While Freeman enjoyed a solid rookie season overall, staying consistent proved to be an issue last year. As good as he was in July, when he batted .362 with a 1.033 OPS, he struggled just that much in April (.217, .695 OPS) and September (.226, .670 OPS). And he'll have to stay healthy, needing only to look across the clubhouse at Jason Heyward to see how an injury can lead from a breakout rookie year into a "sophomore slump."
Heyward enjoyed a better rookie year than Freeman, posting an .849 OPS in 2010 to Freeman's .795 in 2011. He was off to a strong start in April last season before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and he wasn't the same the rest of the year.
"I know what it was. I can't control what everybody else thinks," Heyward said. "That's life, that's baseball, that's the media. People can call it a sophomore slump. ... There's a lot of variables that make a year that's already supposed to be tough even tougher."
Freeman said he tried to do too much early last season, hoping to prove that he was capable of producing in the Majors at only 21 years old. At the end of the year, he admits, he just didn't hit well. In between those two periods, he focused on what he was doing right, watching as much film as possible and taking that into each game.
But perhaps most importantly, Freeman knew the Braves had confidence in him. They didn't ship him back to the Minors after a poor start and didn't keep him out of the lineup or put him in a platoon. Instead, manager Fredi Gonzalez came to him and said he'd see his name on the lineup card every day.
With that peace of mind, Freeman could breathe easy, relax and play baseball. He said Chipper Jones was in his ear the whole time, helping him out. He went on to play 157 games, post the team's highest batting average (.282) and finish third in OPS and home runs (21) while driving in 76 runs.
"It meant a lot. I was getting a little nervous," Freeman said. "You don't want to be that guy who's holding the team back. But I was really thankful. I showed them what I can do, and I think them sticking by me showed not only me, but the younger guys coming up -- like Tyler [Pastornicky], if he struggles, they're going to stick to you until they just can't anymore."
Freeman certainly has areas in which he can improve. Some might say he can't repeat his .282 batting average from last year because an unusual number of the balls he put in play went for hits, as shown by his .339 batting average on balls in play. He struck out 142 times and drew only 53 walks. And the advanced metrics suggest that Freeman was below average defensively.
He will have to get used to pitchers attacking him in different ways, although he did exactly that toward the end of last year, when he posted a .298/.355/.478 batting line over his last 112 games.
"I think his maturity level is a little bit more than your normal 22-year-old. I think his swing will hold up," Gonzalez said. "His thought process at the plate is pretty simple. He's going to have to make adjustments because the league's going to make adjustments, but he should be able to do that."
Freeman said he hasn't talked to any of his teammates about a potential dropoff in his second year. Had he gone to Heyward for advice, he would have heard the same thing he's already figured out on his own: Don't think about it.
Freeman has done just that. He stuck to his usual offseason routine this winter, although he spent more time working out with some of his teammates -- something he believes will improve their chemistry this season. And he's only set one goal, one that has nothing to do with his batting average or home run total.
"If I can stay healthy," he said, "I think everything will show for itself."
In other words, no, Freddie Freeman is not worried about a sophomore slump.
"I never feel pressure. It's baseball. It's a game," Freeman said. "I've done it my whole life. Hopefully I can keep doing it into the next year. People are going to put that emphasis on the second year, but to me, I'm just going to take that away and go play my game."