dialog about “greatest participant to not win an MVP award.”
He dropped out of that dialog with the NL MVP award within the shortened 2020 season, posting profession highs in batting common (.341), on-base proportion (.462), slugging (.640), OPS (1.102) and OPS+ (184) with a 3.2 bWAR in these 60 video games.
The MVP in 2020 actually doesn’t harm his resume, but it surely doesn’t assure something. Heck, not even two MVPs is a assure. Simply ask Dale Murphy or Roger Maris.
Probably the most encouraging factor about Freeman’s possibilities is that he simply retains getting higher. His on-base proportion his first two seasons was .343, but it surely jumped as much as .396 his third yr and hasn’t wavered. He didn’t hit greater than 23 homers in his first 5 full seasons within the majors, however has a 162-game common of 35.7 since 2016.
Let’s break up up his profession into two halves, 2010-15 and 2016-21.
2010-15: 751 video games, .285/366/.466, 104 homers, 424 RBI, 129 OPS+, 15.0 bWAR
2016-21: 762 video games, .304/.399/.550, 160 homers, 494 RBI, 146 OPS+, 26.1 bWAR
Yeah. Enchancment throughout the board. He was an excellent participant within the first half of his profession, and an awesome participant the second half of his time within the bigs.
Bear in mind what Washington mentioned? Wainwright echoed the identical sentiment.
“I believe there are many Corridor of Fame kinds of gamers, they only must play lengthy sufficient to get there,” he mentioned. “Freddie’s a Corridor of Fame kind participant, and if he retains taking part in and doing what he’s doing for some time, then he’s going to be in there.”
There isn’t a cause to count on any form of drop-off in manufacturing from Freeman for not less than a number of years down the highway.
The Cooperstown hesitation
First base is hard. The requirements are virtually impossibly excessive. It’s the place of Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. The typical bWAR for the 21 Corridor of Famers thought-about primarily first baseman is 66.9, and that quantity will soar even increased when Albert Pujols (99.5 bWAR) joins, years earlier than Freeman hits the poll. Freeman checks in at 41.0, with solely three seasons of a bWAR north of 5.0 — although it’s value noting that he would have simply gotten to that mark final yr if he’d stayed wholesome, and will get there in 2021 (he’s at 2.9 by way of 107 video games).
Freeman, who made his debut 11 days shy of his twenty first birthday, ought to have a few years nonetheless forward of him. Nonetheless, his bWAR numbers are behind different modern first basemen by way of that stage of their careers. Pujols was at 86.6 by way of his first 11 seasons, Joey Votto was at 56.1 and Cabrera was at 54.8, and that’s his subpar protection at third dragging that quantity down. That is Paul Goldschmidt’s eleventh yr, and he’s at 47.1. Todd Helton was at 54.7 by way of the identical stage of his profession, and he’s nonetheless on the skin trying in (although his resume is, let’s say, clouded due to the Coors Area impact). The 2 most lately elected first basemen, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas, have been at 68.1 and 58.9, respectively, by way of 11 seasons.
The statistic utilized in each knowledgeable Corridor of Fame debate is JAWS, a system created by baseball author Jay Jaffe to measure gamers throughout eras. The typical JAWS for these 21 Corridor of Fame first basemen is 54.8. Freeman’s at 36.3. Nonetheless a number of work to do.
And it’s value noting that the “common” numbers we reference are, sure, impacted by inner-circle Corridor of Fame superstars reminiscent of Gehrig and Foxx. However they’re additionally introduced approach down by gamers reminiscent of Excessive Pocket Kelly, a Veterans Committee inductee 41 years after his final recreation. Kelly’s profession bWAR was 25.3 and his JAWS was 24.7, which is nearly equivalent to Carlos Pena (25.5 and 24.8). That’s why it’s good to make use of “common” as the usual and never simply “is he higher than the worst Corridor of Famer at this place?”
Comparable Corridor of Famers
Eddie Murray. Like Freeman, the hallmark of Murray’s profession was constant excellence. He reached 504 profession dwelling runs regardless of by no means hitting greater than 33 in a season, which appears downright unattainable. However for 20 consecutive years, Murray hit not less than 16 and by no means greater than 33, solely reaching the 30 plateau 5 occasions in these 20 seasons.
