Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Kyle Freeland has played three full Major League seasons. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting in his second year, but was demoted to the minor leagues the following campaign.
Freeland was part of an exciting, youthful starting staff in Denver 12 months ago. A woeful 2019 season has changed the perception of Freeland – he’s become a question mark.
A FIP of 4.57 in his rookie year was unspectacular. In 2018 it was 3.67, and leapt to 5.99 in 2019. Perhaps the last two years are the outliers and Freeland will settle around his 2017 performance, an above-average starter given the Coors Field factors, but not an All-Star.
Recency is important in sport, and particularly so in baseball. Reputations can crumble quickly, and Freeland’s Cy Young contender 2018 is only a few bad starts from being forgotten. A high-ish FIP and low strikeout numbers always suggested he rode his luck that season, but few, if any, expected the sort of collapse we saw last season.
The sinker dropped out of Freeland’s arsenal in 2018 and remained so in 2019. It was the fastball that got crushed in 2019, however, with its expected batting average leaping from .242 to .326. The slider still got whiffs (31.5%), and there’s a case Freeland was a bit unfortunate in general considering his WOBA was 11 points higher than its expected number.
In the same light, those numbers were separated by eight points the other way round in 2018.
His pitches weren’t dropping as significantly in 2019, and his barrel percentage soared from 5% to 8.8%.
The numbers aren’t pretty for Freeland throughout. By skill level, he’s a better pitcher than he showed last season, but this is an unforgiving game, and Coors Field only exaggerates that. After pitching as well as anyone ever has at Coors in 2018 (a mid-two ERA to show for it), Freeland had a nightmare in 2019. Home games were the majority of his problem, giving up an ERA above nine compared to sub-five on the road.
The Coors factor isn’t going to wane when baseball returns. ZiPs projects Freeland to hover around an ERA of five in 2020, but with hitters having seen another year of him on the mound, it will be interesting to see what tweaks the Rockies’ lefty makes. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more sliders thrown to keep hitters off the fastball, for instance.
Another year like the last and Freeland could be out of the organisation. A poor start to the campaign could see a return to the minors. Bouncing back is a necessity for Freeland’s Major League career, and following a tumultuous offseason, Colorado need him at his best if they are to contend for a National League Wildcard spot.