Update: Freddie Freeman’s splendid season is suddenly in doubt

Freddie Freeman was hit on the left wrist by a fastball from Toronto pitcher Aaron Loup in the fifth inning Wednesday night. He was removed from the game. “He couldn’t swing the bat,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said afterward.

That was essentially all the hard news Snitker had. “Inconclusive,” he said of the X-rays that were taken of Freeman at SunTrust Park. He’ll have further tests — Snitker mentioned both a CT scan and and an MRI — Thursday. Then he offered this: “There’s a chance he’ll be OK. Well, not OK — he’ll be sore.”

What follows is, depending on your slant, either a case of terrible timing or the Bradley Jinx at work yet again. For Thursday’s AJC, this correspondent offered 800 words on the splendid season Freeman is having and how he has risen from being a very good hitter to one of baseball’s best. Those 800 words are included below, but they might, depending on Thursday’s news, make for painful reading.

All Freddie Freeman is trying to do is hit a ground ball to shortstop. That’s with every swing of every plate appearance, batting practice included. Not a line drive, mind you. A ground ball. To shortstop. Every time.

“It’s weird,” Freeman said Wednesday. But he can point to the moment where he started doing this grounder-to-short thing — during BP in Milwaukee last summer — and the numbers suggest he shouldn’t consider stopping. After going 0-for-3 against the Brewers on Aug. 9, he was hitting .275 with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of .864. On Aug. 10, he went 3-for-3 with two homers. He hasn’t been the same since.

Freeman finished the 2016 season hitting .302 with an OPS of .968. Over the final seven weeks, he turned a pretty fair season into a breakthrough. He had nearly as many RBIs (45) over the final 48 games as in the first 113 (46). Always a good hitter, he became an excellent one. Now he’s approaching greatness, and be advised we don’t offer that loaded word lightly.

As of Wednesday morning, here's where Freeman ranked among big-league hitters: Eighth in batting average (.343); second in OBP (.457); third in slugging (.754); third in OPS (1.211); third in runs (34); second in total bases (96), and tied for first (14) in home runs. Per FanGraphs, he ranked fifth in wRC+ (weighted runs created, adjusted for ballpark) at 204, with 100 being league-average; third in wOBA (weighted on-base average) and first in ISO (isolated power).

According to FanGraphs, he ranked third in WAR (wins above replacement) at 2.6. According to Baseball-Reference — yes, there are different WAR calculations; it's one of the joys of sabermetrics — he ranked fourth at 2.4. Those above him: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Yankees rookie Aaron Judge. And before your eyes glaze over, let's cut through the decimal points and offer this:

Freeman is on pace to finish with a bRef WAR of 10.8. There have been 23 such seasons by non-pitchers in baseball history. Hank Aaron never had one. Chipper Jones didn't. Albert Pujols hasn't. Miguel Cabrera hasn't. Those who've posted a 10.8 WAR: Babe Ruth (six times); Barry Bonds (twice); Rogers Hornsby (twice) Mickey Mantle (twice), Willie Mays (twice) and — once each — Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Joe Morgan, Ted Williams and Trout.

Maybe you consider WAR a junk stat. (Some do.) But when only 14 men in history have posted a number and every one of those is an immortal — yes, Trout already fits that description — it signifies a little something, does it not?

Let's pick another index, a slightly more understandable one. Let's do OPS. If Freeman finishes the season — he probably won't, but let's pretend — at 1.211, that would be the 19th-best ever. The men who've bettered that: Bonds, Ruth, Williams, Hornsby, Gehrig, Mark McGwire, Jimmie Foxx and Frank Thomas. (Nope, no Trout on this list.)

Granted, 36 games don't a season — or even a quarter of a season — make. But this is more than a hot start. David Schoenfield of ESPN notes that, over the past calendar year, Freeman ranks third among MLB hitters in wOBA (trailing Trout and Joey Votto) and first in extra-base hits. We say again: He has been a presence since he announced himself on Sept. 21, 2010, with a pinch-hit homer off Roy Halladay, whom almost nobody hit back then. He has been an All-Star twice. He has finished fifth and sixth in the MVP voting. He has never, however, hit like he's hitting.

“A little adjustment,” Freeman calls his grounder-to-short approach. He and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer had batted the idea around, as it were, Seitzer believing that the natural topspin of a Freeman batted ball would result in more than just grounders to short. By trying to hit a grounder, Freeman keeps his head down. That’s a big deal.

“Some guys are worried about launch angle or hitting the ball on a line,” Freeman said. “But if you watched David Ortiz take batting practice, that’s all he was trying to do (hit a grounder to short). It was boring. Same with Ryan Howard. Boring. If you watch me, it’s the most boring batting practice ever.”

Then: “Some guys use their first two (BP) reps to hit the ball up the middle, and the last three they try to launch a little bit. I just try to hit a ground ball to shortstop.”

Once upon a time, a Braves pitcher was playing catch in the outfield when he noticed the ball he’d thrown did something odd, and not in an unpleasant way. That was the genesis of Tom Glavine’s grip on his change-up, the pitch that would take him to Cooperstown. It’s too early to speak of Freeman in Hall of Fame terms. It is not too early to suggest that he could be headed for a season that no Braves hitter — not Aaron, not Chipper — has ever had.