Bill Shanks

Freeman becoming a great player for Braves

Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, right, had 12 home runs and 20 RBI entering Saturday’s game.
Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, right, had 12 home runs and 20 RBI entering Saturday’s game. TNS

We often write in this space about the difference between good and great. It’s mainly referencing teams and the challenge it is to reach that next level. There are plenty of good teams in sports, but the great teams are the ones that stand out.

What about players who go from good to great? What must it be like for a player to be considered really good and then to become, in time, a great player?

Ask Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. He should know. Freeman is 27 now. He’ll turn 28 in four months. That’s the age when many believe a baseball player reaches his prime. Freeman just started a tad early.

In Freeman’s first five full seasons as a regular, he hit a combined .286 with an average of 21 home runs and 85 RBI, along with a .368 on-base percentage. That’s really good, but many wondered if Freeman was capable of doing more.

He did that last season, hitting .302 with a .400 OBP, 34 home runs and 91 RBI on a team that won only 68 games. And now this season, Freeman is on a MVP-type pace. He entered Saturday’s game batting .336 with 12 home runs, 20 RBI and a .462 OBP.

That’s means Freeman is on schedule for 60 home runs and 100 RBI. The Braves better hope his RBI total increases a bit, which means more will be getting on base in front of him. Regardless, his numbers are eye-popping so far.

The improvement can be simply attributed to maturity as a player. Freeman has gone from a good player in his early-mid 20s to now a great player as he has gotten into his late-20s. That’s sort of what teams hope players will do with development and more time in the big leagues.

What’s even more impressive, however, is that Freeman has done this as his team has been rebuilding. It hasn’t been easy for him, watching players come and go as the Braves started over.

Maybe Freeman should give his manager a new car or something. Before Brian Snitker became Atlanta’s manager almost a year ago, Freeman had a career .286 average and a .367 OBP. Since Snitker took over, Freeman has hit .313 with a .417 OBP, 40 home runs and 101 RBI in 154 games.

That’s the difference between good and great.

The one thing Snitker has done is he has left Freeman alone in the third spot in the batting order. Freeman has hit third in every game Snitker has managed, which is different than when the previous manager bounced players around in the batting order.

And of course, when the Braves got Matt Kemp from the Padres on July 31, his presence gave Freeman some protection in the batting order. Freeman and Kemp have formed a very dangerous combo in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup.

Freeman is under contract for four more years after this season, so he’s going to be at the forefront of this team when it gets better. He has become the star, and the Braves must be glad they kept him after flirting with including him in a trade to accelerate the rebuild.

If Freeman continues to hit at this level, he’s also going to become one of the best hitters in Atlanta’s history. We might not have thought the good player at first base a few years ago could have done that, but now that Freeman has become great, anything is possible.

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