Short Hops: Braves first basemen review/preview
FOXSportsSouth.com’s team of Braves writers are taking a look back at 2015, position by position, and breaking down what we know heading into what figures to be another busy offseason. The focus here, first base.
118 — The amount of games that Freddie Freeman played last season. After playing all 162 games in 2014, Freeman appeared in a career-low 118 games due to lingering wrist and oblique injuries.
3.4 — Despite missing 44 games, Freeman managed 3.4 WAR, which ranked fifth among starting NL first basemen.
23.1 — Freeman’s at bats per home run. Though 18 home runs matched his career-low, Freeman would’ve been on pace to break his career-high mark of 23 home runs had he matched his previous low of 147 games played.
This is a question that would’ve been inconceivable before the 2015 season. In his first four full seasons with the Braves, Freeman averaged 152 games played, including all 162 in 2014. But after an ailing right wrist that bothered Freeman throughout the second half of last year, questions have arisen about his health. If this were the first time that he had dealt with a right wrist injury, things would be less worrisome, but a right wrist injury shut Freeman down after his 2009 Double-A season and took two months to heal. Looking past the wrist injury, he has been as durable as anyone in baseball, and as long as he can rest it up to be fully recovered by spring training, everyone should expect Freeman to be back to the dependable bat in the Braves’ lineup every day.
During Freeman’s absence last season, the Braves depended upon a number of guys to man the first base position, including Kelly Johnson, Chris Johnson, Joey Terdoslavich, and Nick Swisher. With both Johnson’s being traded away and Terdoslavich struggling heavily in his opportunities, all signs point to Swisher as the in-house option to back up Freeman. Though Swisher hit only .198 after joining the Braves in early August, he managed a respectable .349 OBP. With the Braves paying him $15 million in 2016, Swisher will likely get a chance to platoon in left field, and he should be the option to give Freeman some rest whenever it’s needed.
Now heading into his sixth full season, we’ve seen Freeman’s numbers level off after posting a career-year in 2013. If this is his ceiling, Freeman is still a worthy centerpiece in any lineup and one of the best first basemen in baseball … but at just 26 years old, numbers suggest that Freeman is just entering into his three "prime years" of baseball. The slight drop-off the past two seasons can be attributed to injuries and a lineup that hasn’t supported him. It’s no coincidence that in Freeman’s best season, five players who hit 14 or more home runs surrounded him. That number dropped to just two in 2014 in the second lowest scoring offense in baseball. In Freeman’s injury-riddled 2015 season, no other Brave hit more than 10 home runs in the league’s lowest scoring offense. One of the main motives expressed by the front office in acquiring Hector Olivera was to protect Freeman in the lineup in hopes of his 2013 numbers becoming the regular. With 23 home runs being his career best, Freeman has the ability to produce more power along with his impressive career averages.