In ESPN's promos for tonight's Braves-Phillies game, the narrator describes Freddie Freeman pretty aptly:
"He's a slick-fieldng,
smooth-hitting, funky-dancing, 23-year-old All-Star. He's leading the NL East's best team in OPS, OBP, RBI and BG, which is short for Bro Grabs. Yep, he gives the best bear hugs in the bigs. They oughta call him Friendly Freeman. He's Friendly Freeman. He's living the hug life. And he's about to take the stage."
Freeman is all of that and more. It's about time the baseball world takes notice, not only of how good he is but also how important he is to the Braves. He has been their undisputed Most Valuable Player. The Braves are threatening to run away with the division, and Freeman is a big reason why. (Yes, the Washington Nationals' surprising collapse is another big reason.)
Soon, the baseball writers will start contemplating their choices for the major awards. Freeman needs to be entered into the discussion for the National League MVP.
Granted, a purely statistical argument for Freeman is weak.. He's not in the top four in any of the triple crown categories. Entering Saturday's games, he was tied with Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez for fifth with 71 RBI. A two-week stint on the disabled list early in the season and a sprained thumb right before the All-Star break cost him some at-bats, and, almost certainly as a result, some production.
But scrub the statistics more thoroughly, and the case for Freeman is not so outlandish. The most underrated offensive statistic is runs produced. That's runs scored plus runs batted in minus home runs. After all, scoring runs is the bottom line of offense. Freeman ranks among the leaders with 119 runs produced.
Then there's his clutch hitting. He's batting .442 with runners in scoring position. And even that doesn't tell the full story. He's hitting .645 -- 20-for-31 -- with a runner at third base. All but four of those hits are singles. Make of that what you will, but here's what I see. In situations that might tempt others either more selfish or less disciplined to swing for the fences, Freeman is content to do his job and drive the run home. He has also walked nine times with a runner on third.
Then there's his defense at first base. Again, statistic don't tell the full story. He has made eight errors. Only two others have made more: Cincinnati's Joey Votto (12) and Los Angeles's Adrian Gonzalez (nine). But Freeman is still regarded as among the top defensive first basemen in baseball. There may be none better when it comes to stealing outs on close plays on close plays at first. Being 6-foot-5 and having the flexibility to do a split like a gymnast helps.
That, of course, is not MVP material. But this is.
The MVP isn't a purely statistical argument. It has come to be defined as who is most valuable to their team? As such, players from contenders take precedent over those of non-contenders. So several players having excellent seasons -- such as Buster Posey of San Francisco and Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer and Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado -- have less of a case.
There's only seven teams contending for the five NL playoff spots right now -- Atlanta in the East; St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the Central; and Los Angeles and Arizona in the West. That could change if Washington or Colorado gets hot and makes a push for the second wild card spot.
But if doesn't change, and the voting holds true to form, then the MVP should come from one of those seven teams. Thus, we should be able to narrow the field down accordingly.
St. Louis: Yadier Molina and Allan Craig.
Pittsburgh: Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon.
Cincinnati: Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto.
Los Angeles: Who? Adrian Gonzalez? Hanley Ramirez? Please don't say Yasiel Puig.
Arizona: Paul Goldschmidt.
If the season ended today and I had a vote, I would pick Goldschmidt. But what if the Diamondbacks fade down the stretch and are not a factor in September? That's a real possibility. Then it's wide open. Freeman ought to at least be considered.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org