ATLANTA — Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez acknowledges his offense has experienced extreme highs and lows this season.
“We’ve gone through some valleys offensively at times, and out of nowhere we go on a streak swinging the bats really well,” he said. “That’s what we’re always looking for.”
When the Braves are on a streak of scoring runs at a high rate, there’s a good chance Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson are involved.
Atlanta’s corner infielders have been two of the more consistent bats in a Braves lineup that ranks sixth in the National League in on-base percentage but is top five in most power metrics.
Johnson was in the race for a batting title for most of the season before bowing out late, recording a .321 batting average to finish second to Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer. Freeman ended up at .319 to finish third.
For a lineup that depends heavily on extra-base hits, the steady bats of Freeman and Johnson are a change of pace.
Freeman tied his home run total from last season with 23 while walking at a similar rate of 10 percent. The difference for the 24-year-old this season was a more aggressive approach and more hits finding holes.
Freeman swung at 3 percent more pitches this season compared to last year. That increase in balls in play was coupled by a huge increase in those balls finding holes for hits. As a result, his batting average increased 60 points.
“I’ve been sticking with the routine this year, and I’ve been able to go out there and stay consistent,” said Freeman, noting his confidence has remained high.
Consistent is an accurate description of the left-handed hitter. Freeman’s batting average dropped below .300 once since May 27, and that lasted one day on July 29.
A short, compact swing has been a key to Freeman’s success in the major leagues. He stays upright and has minimal head movement, allowing him to maintain a consistent bat plane. He doesn’t swing for the fences and uses his short swing to make more and better contact.
Johnson’s approach at the plate has led to similar results. A steady, level swing that produces consistently hard contact has resulted in a line drive on 27 percent of Johnson’s balls in play, the highest on the team ahead of Freeman’s 26 percent.
Johnson emerged as one of the most reliable hitters in the league this season after toiling with the Houston Astros for several years. He showed glimpses of his ability while in Houston, including a .308 average in 94 games in 2010, but he took a step forward in his first year with Atlanta.
“It’s just the fact that I’ve been able to stick with my approach more this year,” he said. “I’ve been able to actually find a good approach that works for me and stick with it for a long period of time, and I think that’s what good hitters do, and I’m just trying to stick with that.”
Ask one about the other’s success this season and they respond in a manner similar to their hitting styles – consistent.
“I think it’s just a little bit easier for Freddie just because he’s so good,” Johnson said. “He’s just a great hitter, and he’s getting better and better every time he goes to the plate.”
“Chris has been doing it all year,” Freeman said. “We aren’t here without him.”