Andres Galarraga, Rico Brogna, B.J. Surhoff, Robert Fick, Julio Franco, Adam LaRoche (x2), Scott Thorman, Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman and Troy Glaus. Those were the Braves opening day first basemen since the year 2000.
Over the years the club has tried players both young and old, left and right-handed, cheap, expensive, fat, skinny, tall, short and even funny-looking. With the exception of a two-year span in the mid-2000's with Adam LaRoche, the first base position in Atlanta has been a revolving door for more than a decade.
Freddie Freeman is here to change that. Freddie Freeman is here to stay.
Say what you will about Freddie, but the kid knows how to play some baseball. The 21-year-old has arguably been Atlanta's second best hitter this year and if history tells us anything, it's that Freeman will only get better and better as the season progresses.
The left-handed first baseman from Fountain Valley, California is hitting .277/.350/.426 after Sunday's 2-for-4 performance and now has a .345 wOBA and 117 wRC+, both of which are a considerable ways above league average. In his last 30 games, he's hitting an even more impressive .318/.375/.443. That's pretty darn good.
Anyone who followed Freddie throughout his tenure in the minor leagues would tell you he plays his best baseball during the summer, and if you take a glance at the nearest calendar you'll see that it is, well, the beginning of summer.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Freeman's game is his ability to hit left-handed pitchers. Granted the sample size is still relatively small this season (58 at-bats), Freddie is actually hitting lefties better than righties. Three of his five home runs have come against southpaws and his stat line of .293/.354/.500 is impressive for anyone, let alone a 21-year old rookie. This all coming from a guy who was once described by scouts as "awkward" and "clumsy" both in the field and at the plate.
And while he's had a strong start at the plate, you simply cannot deny the numerous errors he has saved at first base. While the advanced metrics might say differently, Freeman has been huge at first with his ability to scoop out the throws in the dirt and use his giraffe-like legs to make the extra-long stretch to snag a ball before the runner is able to get to the bag. Defensive metrics have their place in the game, but first base is a position like no other and there's no way to properly judge a first baseman's defense without watching him on a day-to-day basis. Freddie Freeman passes the eye test.
Put everything together and you have a heck of a young player in Atlanta. Through all of the failed experiments over the years, it appears as if the Braves have finally found their first baseman. Freddie Freeman is off to a strong start in 2011 and all roads lead to a successful year in Atlanta as the club looks to get back to the playoffs for the second straight season.
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