It’s an exciting time for the Atlanta Braves and their fans.
After four miserable years in which the team failed to make the postseason from 2014-2017, the Braves have now made the playoffs three straight years and are looking to make it four straight this season.
Despite a slow start in 2021, the future is exceptionally bright for this franchise.
Today, we’re looking to figure out who the most important hitter is to the Braves’ offense.
There is really no question that Ronald Acuna Jr. is the best hitter in this Atlanta lineup, but that doesn’t mean he’s the most important.
Which batter is the straw that stirs the drink?
Who is the X-factor for this team offensively?
By his standards, Freddie Freeman has had a slow start to the 2021 season.
The slugger has grown accustomed to putting up some remarkable numbers in recent years.
In fact, it seems like very few people took notice of this, but Freeman is the reigning National League MVP.
The lifelong Brave batted .341 with a 1.102 OPS last season while leading the league in doubles, en route to his first career MVP award.
Freeman has finished in the top-eight of the MVP race five times and is a four-time All-Star.
Since 2013, the veteran has a .299 batting average, a .919 OPS and a 144 OPS+.
That’s no small sample size, and those are some phenomenal numbers.
So, with all of that established, it’s fair to say that Freeman’s first couple of months this season have been underwhelming, as he’s hitting just .230 with an OPS of .815 and an OPS+ of 116.
Besides the average, the OPS numbers are pretty solid, but again, not by his standards.
The Braves have managed to average 4.88 runs per game (which ranks eighth in the Majors) even without Freeman at his best, so it’s exciting to imagine what this offense could do if and when their star returns to form.
Freddie Freeman doing Freddie Freeman things 🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/XtkiHXM1WI
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) May 29, 2021
The production of Guillermo Heredia has been so surprising thus far that fans can only hope that the Braves are able to sustain their offensive success if he cools off.
You never really know how important a player is to a lineup until his production goes away.
But that’s not on Heredia’s mind right now.
He has appeared in 25 games this season and is slashing .277/.362/.484.
That totals to an OPS of .844, a number that Heredia has never come close to at any point in his six-year career.
The 30-year-old has always been able to get on base at a respectable clip, but his low slugging numbers have prevented him from ever posting an OPS higher than .672 in a season.
This year, he has two home runs and 11 doubles in 83 at-bats, a pace that has surprised almost everyone in the organization.
Fans certainly hope Heredia can keep it up, but there are no guarantees given his track record as a hitter.
Guillermo Heredia's singular chop is getting more animated. pic.twitter.com/4JJaIZIqVq
— Baseball GIFs (@gifs_baseball) May 31, 2021
While the Heredia argument is an interesting one, the 2021 roster was assembled with the assumption that Heredia would have a similar season to the other years of his career.
Therefore, the team should have enough talent offensively to overcome a potential Heredia slump.
Freeman, on the other hand, needs to carry his weight, because this team won’t go very far without him.
So there you have it, folks: Freddie Freeman is the most important batter for the Braves in 2021.