Freddie ready to produce in any lineup spot

NL MVP Award winner goes 0-for-2 in Spring Training debut

March 5th, 2021

surged toward his first National League MVP Award after moving to the second spot in the Braves’ lineup in 2020. But without the universal designated hitter in place again this year, he will likely find himself back in the very familiar third spot of Atlanta’s lineup.

“The two-hole with the pitcher hitting, the opportunities for RBI situations aren’t as great,” Freeman said. “But I do realize hitting in the two-hole over 162 games, you’re going to get way more plate appearances than you would in the three-hole.”

Those are the contrasting sides of the argument. Would it be better for Freeman to compile more plate appearances while batting second? Or would it be better for him to compile more run-producing opportunities while batting third, which is where he was positioned when he made his spring debut in the Braves’ 4-0 win over the Twins on Friday afternoon at CoolToday Park?

“Putting me second with a pitcher batting ninth, it just doesn’t make sense for us,” Freeman said. “Even if you put [the pitcher] eighth, there is a chance if you had Ender [Inciarte] or [Cristian] Pache batting ninth, then that could work for me hitting second. But with the pitcher hitting [ninth], it just throws a lot of wrinkles into everything.

“I think our best bet is to do what we did last year. I can start off hitting third, and if it makes sense a month into the season, maybe I go to hitting second. But that’s the beauty of this thing. That’s why we play so many games and go so long. We can make little tweaks here and there.”

With all players available for the first time this spring, Braves manager Brian Snitker provided a glimpse of how he plans to structure his lineup. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies batted ahead of Freeman, who was once again backed by Marcell Ozuna. This was the same order Atlanta used at the start of 2020.

The Braves might have never altered it had Albies not begun a month-long injured list stint in early August. They moved Freeman to the two-hole for a couple stretches in August and then cemented him in that spot in early September. He produced a 1.202 OPS over 125 plate appearances batting second and a .982 OPS over 134 plate appearances batting third.

In other words, Freeman was highly productive in both spots.

To argue whether he should continue batting second or move back to the third spot, it’s more important to look at the number of plate appearances and run-producing situations he might encounter in either spot.

With the DH in place in 2020, Freeman logged 125 plate appearances over 26 games batting second. That equates to 4.8 per game. He came to the plate with a runner in scoring position in 28 percent (35 of 125) of those PAs.

Conversely, Freeman logged 134 plate appearances over 32 games batting third. That equated to 4.2 per game. He batted with a runner in scoring position in 26.9 percent (36 of 134) of those PAs.

These are very small sample sizes. But it’s important to recognize, had Freeman maintained these trends over 162 games, he would have drawn approximately 100 more plate appearances while batting second.

Now, when the DH wasn’t in place during the 2019 season, the second spot in the order (756 PAs) came up just 21 more times than the third spot (735 PAs) for the Braves. But a runner was in scoring position more frequently for the third spot (23.6 percent) than for the second spot (21.8 percent).

“You’re going to have more opportunities to drive in more runs with a DH, but that’s not in our cards this year,” Freeman said. “So we’ll just take this in stride and go back to how it was in ’19. ’19 was pretty good too. So I think we’ll be just fine.”

Freeman missed the first week of camp to be with his wife, Chelsea, as they welcomed their third son on Feb. 14. He grounded out in his two at-bats on Friday, but he did create some instant excitement when his first swing of the year produced a screaming line drive that went foul down the right-field line.

“I think it said 107 [mph] off my bat,” Freeman said. “I was just a little excited. It was pretty good. I swung at strikes and took balls. That’s all I cared about today.”