MVPs Abreu, Freeman win Aaron Awards

December 8th, 2020

For a player to win the Hank Aaron Award the same year he wins Most Valuable Player is no foregone conclusion. The awards have different voting bodies and seek to recognize different things -- the Aaron Award revolving entirely around offensive performance, with the MVP taking other individual and, often, team factors into account. So they don’t intertwine as much as you might think.

But 2020 was the year of the slugging first basemen, and the bats of of the White Sox and of the Braves were bountiful enough that they have become the rare pair to sweep these esteemed individual awards. Abreu was named the Hank Aaron Award winner in the AL and Freeman in the NL in an announcement on MLB Network on Tuesday.

This marks just the fourth time since the award’s 1999 inception -- and the first since 2017 (Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton) -- that both MVPs won the game’s most prestigious offensive prize.

2012: Miguel Cabrera (AL) and Buster Posey (NL)
2015: Josh Donaldson (AL) and Bryce Harper (NL)
2017: Jose Altuve (AL) and Giancarlo Stanton (NL)
2020: José Abreu (AL) and Freddie Freeman (NL)

It is also just the second time that a member of the Braves has won the award named for the most iconic player in Braves history. Freeman joins Andruw Jones (2005).

“When you get to put that uniform on every day -- the same uniform [Aaron] put on for 23 years -- it means so much more to win this award,” Freeman said. “It’s just even more special that he gets to come around and share his wisdom of the game with us. He’s been present a lot in the last few years, and that just makes this more special.”

Abreu is the first Cuban-born player to win the Aaron Award.

“Just knowing what [Aaron] did as a baseball player and as a person and being able to receive this award is something that makes me very excited and humbled,” Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo. “I am honored.”

Whereas the MVP is voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the Hank Aaron Award is decided by a special panel of Hall of Fame players (Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Murray and Robin Yount) personally selected by Hammerin’ Hank and a fan vote at All 30 teams submitted a candidate, and seven finalists in each league were determined by a panel of writers.

Ultimately, the cases for Freeman and Abreu were as strong for the Aaron honor as they were for the MVP, if not stronger.

Since arriving from Cuba in 2014, Abreu has been the heart and soul of the South Siders’ lineup. But as the team reached the playoffs for the first time since ‘08, Abreu provided additional muscle, too. He led the AL in RBIs for a second straight year, with 60 in the 60-game season. And more importantly, his rate stats were among the best in his career. His .317 average and .370 on-base percentage were his best since his AL Rookie of the Year campaign, and his .617 slugging percentage was the highest of his career.

In addition to his RBIs and slugging percentage, Abreu led the AL in hits (76) and total bases (148). His 19 home runs were the second most in the Majors behind Yankees first baseman Luke Voit’s 22. Abreu edged fellow finalists Nelson Cruz (Twins), Teoscar Hernández (Blue Jays), DJ LeMahieu (Yankees), Brandon Lowe (Rays), José Ramírez (Indians) and Mike Trout (Angels) for the AL Hank Aaron Award.

Abreu credited the late Minnie Minoso with helping him adjust to the Majors after his arrival from Cuba.

“He was one of the people who taught me the most when I got to the U.S.,” Abreu said. “He gave me three keys to have success in the Majors -- work hard, be disciplined and be always on time. I’ve been able to apply all those keys, and I think the results have been there.”

Freeman’s win is further recognition of the best season of the Atlanta star’s accomplished career. Freeman had a .341/.462/.640 slash for the NL East champs. He led the Majors with 51 runs and 23 doubles, was second in OPS (1.102), on-base percentage and slugging and ranked third in batting average and RBIs (53).

Though all stats in 2020 were skewed by the shortened schedule, Freeman’s performance in the so-called clutch was in another realm entirely. His 1.468 OPS with runners in scoring position was the fourth-highest single-season mark in history by a qualified batter, with the top three spots all occupied by Barry Bonds.

“That’s the situation I love to be in,” Freeman said. “That’s the ultimate goal for me, being in the middle of the lineup, is to drive those guys in, and that’s what I was able to do this year.”

Freeman beat out finalists Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals), Bryce Harper (Phillies), Manny Machado (Padres), Corey Seager (Dodgers), Dominic Smith (Mets) and Juan Soto (Nationals).