The regular season is officially done-and-dusted, which means it’s time for the Braves to once again embark on their quest of reaching baseball’s promised land of a World Series title for the first time since 1995. They’ll be attempting to reach the Fall Classic for the first time since 1999, which is when their third baseman was in the midst of having what would end up being the best season of his career in terms of individual accolades.
Chipper Jones was the star of the show for the Braves in 1999 — he finished that season with career-highs in wRC+ (165), wOBA (.447), Isolated Power (.314), home runs (45), stolen bases (25) and fWAR (7.3). Chipper was all over the place in 1999 and while it wasn’t his coming-out party when it came to what he was capable of as a baseball player, it was further confirmation that the Braves had a bonafide superstar on their hands. He went on to win a Silver Slugger that season and ended up being honored as the National League MVP, to boot. It was a magnificent season on an individual level for Chipper Jones, and he was duly recognized for his efforts.
I’m saying all of that to say that Freddie Freeman was on track to have a better regular season in a potential full 2020 season than Chipper Jones did in 1999. Since we’re comparing a 60-game season to a full 162-game season, if you multiply Freddie’s current fWAR by 2.7 in order to get to a very rough equivalent, then you’d see that Freddie would have Chipper beat by a pretty good margin since (assuming he kept up the pace) he’d finish with something around 8.9 fWAR. While Chipper would win in the power stats and the stolen bases are a given, Freddie Freeman in 2020 has been either close to or exceeding the level that Chipper was playing at during his MVP season.
It’s clear that Freddie Freeman has absolutely had an MVP-caliber season when compared to what the most recent Braves player to win MVP did when he earned the award. Will that be enough for Freddie here in 2020? For starters, you could actually argue that if Freddie doesn’t get the MVP, he’ll have more in common with Jeff Bagwell than Chipper Jones — meaning that you could make a legitimate argument that Houston’s future Hall-of-Fame catcher probably had a better season than Atlanta’s future Hall-of-Fame third baseman did. With that being said, nobody was really paying too much attention to advanced stats back then since counting stats were all the rage and team wins were especially the rage back then. Chipper Jones was the best player on the best team in the NL, and sometimes that would be the deciding factor among voters back in those days.
Here in 2020, the voters have the benefit of having a clearer picture of things in terms of evaluating MVP candidates. They don’t have to just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, this great player was the main reason why his team was great, so it’s him.” So in terms of comparing Freddie Freeman to the other MVP candidates across the National League (namely, Mookie Betts in LA and San Diego’s dynamic duo of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado), there’s actually not too much of a comparison. Freddie’s slash line (.341/.462/.640) is heads-and-shoulders above the competition’s. Freeman’s wRC+ (187) is far ahead of what the other three produced respectively throughout this season. The same goes for wOBA (.456), OPS (1.102, with his OPS w/ runners in scoring position being a scarcely-believable 1.468), OPS+ (186), and even Baseball Prospectus’ DRC+ metric (172). You could easily argue that Juan Soto has been better at the plate, but at this point it’s looking like he’s going to fall victim to injuries and team performance forcing him to fly under the radar. Meanwhile, Freddie Freeman currently has the inside track in the conversation and he’s pretty comfortably ahead of his contemporaries in terms of offensive production.
The only facet of the game where Freddie is probably lagging behind the other candidates is defense. With that being said, Machado, Tatis, and Betts are all playing positions where defensive prowess is at a premium. Freddie Freeman can only really do so much as a defender when he’s playing first base, so basically all he has to do is be a passable at first base and he will provide value to his team on defense. UZR is indeed a fan of Freddie’s defense (3.1, only second in the NL behind Anthony Rizzo’s UZR of 3.9) and UZR/150 (16.3) is crazy about Freddie. When it comes to OAA and DRS, Freddie Freeman is rated as basically being an average defender (0), so there’s that. So while it’s safe to say that Freddie isn’t the defensive maestro of this quartet, he’s anywhere from average-to-pretty good based on the multitude of defensive metrics that are out there. That’s more-than-enough to keep him at the forefront of the conversation for Most Valuable Player, in my opinion.
If the statistics are somehow not enough to sway the opinion towards Freddie’s way, then the narrative should do the trick. Mookie Betts deserves plenty of praise for taking his trade from Boston to Los Angeles in complete stride and hitting the ground running in a full sprint for the Dodgers. Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. have helped bring the Padres back to national relevance with their efforts, and it’s just a joy to watch those two play baseball. Tatis in particular is probably my favorite player not wearing a Braves uniform right now, since he personifies everything that I want out of a baseball player right now. With all of that being said, those other three players did not have the seasons that they’re having while also recovering from having been seriously ill from COVID-19 during the same month that the season started.
Before this season started, Freddie Freeman was doubtful to be ready for Opening Day because he contracted the coronavirus and it hit him like a public transit bus. Once he recovered, he famously recalled that he was in bed praying to make it through the night. The fact that he went from suffering from the virus that has stopped the entire earth in its tracks to playing Major League Baseball at an All-MLB level once he recovered is a marvel. Freddie Freeman has returned from other ailments just as quickly, but this is easily the most impressive recovery that Freeman has made in his career. If he winds up winning the MVP award for 2020, he could end up being forever intertwined in baseball lore as a prime example of what was going on with both baseball and the world during the 2020 season. It would’ve been completely understandable if Freddie went through that and figured that this wasn’t worth it. Instead, he ended up being ready for the new season by Opening Day and has played himself into the MVP conversation.
If having an absurdly high level of resiliency was enough to clinch the MVP award, then this would be no contest for Freddie Freeman. However, he has that and he he also has the production backing him up as well. The conversation for National League MVP is going to be a tough one — the three players representing the Southern Californian NL teams all have very good cases. Freddie Freeman has a great case, though. That should be enough for him to get the award this offseason, and hopefully he’ll be able to look back on a long postseason run while accepting any potential MVP honors in the near future.