Let’s evaluate the 2 although their first 11 seasons …
Murray: 53.2 bWAR, .296/.372/.503, 305 homers, 1,106 RBI, 141 OPS+, 1,659 video games
Freeman: 41.4 bWAR, .295/.384/.510, 264 homers, 918 RBI, 138 OPS+, 1,512 video games
The slash traces are very related, however Murray has the sting in bWAR and homers, largely (however not solely) as a result of he performed considerably extra video games. Remember the fact that, after all, the 2020 season was solely 60 video games and the Braves have 54 video games remaining within the 2021 season. Issue that in and Freeman closes the hole in these two classes fairly considerably.
Murray, after all, continued his excellence for a very long time. After these first 11 seasons, Murray added 199 extra dwelling runs and 811 extra RBIs, remaining a constant supply of dependable run manufacturing at the same time as he bounced across the league, from the Orioles to the Dodgers to the Mets to the Indians and, lastly, stints with the Orioles (once more), Angels and Dodgers in his final two years.
Murray was elected to the Corridor in his first yr on the poll, with 85.3 p.c of the vote as a part of the category of 2003.
Comparable non-Corridor of Famer
Will Clark. Freeman’s swing — “He has such a singular swing,” Wainwright mentioned. “He will get up on these toes and his bat’s all perpendicular to the bottom. That’s one thing you may’t train. Simply so cool to look at him.” — isn’t something like Will Clark’s candy swing, however they produced related outcomes. Clark was a primary baseman who may hit dwelling runs, however would by no means have been referred to as a real slugger, regardless of beginning his MLB profession with a first-AB homer off Nolan Ryan. Clark was a productive first baseman who may spray the ball all around the discipline, and Freeman has that very same talent set, with a bit extra energy.
So let’s have a look although 11 seasons …
Clark: 44.6 bWAR, .300/.379/.492, 218 homers, 953 RBI, 139 OPS+, 1,510 video games
Freeman: 41.4 bWAR, .295/.384/.510, 264 homers, 918 RBI, 138 OPS+, 1,512 video games
Fairly related, proper? Clark’s eleventh yr within the bigs was his Age 32 season. Freeman’s a yr forward of that, at present in his Age 31 season. Clark is prime instance of why Freeman’s Cooperstown destiny has but to be decided. Clark was nonetheless an impressive hitter the remainder of his time within the bigs — he hit .313 with a .909 OPS from 1997 to 2000 — however he performed his last recreation at Age 36, opting to retire to be together with his household after hitting .345 in 51 video games down the stretch for the Cardinals in 2000 after which .345 in eight postseason video games that October.
He added 11.9 bWAR in these last 4 seasons to complete at 56.5.
He was solely on the Corridor of Fame poll for a single season, garnering 4.4 p.c of the vote, falling simply wanting the 5 p.c essential to remain on for a second yr. He deserved an extended keep, however the 10-vote restrict actually harm him. It wasn’t probably the most crowded poll of all time, but it surely was packed: eight gamers have been ultimately inducted into the Corridor, and 4 extra guys lasted a very long time on the poll with out being inducted: Tommy John, Steve Garvey, Dave Parker and Dave Concepcion.
Right here’s the factor: If Freeman stays wholesome and productive for a number of extra seasons, he’ll probably wind up in Cooperstown ultimately. However we’re not promised tomorrow, and there are many tales of gamers with a superb first decade who dropped off shortly into their 30s who usually are not enshrined. Two good examples come to thoughts on the present Corridor poll: Andruw Jones (60.9 bWAR his first 11 full seasons, 1.7 bWAR after that) and Todd Helton (54.7 bWAR his first 11 seasons, 7.1 bWAR after that). Atlanta followers virtually actually instantly considered Dale Murphy, who had a forty five.2 bWAR in his first 11 full seasons and only a 1.8 bWAR after that. Murphy lasted the total 15 seasons on the BBWAA’s Corridor of Fame poll, however by no means acquired greater than 23.2 p.c of the vote.
You may argue that each one three of the gamers simply talked about belong in Cooperstown. It’s not exhausting to make a compelling case, however that’s probably not the purpose right here. The purpose is to point out that, though Freeman is heading in the right direction, velocity bumps and highway blocks could possibly be lurking.
Right here’s hoping he stays wholesome and productive, although, as a result of the massive stage on the induction ceremony in Cooperstown is a superb place for large ol’ hugs.