On the day Freddie Freeman is handed his plaque in Cooperstown — I know I’m getting ahead of things, but I just got back from there and it’s my way of nudging myself to collate and file expenses — we’ll scratch our heads and say, “Hey, wasn’t there a time when the Atlanta Braves tried to play him at third base?”
Yes. That just happened. It’s happening no more. I believe I speak for a grateful Braves Nation by saying, “Hoo-rah.”
Freeman was not nearly a calamity at 3B. He played 16 games there. He made one error. If he looked out of place (and he did), he was never overmatched.
(Pause to recount my favorite third base anecdote: When Andy Van Slyke, who would become a Gold Glove center fielder, was playing for the Triple-A Louisville Redbirds, he was a third baseman. He got married on a Saturday. He played third base on Sunday. He made four errors.)
(Braves fans will forever recall Van Slyke as the forlorn Pirate who sat in center field after Sid Bream slid and the Braves went crazy. He was also the guy who hit the ball that Otis Nixon caught. And enough of that.)
In the 16 games he started at third, Freeman’s batting numbers were .286/.357/.524. That seems fine — until we note that Freeman in 46 games at 1B has these numbers: .321/.427/.691. He has 15 home runs in 46 games as a first baseman, or roughly one every third game. He had four in the 16 games at third base, exactly one every four. His OPS as a third baseman was .881. His OPS as a first baseman is 1.128, which would lead the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
We’ll never know if Freeman’s relative dip in hitting while being stationed at the other corner — which was, we stipulate, his idea — was a function of changing positions or an inevitable correction in what was, prior to his broken wrist, shaping up as a historic season. What we can know is that Brian Snitker said Tuesday that Freeman was headed back to first base full-time and that Matt Adams, whose hot June was the trigger for this move, will be getting starts in left field in the absence of Matt Kemp. (Which will not go well, but that’s another matter.)
(Speaking of inevitable corrections: Adams in June hit .314 with 10 home runs and an OPS of 1.034; in July he hit .257 with three homers and an OPS of .760. Water seeks its level.)
I understand why Snitker and the Braves did what they did. (And Freeman did offer.) For a moment, it appeared this team might have a sort-of-wild-card-shot. We know better now. Still, it was the wrong move.
Freeman is not Sean Rodriguez, whose stock in trade is to have no single stock in trade. He’s the big bopper. He’s the first baseman. He’s the cornerstone. You do not mess with that. Those 16 games at third base did no real harm — thank goodness — but this was an experiment not to be repeated. I’m fairly certain it won’t be.