Despite the Drama, Freeman Has Been the Dodgers’ Steady Freddie by Jay Jaffe June 29, 2022 Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports In the wake of Freddie Freeman’s starring role in the Braves’ championship run, the sequence of events that landed him in a Dodgers uniform was swift and shocking. Three months later, the 32-year-old first baseman still appears to be searching for closure, but for all the drama and the concerns about where his loyalties lie, he’s remained exceptionally productive even while the Dodgers’ offense has cooled off. Freeman spent 15 seasons in the Braves’ organization, 11 as their regular first baseman (five times an All-Star, once an MVP), and last fall helped them win their first World Series since 1995. While most of the industry assumed he and the Braves would find a way to remain together once he reached free agency, on March 14 the team pulled off a blockbuster to acquire Oakland’s Matt Olson, abruptly closing the door on the Freeman era and underscoring that by quickly agreeing to an an eight-year, $168 million extension with the ex-Athletic. The suddenly jilted Freeman agreed to a six-year, $162 million deal with the Dodgers on March 16, returning him to his native California via the team that faced his Braves in the NLCS in each of the past two seasons. For as celebratory as the occasion should have been, in his introductory press conference Freeman described himself as “blindsided” by the Olson trade, adding, “I think every emotion came across. I was hurt. It’s really hard to put into words still.” “I thought I was going to spend my whole career there, but ultimately sometimes plans change,” he said. It didn’t take long for Freeman and the Braves to cross paths again. The two teams squared off for a three-game series in Los Angeles starting on April 18, with the first baseman punctuating the reunion by homering in the first and third games of the series and going 4-for-11 as the Dodgers took two of three. Not until last weekend did the two teams meet in Atlanta, providing the Braves with the opportunity to present the former face of the franchise with his World Series ring. Ahead of the ceremony on Friday, a teary-eyed Freeman said in his press conference, “I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this weekend,” and had to pause several times to collect himself when discussing his time with the Braves. After the team paid tribute to him, and manager Brian Snitker presented him with his ring, Freeman teared up again while addressing the Atlanta crowd: Freddie's message to @Braves fans had us all crying. ?? pic.twitter.com/2a9GijKOni — MLB (@MLB) June 25, 2022 It was, perhaps, a bit much for the Dodgers to stomach. In discussing the Freeman tribute with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clayton Kershaw hinted at his teammates’ impatience when he said, “It was very cool (to see Freeman’s reception Friday night)… He’s obviously been a big contributor for our team. And I hope we’re not second fiddle. It’s a pretty special team over here, too. I think whenever he gets comfortable over here, he’ll really enjoy it.” Freeman didn’t homer during the series but he he did survive the weekend, going 4-for-12 with three walks and an extra-innings RBI double in Sunday’s rubber match as the Dodgers again took two out of three. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that Freeman’s lingering anger over the negotiations with the Braves led to him fire Excel Sports Management, the agency that represented him. Normally, agency moves are inside-baseball stuff, of scant interest to the general public except when a pending free agent signals his intention to play hardball by joining up with Scott Boras. But Freeman apparently has unfinished business. In a statement to MLB.com, he said, “Last weekend in Atlanta was a very emotional time for me and my family. I am working through some issues with my longtime agents at Excel. My representation remains a fluid situation and I will update if needed.” Central to the drama is the blow-by-blow of the negotiations with the Braves. In ESPN’s telling, where Freeman’s ire was previously directed at general manager Alex Anthopoulous, after speaking with him he now feels that it was Excel and lead negotiator Casey Close who wronged him: The Braves made a $135 million, five-year offer that was still on the table in the first days after the owners’ lockout ended. As reported in March, Close — the lead negotiator for Excel — contacted Alex Anthopoulos, the head of baseball operations for the Braves, and presented two proposals on behalf of Freeman significantly higher than that $135 million offer, giving the team an hour to respond. The Braves bumped their offer to $140 million, not close to Close’s proposals. When that deadline passed, sources say, Close and Anthopoulos agreed that there were no offers on the table. The Braves — believing that Close’s deadline meant that Freeman was about to conclude a deal with another team, likely the Dodgers, quickly pivoted. From the outside, Freeman’s relitigation of his final days as a Brave all seems a bit ridiculous. While there was possibly some miscommunication or misunderstanding before the Braves turned the page, that doesn’t mean that clear communication would have resulted in a deal given the monetary gap between Close’s proposals (reportedly one for five years and the other for six), Atlanta’s final offer, and the contract he received from the Dodgers, which with deferrals has a present-day value of “only” $148.2 million. While you or I can say we’d be perfectly willing to work for our second-choice employer for that kind of money or take perhaps tens of millions less not to do so, the decision isn’t ours to make. