ATLANTA — Nine years after picking up his phone to hear Chipper Jones say, “I think it’s time we start to hang out,” Freddie Freeman can now compare Most Valuable Player Awards with the Hall of Fame third baseman.
Freeman was named the National League MVP Award winner on Thursday night, when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America balloting results were announced. The 30-year-old first baseman becomes the first Braves player to win an NL MVP Award since Jones in 1999.
Freeman won his first career NL MVP Award after finishing within the top 10 in balloting in each of the past four seasons. The Dodgers' Mookie Betts finished second in the voting, followed the Padres' Manny Machado in third.
Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna also drew consideration from the voters. Ozuna belted an NL-best 18 homers batting behind Freeman, who hit .341 with 13 home runs and a 1.102 OPS during the 60-game regular season.
Freeman led the NL with 51 runs scored and ranked second in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462), slugging percentage (.640), OPS (1.102) and weighted runs created plus (187). The only player who finished ahead of him in each of those five categories was the Nationals’ Juan Soto, who logged just 196 plate appearances -- 66 fewer than Freeman.
Before Freeman went on to produce an MLB-high 3.4 fWAR (Fangraphs’ WAR Model), he had to recover from a positive COVID-19 test on July 2, leading to a scary experience in which his fever spiked to 104.5 degrees.
After missing much of Summer Camp while recovering from the virus, Freeman struggled during the season’s first couple of weeks before proving to be the game’s most productive player the rest of the way. He rejoined workouts with the Braves six days before the regular season began, crammed approximately 30 plate appearances over four days of intrasquad and exhibition games, then accepted the challenge of facing the Mets’ Jacob deGrom on Opening Day.
Freeman spent the first few weeks of the regular season regaining his timing and strength. He responded by hitting .384 with 11 homers and a MLB-best 1.220 OPS from Aug. 9 through the end of the season.
One of Braves manager Brian Snitker’s best in-season alterations this year was to move Freeman to the two hole and place Ozuna in the third spot. Freeman hit .390 with a 1.202 OPS when batting second. His production enhanced the value of Ozuna, who hit .375 with a 1.182 OPS when batting third.
Freeman joins Jones, Terry Pendleton (1991) and Dale Murphy (1982 and ’83) as the only Braves players to win an MVP Award since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966. Hank Aaron (1957) and Bob Elliott (1947) are the franchise’s only other winners.