In my Braves’ bold predictions piece from before the season started, I actually pegged Freddie Freeman, not Ronald Acuña, to win the MVP award. However, while I may turn out to be right, my reasoning was not.
Over the years, Acuña has consistently been a slow starter. That was the case again this year, but Freeman has had some seasons where he began scorching hot, so I thought this was finally the year he would put it together from start to finish (given the season is only sixty games) and win the MVP award. It didn’t exactly work out just like that, but as the season winds down, there isn’t a player more deserving of the award than Freddie Freeman.
*Stats are from before Thursday’s games
Freeman actually started off extremely slow. Over his first 15 games — one-quarter of the way through the shortened season — he hit exactly .200 with just 3 home runs and 9 RBIs.
Meanwhile, Fernando Tatis was off to the hottest start in baseball, smashing seven homers in his first 15 games to go along with a .322 average and was just getting started too. By the end of August, Tatis had 13 homers in just 37 games and an OPS of 1.055 on one of baseball’s most exciting teams. He was easily the NL MVP frontrunner entering September, and really only Mookie Betts could rival him at that point.
Betts has kind of been the steady hand in this race. Throughout the year, he’s managed to hit around .300 with a 1.000 OPS all while playing fantastic defense in the outfield, and at the end of August, that was the case. Betts was hitting .298 with 11 homers and a .991 OPS, plenty close enough to win the award if Tatis were to slip up in the final month. However, a new candidate for the award, and frankly, the best candidate emerged in September.
Freeman’s hot streak actually began in the second half of August. From August 8th to August 31st, he managed to raise his batting average by over .100 points, thanks to a stretch where he hit .397 with a ridiculous on-base percentage of .506, and that’s only continued in September.
Freeman has raised his batting average down the home stretch to .343 — good for the second-best mark in the National League — thanks to a .384 average this month. His OPS also saw a monumental spike of over 100 points from .985 to 1.095 — the second-best mark in the MLB — thanks to an eye-popping OPS of 1.246 in September.
Altogether, Freeman’s on an unbelievable 41-game tear in which he’s hit .390 with 19 doubles and 10 homers — good for a 1.218 OPS. When it comes to the MVP, it’s important to look at the whole body of work. Still, for over two-thirds of this shortened season, Freeman’s been far and away the best player in baseball, and it shouldn’t be overlooked that he entered this season coming off an intense battle with COVID-19, which was so bad at one point, he thought he was going to die.
I have to give an honorable mention to Juan Soto. He actually leads the majors in batting average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. However, he missed a large chunk of the season because of positive COVID-19 tests, limiting him to just 44 games thus far. Plus, his team is already eliminated from playoff contention.
So when looking at the top three candidates — Tatis, Betts, and Freeman — the answer is clear.
*Updated stats from after Thursday’s games
Freeman: .338/.456/.628, 183 WRC+, 12 HRs, 51 RBIs, 3.1 fWAR
Betts: .293/.363/.567, 149 WRC+, 16 HRs, 45 RBIs, 2.8 fWAR
Tatis: .278/.369/.561, 148 WRC+, 15 HRs, 41 RBIs, 2.8 fWAR
Freeman leads in every offensive statistical category except for home runs, and it isn’t particularly close. And I get it: chicks dig the long ball, but a few more home runs shouldn’t make up for 50 points in batting average and nearly 100 points in on-base percentage. Offensively, this isn’t even close; Tatis and Betts benefit in the WAR category because of their defense. However, Freeman is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game; it’s just not as valuable of a position. If this race was closer, that might matter, but it is not, and if Freeman doesn’t take home the 2020 NL MVP award, it will be nothing short of a robbery.