'Big hack by Freddie Freeman.' photo (c) 2011, Neon Tommy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ Freddie Freeman, the Braves' first baseman, had a solid second season. In fact, “solid” may not quite be the correct adjective to use when describing his 2012 efforts. Some will see the drop in batting average and the nearly identical OPS and worry that he didn't take a step forward in Year II. Some will remember the constant physical issues that hindered him included a couple of week span where his vision became an issue. I on the other hand think the seeds are being laid for a potentially bountiful payoff in 2013.

Freeman hit .282 in 2011 with a .795 OPS. In 2012 he hit .259 with a .796 OPS.

I can see how no one would be excited about that. First off, .259 is a league average number, and slugging first baseman can't exist with a sub .800 OPS. But, I'm telling you, Freeman really did take a few steps last season. Let's start with the obvious.

Freeman added two homers to his 2011 total despite 31 fewer at-bats as he hit 23 homers.

Freeman added 18 more RBIs, remember, in 31 fewer at-bats.

Freeman scored 24 more times, a significant improvement.

Add those three things up and you end up with 23 homers, 94 RBIs and 91 runs scored. Know how many first baseman went 23-90-90 in 2012? Get ready to be shocked. The answer is three – Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Freddie Freeman - and Freeman was the only full-time first baseman to do it. That news flash alone should make you look at Freeman a second time.

Freeman cut his strikeout rate from 22.4 percent down to 20.8 percent, a small improvement, but moving in the right direction we are.

Freeman boosted his walk rate from 8.3 percent to 10.3 percent. Again, a relatively minor improvement but an improvement nonetheless. As a result his BB/K mark went from a below league average 0.37 to just slightly better than league average at 0.50.

Freeman upped his fly ball rate from 35 to 37 percent (the league average is usually right around 35-37 percent). He'll need to boost this number significantly if he hopes to become a 30 homer bat on a consistent basis as he's just not hitting enough fly ball. Another incremental improvement can be seen in his HR/F ratio that went from 14 to 14.8 percent.

Freeman boosted his line drive rate from an already impressive 23 percent to 26 percent in 2012. That 26 percent total was the fourth best mark in baseball. Given improvements in his walk rate, his strikeout rate and his line drive rate, how did his batting average fall? Part of the blame can be laid squarely at the BABIP god's feet as he posted a .295 mark. Given his ability to hit liners, and his power stroke, it's pretty shocking to see a 26 percent line drive rate lead to a sub .260 batting average. In fact, of the 10 men in baseball who had a line drive rate last season of 25 percent all of them posted at least a .319 BABIP. Moreover, here are the nine other men's batting averages (remember Freeman hit .259).

.300 Dexter Fowler .309 Jordan Pacheco .281 Alejandro De Aza .306 Marco Scutaro .313 Robinson Cano .281 Chris Johnson .313 Prince Fielder .319 Joe Mauer .294 Alex Gordon

As you can easily tell, none of the other nine men batted less than .281. So hypothetically, let's assume that Freeman returns to the .280 level in batting average, something that isn't a stretch to think could happen at all given that Freeman did bat .282 as a rookie in 2011. Let's say he takes just a wee bit of a step forward across the board in Year III like he did in Year II. Let's say that results in a .280-25-100-90 line. How would that look on the back of his baseball card? I know you're asking, an I've got the answer – eight. That's the number of players who went .280-25-100-90 in 2012 (Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion and Alex Rios). If Freeman were to get to the those levels, and I see no reason to think that such a season isn't possible, just how effective will he be on draft day given that his cost will be so much less than the others that I just listed?

Freeman doesn't seem to be an obvious candidate to explode, the type of guy to hit .300 with 35 homers and 115 RBIs, but that doesn't mean that he took the step back last season that some people perceived him to. In truth, he seems primed for a third year breakout, even if it's along somewhat muted lines compared to the superstars of the game, but even so he still could be an excellent, an I mean top shelf, first sacker in the fantasy game in 2013.

By Ray Flowers


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About Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 7-10 PM EDT), Ray also hosts his own show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.

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