Freddie Freeman’s decade with the Atlanta Braves has largely been defined by his reliability, his statistics wonderfully predictive and his mood seemingly always upbeat as he evolved into one of the game’s great ambassadors.
In 2020, however, Freeman saw his own consistency and raised it a level, lifting the Braves along with him.
Freeman won his first National League Most Valuable Player award Thursday evening, outpointing the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts on the strength of a dominant offensive performance across this pandemic-shortened, 60-game season.
He’s the first Atlanta Brave to claim MVP honors since friend and former teammate Chipper Jones won the award in 1999.
Freddie Freeman is the Braves’ first National League MVP since Chipper Jones in 1999. (Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)
Freeman, who turned 31 in September, played in every game despite missing most of summer camp battling COVID-19. He posted career bests across his slash line, with a .341 average, .462 on-base percentage and .641 slugging. He would have swept the NL in all three categories were it not for Washington’s Juan Soto, who qualifed for the batting title but had 66 fewer plate appearances than Freeman after an opening-day positive test for the coronavirus shortened his season.
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Freeman’s 3.4 Wins Above Replacement, as measured by Fangraphs, equaled Jose Ramirez atop the major leagues. He claimed 28 of 30 first-place votes, with Betts receiving the other two in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America.
The Braves won their third consecutive NL East title, and while MVP voting was conducted before the start of the playoffs, Freeman’s dream season continued into the postseason, as the Braves won their first seven playoff games. Betts’ Dodgers, though, overcame 2-0 and 3-1 NL Championship Series deficits to win in seven games and go on to the World Series.
Betts, the 2018 AL MVP with the Boston Red Sox, was bidding to join Frank Robinson as the only players to win MVPs in each league. He, too, produced 3.4 WAR, as measured by Baseball-Reference, and approached the equivalent of a 30-30 season in this shortened schedule: 16 home runs, 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts and a slash line of .292/.366/.562.
Betts turned 28 last month and, having signed a 12-year, $365 million extension after his trade from Boston, will be an annual MVP contender for years to come.
Freeman, whose highest MVP finish was fourth, in 2018, will be hard-pressed to reach these heights again. No matter: In 2020, he raised himself up from very good to the very best.