Opportunity, skill set surge and the additions to Atlanta's lineup allowed Freddie Freeman to build on his already strong resumé. He not only won the National League Most Valuable Player Award but provided one of his best fantasy seasons to date in 2020's truncated season. With Marcell Ozuna hitting behind Freeman, he improved his plate discipline metrics and punished fastballs helping fuel his strong finish to the season.

It's easy to forget Freeman missed time testing positive for COVID-19 which cut short his preparation for the season and contributed to his slow start. Freeman scuffed at the onset of 2020 going 8-for-42 (.190) before being taken out of the starting lineup on August fifth. He appeared later in the game as a pinch hitter then went on an absolute heater from August sixth until the end of the regular season. Over his last 47 games, Freeman went 65-for-172 (.378) with 12 home runs, 46 RBI, a .490 on-base percentage, a 1.211 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and only struck out 25 times in them.

All told, Freeman finished in the top four in the major leagues in each of the following categories: runs (51), hits (73), doubles (23), RBI (53) and walks (45). In the National League, Freeman led the league in doubles, runs, extra-base hits (37) while finishing second in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462), slugging (.640) and OPS (1.102). He hit a robust .423/.583/.885 with runners in scoring position and set the record for players in Atlanta-era history with 23 doubles in his first 60 games.

Freeman's strong September allowed him to record a walk rate higher than his strikeout percentage in the 60-game sprint, record a career high isolated power (ISO) of .299 and a career best .456 weighted on-base average (wOBA). He also set career marks in regards to his swinging strike percentage (8.3), contact rate (81.9 percent), Z-Contact (in the strike zone) of 86.2 percent and O-Swing (outside the strike zone) of 28.2 percent.

According to Statcast, Freeman registered 177 batted ball events with 26 barrels (14.7 percent), a 92.4 MPH average exit velocity and 54.2 hard hit percentage (11.7 points higher than 2019). Freeman also notched a 49.2 sweet spot percentage (up 8.9 points) and his expected statistics showed no signs of a luck based 2020. His .341 expected batting average (xBA) matched his season's result plus a .660 expected slugging percentage (xSLG) and .441 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) fully supported his terrific campaign.

Delving into discipline metrics, Freeman actually reduced his zone swing percentage by 2.2 points while improving his zone contact by 4.5 percent to 84.8 percent on the season. He cut his chase percentage, swing percentage and whiff rate as well. In fact, Freeman's 20.1 whiff percentage represents his lowest total in the category since Statcast started tracking it in 2015.

Freeman produced fewer ground balls (33.3 percent) and fly balls (down seven percent) but cashed in on his career high line drive rate up 9.2 points to 40.1 percent. Noting Statcast rates quality of contact when figuring out expected statistics, Freeman's line drive spike nourished his fantastic outcomes from last year. This resonates in his percentile ranks against his peers as well:

  • Average exit velocity - up 2.6 MPH, 91st percentile
  • Barrels - 98th percentile
  • Barrel% - 92nd percentile
  • xBA - 100th percentile
  • xSLG - 100th percentile
  • xwOBA - 100th percentile

Although Freeman generated less fly balls, his expected home run rate did not suffer and he recorded a 60 percent no-doubter rate of them (a home run in any MLB park). How much Ozuna's presence affected some of these results remains a mystery but expanding the results of Freeman's numbers may provide the necessary intel to evaluate how his upcoming season may ensue.

First, taking Freeman's data from the second half of 2019 and adding it to last year yields the following:

  • Freeman 2H 2019-through-2020: 128 games, 548 plate appearances, 95 runs, 28 home runs, 106 RBI, five stolen bases; .305/.420/.565, 15.7 BB%, 16.2 K%, .259 ISO, .408 wOBA

In this time frame, Freeman's one of two players with at least 100 RBI and a batting average over .300 (José Abreu ). Freeman's home run per plate appearance improves slightly in this sample and his wOBA remains above four hundred. Here's all of his fly balls and line drives from these 548 plate appearances in a spray chart courtesy of Statcast:

Recalling his tremendous sweet spot percentage above 49 from last season, this tracks launch angles between eight degrees and 32 degrees by hitters. Freeman maximized his quality of contact in this metric and it can be seen in this radial chart:

Prior to viewing Freeman's last three-year data, his heat map displays why shifts really do not affect him making his batting average abilities such a key to his success in fantasy:

Freeman's ability to drive the ball to all fields along with his willingness to go with a pitch makes him a tough out. Since the start of 2018, Freeman's shed his injury risk tag while taking the next step as a run producer:

  • Freeman Last 3 Years: 384 games, 1,679 plate appearances, 260 runs, 74 home runs, 272 RBI, 18 stolen bases; .307/.400/.543, 12.6 BB%, 17.7 K%, .236 ISO, .394 wOBA

He leads all qualified hitters in RBI in this time frame. So, how should fantasy owners project him for the 2021 season which comes with so many variables due to circumstances beyond our control?

Using two different systems to build a baseline of data, here's how they forecast Freeman's upcoming season:

  • Freeman 2021 Steamer projection: 150 games, 662 plate appearance, 99 runs, 33 home runs, 102 RBI, five stolen bases; .292/.394/.541, 13.6 BB%, 18.9 K%, .249 ISO, .386 wOBA
  • Freeman 2021 ZiPS projection: 143 games, 625 plate appearances, 98 runs, 28 home runs, 111 RBI, six stolen bases; .296/.395/.535, 13.1 BB%, 17.9 K%, .238 ISO, .394 wOBA

Very solid to say the least. Freeman enters his Age-31 season on the downside of his power peak but he may be a late bloomer. Given his past production along with the projections above, here's how his numbers could finish in 2021 using his aggregate predictors from 2020, the second half of 2019-through-2020 and his last three years:

  • Freeman with 300 plate appearances: 50 runs, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 3 SB
  • Freeman with 450 plate appearances: 75 runs, 23 HR, 83 RBI, 4 SB
  • Freeman with 600 plate appearances: 100 runs, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 5 SB

Given his Statcast expected rates since 2015 of a .298 xBA and .407 xwOBA, his batting average sliding scale of .290-to-.310 seems fitting, especially given his .307 average the last three years. Also enticing, Freeman's 2,231 batted ball events since 2015 with 269 barrels (12.1 percent), a 90.3 MPH average exit velocity and 43.7 hard hit percentage (exit velocity of 95 MPH or better). Freeman may reach his more aggressive numbers in the aggregate sample, especially if Atlanta brings in a slugger to hit behind him. If so, Freeman's already strong value increases.

Statistical Credits:



MLB.com - game notes


ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski