There’s a theory floating around these days that the peak of a baseball player’s career is sliding up from 29 or 30 to 27 or so. It’s part of the reason you see more players getting called up earlier than before. The Braves themselves have Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in the every day lineup, and they were up at 20 or 21. Austin Riley is the most recent addition this season, and he’s 22. But Freddie Freeman doesn’t seem to care at age 29, as he’s having his best season.
Freeman is on his way to a career-high in homers, as he’s got 21 already and that number is 34. He has his second-highest batting average, best on-base, and by far his best slugging. The latter might be helped by the baseballs hopped up on goofballs this year, but hey, everyone’s playing with the same ball.
How’s Freeman doing it? Well he’s not getting particularly lucky, as he’s always been a line-drive hitter who runs a hot BABIP and this season is no different. Still, Freeman is rocking a 52.7% hard-contact rate, the highest of his career by a mile and only bested by resident alien Cody Bellinger. If you’re going by Statcast, his barrel rate is a career-high and his exit velocity is the highest of his career as well. So why is Freeman suddenly hitting the ball so hard?
Well, he’s being pickier than in a long while. He’s swinging at just 52.1% of the pitches he’s seen, the lowest since 2015. He’s not chasing out of the zone, as he’s swing-rate at pitches out of the zone is the second-lowest of his career. If he’s only sticking to strikes, that’s a lot more pitches he’s going to turn into his patented liner.
Freeman has also been murder on curveballs this year, hitting them to the tune of .427, though not for much power.
Freeman has been much better at the top of the zone this year. Here’s proof:
Which doesn’t leave pitchers a lot of places to go on Freeman.
All of it leaves Freeman on course for his highest WAR season, which is 6.0 a few years ago and he’s already at 3.2 before the break. It’s going to be hard for him to get MVP consideration considering what Yelich and Bellinger is doing, and 1st basemen tend to get punished by the defensive metrics. Still, he’s a major weapon in the Braves lineup which needs it. Albies has struggled, and Donaldson only got going in the last couple weeks (after yours truly turned down a trade for him in his fantasy league, natch).
But with Freeman mashing and the pitching staff nails, it’s been enough for the Braves to surge to the top of the division and open up some distance for a second-straight playoff appearance. Freeman has always made a great comparison with Anthony Rizzo, and funny enough they’ll both hit the free agent market in 2021. Wonder if the Cubs and Braves will be waiting for each other to figure out those markets.