The Braves are in a good spot. A 6.5 game lead with 13 games to play is just about as good as anyone could’ve reasonably hoped for or expected back in March. What looked to be a difficult division back in the spring has turned into one of the easier divisions in baseball. Washington and Philadelphia have both fallen off considerably while the Mets crashed and burned a while ago.
When you combine those things with a 20-year-old superstar, a starting pitcher finally emerging as a front-line guy, and a 40-man roster bursting with talent, things are good.
And when things are good, we tend to ignore any issues that may be forming just beneath the surface. I mean if it’s not affecting the win/loss total, how much can it really matter? If the record is positive, then let’s be positive. Especially when you get a season out of nowhere like Atlanta is getting this year.
But for the 2018 Braves, there is an elephant in the room, so to speak. A thing that’s happening that no one is really talking about, I’m sure with the hopes that it’ll just go away.
But it hasn’t.
Something is wrong with Freddie Freeman.
So I mentioned this once, I think, on Twitter in mid-August and it got very little interaction, and even I didn’t really follow it up. I think everybody, including myself, waived it off as a blip on the radar and nothing more.
But here we are a month later, and not only has it not gone away, but it’s gotten worse.
If you don’t know, here are the numbers.
From the beginning of the season to June 15th, Freddie Freeman looked exactly like Freddie Freeman. The first 2 1/2 months of the season, he posted a 171 wRC+ and a .255 ISO. Those are elite, MVP-level numbers. Freddie Freeman numbers.
But since June 15th, the numbers look a lot different. Shockingly different, actually. From June 16th to yesterday’s game, September 16th, Freeman has posted a 101 wRC+ and a .136 ISO.
That…is a large drop off.
And this isn’t a week-long slump, or 2 weeks, or even a month. For almost 60% of the season, an MVP-level hitter has hit at a league average rate. Since June 15th, Freddie Freeman has been Ender Inciarte at the plate.
Now the team has weathered this a few ways. First and foremost, Ronald Acuña Jr has played like Mike Trout for most of that time. So that helps. But in addition to that, Johan Camargo has become a legitimate offensive weapon, Ozzie Albies has woken up a bit, Dansby Swanson has had a few hot stretches, Ender has had his typical 2nd half run, and Markakis and the catchers have had some big moments.
All that together has covered up a pretty staggering drop off by Atlanta’s best hitter (or maybe their second best hitter now). And as we mentioned in the opening, the team winning and being in 1st place has removed some of the need to talk about it or even acknowledge it. But it’s there.
Now, this is the part where I’m supposed to give you the why. We’ve done the effect, so now is typically the time for the cause. The only problem is I have no idea. I mean, I can tell you is average exit velocity before June 15th was 90 mph and his average exit velocity since then has been 88 mph. If you’re not familiar with Statcast numbers, 2 miles per hour difference is significant.
So that’s something. But even with that, I can’t give you a why. The obvious conclusion is his wrist is bothering him again, but he’s been asked, and the teams been asked and both parties say that’s not the case. Freddie says he feels fine.
A significant change in batted ball profile could theoretically, explain such a drop off in production but there hasn’t been a significant change. He’s hit a few less fly balls since June but he’s mostly replaced those with line-drives. There’s no way a player sees a 70 point drop in wRC+ because he’s hitting a few more line-drives.
You could look at the luck factor and there’s a little something there. His pre-June 15th BABIP was .375 while his post-June 15th BABIP is .326. That’s certainly enough to see some change but nothing like what we’ve seen. And when you consider a large portion of his production drop-off has been power related, specifically HRs, the BABIP argument gets even weaker. Freeman hit 15 HRs in the first 2 1/2 months of the year. In the last 3 months, he’s hit 6. And, obviously, HRs aren’t considered in BABIP.
The only other answer is it really is just a slump. A very long, extended slump. Baseball is random. Great hitters could be average hitters for 60% of seasons. It is possible, though I’ll let you decided how probable.
Whatever the reason, the bottom line is it’s happening. For the last 3 months, Freddie Freeman is producing at the lowest level of his entire career. The fact that the lowest level of his career is still league average is a testament to his talent level.
But Freddie Freeman is not a league average hitter. He’s not an above average hitter. He’s an elite hitter.
So the last 3 months have been weird.