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Sam Freeman a bright spot in what was otherwise an awful year for Braves relievers

Sam Freeman emerged as a quality option out of the Braves bullpen.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There was a fairly common belief during the spring that the Braves’ bullpen would be a real strength in 2017. That has (obviously) not been the case as we enter the final month of the season.

Coming into this week, here’s how the bullpen stacks up:

ERA: 4.69, 28th in MLB

FIP: 4.51, 26th in MLB

WAR: 0.2, 29th in MLB

The bullpen’s walk and strikeout rates rank poorly, too. You guys know this from watching the games, but it’s pretty alarming to see just how bad the unit has been when some thought it would be a strength just six months ago.

For as bad as Jim Johnson, Ian Krol, Jason Motte, Eric O’Flaherty (and others) have been recently, Sam Freeman has come out of nowhere to be a real asset in the late innings.

Freeman, 30, was signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He spent the last few years bouncing between the Brewers and Rangers after coming up with the Cardinals. He was more of a depth signing— I sure didn’t have him pencilled in for a big role — and didn’t project to have a spot in the bullpen until the final weeks of camp.

Forty-eight appearances and 50 innings later, I’d argue Freeman has been Atlanta’s most consistent reliever.

The biggest change this year? His slider. He threw it roughly 10 percent of the time with the Cardinals, Rangers and Brewers, but he’s featured the pitch much more in 2017, throwing it 23 percent of the time. He’s thrown significantly fewer fastballs and changeups and it’s paid off.

It will be interesting to see if Freeman can continue his strong work into 2018 after essentially being a Four-A reliever for the first couple seasons of his career. As we all saw this year with Ian Krol, it’s far from a guarantee that relievers can repeat their performances on a year-to-year basis after suddenly becoming good.

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