Since making his Major League debut in 2010, Freddie Freeman has become a superstar. The Atlanta Braves first baseman has made four All-Star appearances. Aside from that, he’s won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and is the reigning NL MVP. The 31-year-old has racked up a career slash line of .295/.383/.509, with 240 homers, 858 RBI, 1,524 hits, 342 doubles, and a 139 OPS+. Twice, he’s led the league in doubles, and once each in runs scored and hits. From 2015-17, while the Braves were rebuilding, he hit .296 with 80 dingers, 228 RBI, and 428 hits. His OPS+ during the span was a daunting 149. But even more than the accolades, he has won the heart of Atlanta.
Before Freeman, the first base position was somewhat unstable. Until his debut, big names continuously gave way to journeymen. Even Mark Teixeira got involved! However, over the last 10 years, Freeman has been the only constant at the position while the others came and went. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and compare Freeman to these other players.
Freddie Freeman vs. Braves First Basemen
The first baseman for the Braves in 2000 was Andres Galarraga. In an inspirational campaign, he won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award after battling cancer. On Opening Day, he hit one of Turner Field’s more famous homers. He went to the All-Star Game and hit 28 dingers. He also had two tremendous years before his cancer battle. But his three years of consistency with the team do not match Freeman’s 10. Freddie takes the round simply due to his regularity.
In 2001, the first base position was tossed about like a ragdoll. Rico Brogna was the team’s listed starter, hitting .248 in 72 games. But, he had three backups. Wes Helms, Julio Franco, and Ken Caminiti all shared time at the position. Caminiti was at the tail end of his career. He limped across the finish line with a .222 average in 64 games. Helms also hit .222 but recorded double-digit homers in 100 games. Franco hit .300 in a very small 25 game sample size. Freeman easily takes this one.
The next few seasons were marked by stability at the position. Two names met in the middle, forming something of a duo. One was Franco, and the other was Adam LaRoche. Franco was the first, playing from 2001 through 2005. During this time, he hit .292 with 344 hits and a 106 OPS+. He posted a .428 slugging average and a .793 OPS in 486 games. LaRoche played with Franco for two of the three seasons. During LaRoche’s run from 2004 to 2006, he hit a respectable .274. He hit 65 homers, drove in 213 runs, and had an OPS+ of 114. Through all of this, he walked 121 times, posting an OPS of .841. These two men come very close to Freeman. However, Freeman is still the better player, and he wins the contest.
The Braves began 2007 with two more first baseman: Craig Wilson and Scott Thorman. These two were simply lackluster. Thorman played in 120 games, batting .216 with 11 homers, 36 RBI, 62 hits, and an OPS+ of 67. Meanwhile, Wilson played in 24 games, batting .172 with a homer, two RBI, 10 hits, and an OPS+ of 50. The team was in dire straits at the position and needed something of a miracle.
So, the Braves made a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline. Veteran Teixeira was brought in from the Texas Rangers. His time with the Braves yielded Freeman like results. In 157 games over two seasons, he hit .295 with 37 homers, 134 RBI, a 146 OPS+, and a WAR of 6.1. By comparison, Freeman’s WAR over the last two seasons was 6.9. It is difficult to compare 10 years against two, but they were pretty much even. When pitted against Wilson and Thorman, Freeman wins hands down. But up against Texeira, it’s a little tighter. So, we can call it a draw.
Midway through 2008, the Braves traded Teixeira to the Los Angeles Angels. In return, they received veteran first baseman Casey Kotchman. It seemed like a fairly even trade at the time. Kotchman was batting .287 with 12 homers, 107 hits, and a 102 OPS+. Texeira was hitting .283 with 20 homers, 108 hits, but a 137 OPS+. Sadly, Kotchman could not repeat Teixeira’s success. In parts of two seasons in Atlanta, he hit .267 with eight homers, 61 RBI, and an OPS+ of 92. His WAR with the team was 0.7, a significant decline from Teixeira’s. While he did provide some semblance of consistency, his numbers are nowhere near Freeman’s. The current first baseman, once again, takes the round.
In 2009, a bevy of first basemen graced the team. The aforementioned Kotchman was the listed starter. However, he was backed up by veteran Greg Norton and rookie Bárbaro Cañizares. These three combined to go 99-395 (.251) with OPS+’s of 102, 38, and 13, respectively. So, the Braves made a deal with the Boston Red Sox. LaRoche was brought back and hit .325 with 12 homers, 40 RBI, and an OPS+ of 151 in 57 games. To say that he saved the position that year would be an understatement. But, when it comes to Norton and Cañizares, Freddie easily wins the bout.
Two first basemen made their Braves debuts in 2010: Troy Glaus and Derek Lee. Unfortunately, they were at the tail end of their careers. Glaus had just come off an injury-plagued season with the St. Louis Cardinals. His only year with the Braves was mediocre. He hit .240, with 16 homers, 71 RBI, and a 102 OPS+. He was backed up by Lee, far removed from his glory days with the Chicago Cubs. Nevertheless, he provided solid numbers, hitting .287 with a 130 OPS+ and 37 hits in 39 games. Freeman made his debut that year as well, going 4 for his first 24. But, at the end of the day, he still takes the round.
In the end, Freddie Freeman continues to prove his worth. He is the best first baseman the Braves have had since 2000. His decade of consistency has given him this title. After 10 years of piecemeal playtime at the position, Freeman has become a cornerstone. He is as recognizable to Braves fans as Chipper Jones, Dale Murphy, or Andruw Jones. His career is already being hailed as Hall of Fame worthy. But even more than that, the city that gave him a chance still loves him.
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