By all accounts, Freddie Freeman is having a fantastic season. He’s a maestro with a bat in his hand, having already surpassed 200 hits for the first time and set a Dodgers record for doubles while closing in on potentially the first 60-double season in 87 years.
But he’s also made literal great strides on the bases as well, taking advantage of nearly every possible edge whenever he can.
Freeman, the Dodgers first baseman, leads the team in stolen bases. Read that again.
He stole his 20th base of the season on September 18 against the Tigers, then tacked on two more steals last week.
A Dodgers first baseman has stolen 20 bases in a season 19 times, but 17 of those came in the Dead Ball Era, before 1920. If we lower the threshold to 15 steals, we’re up to 28 first basemen in team history, but only four of them in the Live Ball Era.
It was a different game over a century ago, and the leading stealing Dodgers first baseman back then was Dave Foutz, who stole 43 bases for Brooklyn in 1889, swiped 42 in 1890, and stole 48 bases in 1891. Those are the top three stealing seasons ever by a Dodgers first baseman. To give an idea of the environment Foutz played in, he ranked in the top ten in the league in steals only once, when his 48 steals ranked 10th in 1891.
Freeman this year is tied for 18th in the National League with his 22 steals.
Running Dodgers first basemen
Jackie Robinson led the National League with his 29 stolen bases in his historic rookie season of 1947. He also led the NL with 37 steals in his 1949 MVP season, though he was playing second base then. In 1947, Robinson was a first baseman, the only one in Dodgers history with more steals than Freeman has this year.
Robinson is the only Dodgers first baseman to lead the league in steals, but he’s also the last Dodgers first baseman to lead the team in steals.
I told Freeman the latter earlier in the season and he replied, “I think James is gonna get it.”
James Outman has been nipping at Freeman’s heels all season, and currently has 15 steals. Chris Taylor, who stole seven bases in August alone, joined the fray and currently has 16 stolen bases as well. Mookie Betts (13 steals) is the only other Dodger with double-digit steals this season.
But a six-steal advantage for Freeman with only seven games to go seems pretty steep hill to climb for his teammate competitors, so it looks like he’ll join a very select group soon.
He’s already the first Dodgers first baseman with 20 home runs and 20 steals in a season, and he’s just the third player in major league history with 20 steals, 25 home runs, 200 hits, and 50 doubles.
Freeman last week thanked Dodgers first base coach Clayton McCullough for helping his preparation. From Juan Toribio at MLB.com:
“This is one thing I never thought I’d do in my career,” Freeman said with a smile. “But a lot of credit has to go to Clayton McCullough. So much work goes into before games, picking up patterns on pitchers. Just situations of when to go and not to go. I needed a little help from the replay review, but I didn’t think that would ever happen in my career, so it was pretty cool.”
By FanGraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning runs above average, Freeman’s 4.9 ranks 16th in the NL. He’s not too far behind his former Atlanta teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. (5.2 BsR), whose 68 stolen bases are 17 more than anyone else in the league this year.
Freeman is rated as plus-2 in baserunning runs at Statcast, with the National League leaders at plus-5, despite Freeman’s 26.7 feet-per-second sprint speed ranking in the 34th percentile in MLB.
Back in August, Esteban Rivera at FanGraphs extolled the virtues of Freeman’s baserunning, capturing all the things the Dodgers first baseman does well to maximize his relative lack of speed.
“These results come about because of other aspects of the game that you don’t need speed for: instincts, reads, and preparation,” Rivera wrote.
Freeman still has one week remaining to add to his totals this season. With four more home runs, he could have the 11th 30-20 season by a first baseman in MLB history.
But whatever happens, Freeman already has a wonderful season. As is, he has the 15th MLB 25-20 season by a first baseman, and he’ll be the first Dodgers first baseman to lead the team in steals since Jackie Robinson. That’s incredible company to keep.