Freddie Freeman is only two seasons into his six-year contract with the Dodgers, but I think it’s already safe to say that the first baseman is the greatest free agent position player the team has ever signed. The 2023 campaign was Freeman’s finest to date.
Fifty-nine doubles are what stand out, and for good reason, as Freeman surpassed the franchise record by 13 percent. His 59 doubles matched the highest total in a season during the last 87 years. Freeman this season had 17 more doubles than any other player in the majors, with the No. 2 doubles hitter in the majors the last Dodger to wear number 5 before Freeman.
Freeman also hit 29 home runs, eight more than in his debut season with the Dodgers, and led the majors with 90 extra-base hits, second-most in franchise history and the most since the club moved west to Los Angeles. All those extra-base hits boosted Freeman’s isolated power — which is slugging percentage minus batting average — to .235, his highest in a full season since 2019.
Among those extra-base hits was a grand slam in St. Louis on May 18, the 300th home run of Freeman’s career. He was just the fifth player ever to hit his 300th career homer while with the Dodgers. Teammate J.D. Martinez would later join the club on June 27.
Freeman for his efforts in May was named National League player of the month, the third such award of his career. During May, Freeman set Dodgers records for extra-base hits (24) and doubles (17).
It was another extra-base hit on June 25 at home against the Astros — a double, his second of the night — that earned Freeman another milestone. He was the 295th player in MLB history to reach 2,000 hits.
It wasn’t just with his bat that allowed Freeman to run around the bases. He was also an opportunistic baserunner. He stole 23 bases, 10 more than his previous career high set in 2022, and was only caught once. Those 23 steals led the Dodgers — seven more than both James Outman and Chris Taylor — making Freeman the first first baseman to lead the team in stolen bases since Jackie Robinson in 1947. By Baserunning Runs at FanGraphs, an all-encompassing stat that factors in more than just steals, Freeman had the second-best total on the team (5.1), behind only Outman (5.7).
After falling one shy in 2022, Freeman reached the 200-hit milestone in 2023 for the first time in his career. His 211 hits were the most by a Dodger since Tommy Davis in 1962. Freeman’s 131 runs scored broke Maury Wills’ Los Angeles Dodgers record.
In addition to leading the majors in doubles and extra-base hits, Freeman was among the top four in the National League in batting average (.331), on-base percentage (.410), slugging percentage (.567), OPS (.976), hits, runs, total bases (361), wRC+ (163), and OPS+ (161).
Freeman was also among the top three finishers for a Gold Glove Award at first base in the National League, with results coming on November 5.
By FanGraphs WAR, Freeman has the second-best (7.9 fWAR, 2023) and third-best (7.1, 2022) seasons ever by a Dodgers first baseman, trailing only Dan Brouthers (9.2 fWAR) in 1892 for Brooklyn.
In the 140-year history of the franchise, the Dodgers only have 24 individual seasons of 7 fWAR or higher, from any position, and Freeman has two of them. None of the other seasons were by players who signed with the Dodgers as a free agent.
After Freeman, the best season by Dodgers free agent signee — at any point in the contract — was Kirk Gibson (6.2 fWAR) in his magical MVP season of 1988. Justin Turner (5.9, 2017) was the next-best season by fWAR for a Dodgers free agent signee. Turner originally signed a minor league deal with Los Angeles and achieved icon status with his nine great years, but Freeman the last two years is playing on a higher level.
Turner of course had a long history of postseason success, hitting .270/.370/.460 in 86 games with the Dodgers, leading the franchise in several categories. Freeman had one infield single in 10 at-bats in this year’s NLDS, among the many reasons why LA was swept. But three bad games is no way to measure a player, especially after Freeman was one of the few Dodgers who hit in their 2022 NLDS loss. Freeman is a career .285/.394/.520 hitter in the postseason, including .250/.400/.500 with the Dodgers.
Eddie Murray (5.9 fWAR, 1990) was a trade acquisition, and is the player most comparable to Freeman for each of the first twelve seasons of Freeman’s career using the Bill James concept of Similarity Scores at Baseball Reference. Their likeness has extra layers by being beloved for over a decade in another city before playing first base for the Dodgers in their early 30s. Plus, Freeman even has “eddie” within his first name.
Steadiness and punctuality are hallmarks of both Murray and Freeman. In his two seasons with the Dodgers, Freeman started every game, waiting for his first off day until the first game after the team clinched the division. Since the start of 2018, Freeman has played in 99 percent of his teams’ games, his 859 games with Marcus Semien for most in the majors.
But I regret to inform you that the similarity streak is over. Through Freeman’s age-33 season in 2023, his most comparable player to this point is now Rafael Palmeiro, with a similarity score to Freeman through age 33 of 908.2 (a score of 1,000 would mean the players are an exact match), narrowly edging Murray at No. 2 (899.6).
Murray in his age-34 season, in 1990, famously led the majors in batting average but did not win a batting title. Perhaps Freeman can capture a batting title in 2024 to keep the similarities going.
Stats: .337/.410/.567, 59 2B, 29 HR, 131 R, 102 RBI, 23 SB, 163 wRC+, 7.9 fWAR, 6.6 bWAR
Salary: $27 million, of which $7 million was deferred
Game of the year
Amazingly, I did not pick a game in which Freeman doubled. But on July 22 in Arlington, Freeman did hit two home runs in a rout of the Rangers.
Freeman drove in three runs, scored three times, and also singled twice, giving him one of his six four-hit games of the season. It was part of a ridiculous weekend series in which Freeman had eight hits in three games, scored seven times, drove in six, homered three times, doubled once, and had three walks.
During this road trip was also the birth of the celebration named for Freeman, with the team playfully mocking his dance skills during a gala at Dodger Stadium during an off day a month earlier. After an extra-base hit, players waved their hands in the air like one of those inflatables at a car dealership, even wearing shirts to commemorate said dance celebration.
July 22 was one of 24 games by Freeman in 2023 with multiple extra-base hits. That was eight more than the next-most in the majors, by old friend Corey Seager. Before Freeman, the last player with that many games with multiple extra-base hits in a season was Barry Bonds in 2001.
Freeman is under contract for four more seasons. He’ll make $27 million in 2024, of which $7 million is deferred.