Kyle Freeland (COL – SP) – NFBC ADP 120
Kyle Freeland turned in one of the most improbable seasons in 2018 finishing with the lowest qualified ERA by a Rockies starter in team history. He pulled that off while giving up more fly balls up from 27.6% in 2017 to 34.5% 2018. For a pitcher with a below-average strikeout rate and league-average walk rate, and calls Coors Field home it sounds like a disaster. On the contrary, Freeland rolled to 17 wins with a 2.85 ERA and threw over innings. Freeland doesn’t throw hard averaging just under 92 mph on his fastball and throws three other pitches over 12% (Fourseam 40%, Slider 29%, Change up 14%, Sinker 13%) and occasionally mixes in a curve. I know what you’re thinking, Freeland is a lot like Kyle Hendricks. But, he’s not. Hendricks only throw two main pitches and mixes in a 3rd only about 10% of the time, plus Hendricks can’t even muster 90 mph.
The first thing that jumped out to me with Freeland is how successful he was with his fastball and sinker. As I mentioned, he doesn’t have elite velocity or high spin rates but take a look at the locations on the chart below to right-handed batters.
The fastball chart against right-handed hitters is a thing of beauty. A left-handed pitcher that can throw up and inside to righties is special. BaseballProspectus has Freeland ranked 19th overall in command score above pitchers like Miles Mikolas and Cole Hamels. Here’s the deal with the fastball up and in thanks to Michael Augustine of Pitcher List, it appears to be “effectively” faster to the batter. In other words, a 92 mph fastball up and it can seem like a 96 mph fastball down the pipe. Freeland has mastered this and keeping his fastballs inside to right-handed hitters and mostly up which has allowed him to utilize his secondaries much more effectively. Yes, I’ve said effectively a million times in this paragraph, but that’s exactly how Freeland pitched this year. Anyways, the fastball can set up an 85 mph changeup low and away that seems like 81 mph to the batter or vice-versa. The “effective” velocity difference seems more like 14 or 15 mph to the hitter than 7 mph.
The chart above shows the exit velocities on batted balls off of Kyle Freeland. Many of those low exit velocities are the result of well-located fastballs and sinkers up in the zone or inside to righties. Fastballs and sinkers are the two most hardest hit pitches in all of baseball averaging about 89.8 mph (in terms of average exit velocity). Freeland’s FB+SI on inside pitches averages just under 87 mph. That’s fantastic. The rest of his arsenal isn’t anything special, however. So yes, in this regard Freeland is crafty like Kyle Hendricks. What’s holding Freeland back from being a top 20 starting pitcher is the lack of a strikeout or put-away pitch. His changeup, which is only utilized 13% of the time generates the most swings outside the zone and the most swings and misses in general. The slider gets more swings and misses inside the zone, but didn’t generate many offerings outside the strike zone. Then there’s the sinker which had a positive pitch value in 2018 but it’s a pitch he threw 23% less than the previous year. It’s not a great pitch despite what the pitch value tells us, it generates ground balls but is crushed when not located correctly. The pitch does have value to keep the ball in the yard but has a thin margin for error. I hope the trend of the sinker continues for Freeland in 2019.
So what do we do with Freeland in 2019? I think he needs to develop either the slider or the changeup into a put-away pitch. We know he has incredible command of the fastball and because of that, it’s his best pitch. He just needs to generate more swings a misses. Without any changes to his pitch mix, I am going to have to project regression. Combine that with the increase in fly balls (which actually was a result of throwing fewer sinkers) in Coors Field, I believe a 3.60-3.75 ERA is in the cards with an elevated WHIP with his slightly above average walk rate. The high walk rate tells me he doesn’t give into hitters which will hurt his WHIP but help the home run rate. This is a necessity in Coors Field because sometimes giving in can lead to a three-run homer. For 2019 I’ll project Freeland to go:
12 Wins 3.72 ERA 1.29 WHIP 166 K in 190 IP
(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)
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