Earlier tonight, the Braves and left-handed reliever Sam Freeman agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.075 million contract, avoiding arbitration.
The #Braves have agreed to terms with LHP Sam Freeman on a contract for 2018, thus avoiding salary arbitration.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) January 12, 2018
Tommy Kahnle, $1.312,500 million and Sam Freeman , $1.075 million also avoid arbitration— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 11, 2018
Freeman put up an unexpectedly strong year after signing a minor league deal with the Braves in October 2016. While he didn’t make the Opening Day roster and spent April of last season pitching at Gwinnett, he was called up in May and made a strong impression, throwing 58 appearances (60 innings) of 2.55 / 3.34 / 3.97 ball (ERA / FIP / xFIP). That gave him 0.7 fWAR on the year, tied for the most among the Braves’ 2017 relief corps with closer Arodys Vizcaino.
Freeman succeeded by neutralizing lefties (2.24 FIP, 3.34 FIP) while not being torched by righties (3.92 FIP, 4.47 xFIP), though his walk rate when he surrendered the platoon advantage was a garish 14 percent. While Freeman appeared to get somewhat lucky by allowing a very low home run rate, he actually had the lowest rate of hard contact against among any reliever with 60 or more innings last year. Among all pitchers that allowed at least 160 balls in play, he was elite at limiting quality of contact against him, with an average exit velocity allowed of just 84.5 miles per hour (90th percentile among said group of pitchers). Only three pitchers allowed weaker contact in the air than Freeman, suggesting that when he wasn’t making use of his very high grounder rate (eighth among relievers last year), he was stifling contact in the air. You probably could have figured this from the other stats, but he was also among the best in baseball at:
- Limiting batted ball distance traveled;
- Limiting balls struck at an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or more;
- Limiting barrels per batted ball (only three pitchers were better); and
- Limiting barreled balls per batter faced (again, only three pitchers were better).
For all those efforts, Freeman will make $1,075,000 in 2018. This figure is pretty close to the salary projected for him by MLB Trade Rumors of $1.2 million. Unless he is traded if the Braves hope to capitalize on his very good 2017 campaign, he figures to slide right into the bullpen for the 2018 season, giving manager Brian Snitker another lefty option for the bullpen to go with video game numbers-poster A.J. Minter.
The Braves have yet to agree to terms with Freeman’s bullpen-mates Vizcaino and Dan Winkler, who are also arbitration-eligible for the 2018 season. Mike Foltynewicz rounds out the set of players with whom the Braves may be looking to settle ahead of Friday’s deadline to exchange salary figures. (The Braves agreed to terms with Chase Whitley on an $800,000 deal at the time he was acquired.) Like Freeman, both Foltynewicz and Winkler are arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason; meanwhile, this will be Vizcaino’s third trip through the process, with one more year of team control remaining in 2019.