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Freeman told reporters that he and Kershaw discussed the “second fiddle” comment and that “things are all good between the two.” Furthermore, Freeman said, “There needs to be closure. It’s time. I’m a Dodger for the next six years and that’s where my focus lies… I’m happy to be a Dodger.” All of this is yet another reminder that players are human beings with real emotions rather than stat-generating robots. Yet when you look at Freeman’s slash stats and monthly splits, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that this turmoil has affected him — and that’s with Freeman recently lamenting, “I haven’t gotten hot at all this year.” Steady Freddie Freeman Period AVG OBP SLG wRC+ 2019 .295 .389 .549 137 2020 .341 .462 .640 186 2021 .300 .393 .503 135 2022 .306 .388 .486 146 April ’22 .299 .382 .468 142 May ’22 .306 .405 .486 149 June ’22 .310 .373 .500 146 His MVP-winning 2020 campaign aside (and remember, that was just 60 games, 13 fewer than he had played this season), Freeman’s performance has barely wavered in recent years, and he’s been extremely consistent from month to month this year. A closer look will show that his June walk and strikeout rates (8.2% and 27.3%) are out of line relative to his April and May ones, and that his monthly groundball-to-fly ball ratios have fluctuated, but still, that’s some impressive consistency. Even his Statcast data is clustered within a narrow range, 2020 excepted: Steady Freddie Freeman, Statcast Version Season EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA 2019 89.7 11.7% 42.4% .295 .294 .549 .569 .387 .397 2020 92.4 14.7% 54.2% .341 .343 .640 .663 .456 .466 2021 91.4 11.5% 45.7% .300 .320 .503 .583 .379 .416 2022 91.5 10.8% 47.4% .310 .316 .486 .596 .377 .413 April ’22 89.6 13.8% 38.5% .299 .303 .468 .598 .372 .416 May ’22 92.7 9.3% 47.4% .306 .328 .486 .625 .381 .431 June ’22 91.6 10.0% 55.7% .310 .312 .500 .551 .377 .389 SOURCE: Baseball Savant Freeman’s 2022 numbers are a ringer for his ’21 ones, and both are very consistent with his ’19 numbers. And that’s even while he’s among the many sluggers getting hosed by this year’s deadened ball; his 106-point shortfall in wOBA puts him in the 84th percentile among qualifiers. On a monthly basis this year, there’s some variation in his barrel and hard-hit rates, but all of his expected stats are still within a reasonably narrow range. For all of his consistency, it’s not unreasonable to suggest Freeman has gotten hot lately. In his past 12 games dating back to June 15, he’s hit .400/.474/.680 (220 wRC+) in 57 plate appearances. Via Baseball Reference’s Stathead tool, his eight highest OPSes over any 10-game span intersect with that stretch, with marks ranging from 1.133 (.385/.467/.667 from June 9–21) to 1.273 (.385/478/.795 from June 11–23). Meanwhile his coldest stretches more or less abut his hottest ones; he had a .455 OPS (186/.222/.233) from May 29 to June 8, and six other stretches with an OPS of .645 or lower with end dates stretching as far as June 12, which is why his monthly numbers are still on par with April and May. But even his hottest streak of this year can’t hold a candle to those from 2020 (when his 10-game peak OPS was 1.563 in September) or ’21 (when he peaked at 1.498 in July), and the same is true if you expand the search to 20- or 30-game spans. He’s set a high standard for himself. If you’re looking for an area where there’s contrast between Freeman’s 2021 and ’22 performances, it’s in his results by different pitch types. On four-seam fastballs, for example, last year, he hit .336 and slugged .594, whereas this year he’s down to .296 and .418. His xSLG on four-seamers has dropped from .723 (his third straight season at .700 or better, including a .947 mark in 2020) to .543. On sliders, he’s dropped from a .322 average and .511 slugging percentage to .211 and .368, but in this case his xSLGs haven’t varied by as much (.505 and .449). On curveballs, he’s dropped from .273 AVG/.614 SLG to .231/.423, but there, his xSLG has actually increased from .593 to .633. Over the course of his career, there’s been a lot of variance in his annual pitch splits, which aside from four-seamers and sinkers haven’t exceeded 110 plate appearance-ending pitches in any season. In general, I don’t think we can read much into them, though over a larger sample, his results against four-seamers might hint at waning bat speed. While Freeman has performed well in June, the Dodgers have not, splitting their 24 games to date as their lead over the Padres has been cut in half, from three games to 1.5. The team has scored just 4.08 runs per game this month, down from 5.51 in April and May. The loss of Mookie Betts to a cracked rib hasn’t helped, but he had struggled at the plate in the games leading up to his June 15 collision with Cody Bellinger, going just 3-for-39 with one walk and eight strikeouts. He’s hardly been alone, as Bellinger (64 wRC+) has slumped, and the season-long woes of Justin Turner (65 wRC+ in June, 80 overall) have continued. Neither Max Muncy nor Chris Taylor have been as productive as usual, though both have still been in the vicinity of league average, and the former is slowly trending upwards after dealing with ongoing elbow woes dating back to his season-ending UCL tear. Long story short, for whatever distractions that Freeman’s saga may have brought to the Dodgers, they don’t appear to have carried over into his play. The NL West leaders have their problems, including the injuries to Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen, and Daniel Hudson as well as the erratic performance of Craig Kimbrel, but their big free-agent trophy from this past offseason isn’t one of them.