The Colorado Rockies are outperforming expectations to this point in the season but still sit in last place in the NL West. Despite having a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs as of May 14, per Baseball Reference, several potential positive developments have occurred. One of the biggest has been the seeming resurgence of Kyle Freeland.
The former top-5 Cy Young Award finisher is having what seems to be turning into his second-best career season. Through his first eight starts in 2023, he is 3-4 with a 3.57 ERA over 45.1 innings. He has racked up 30 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a WHIP of 1.147.
The Positive of Kyle Freeland
Kyle Freeland, Dirty 82mph Knuckle Curve. 😨
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 14, 2023
Given that five of his starts have been at Coors, and having a blow-up start of giving up seven runs against the Pirates on April 17, his season has been even better than the raw stats say. The key to his success has been his ability to limit his walks better than he has in the years since 2018. His walk rate is in the 72nd percentile, and he has given up just 11 walks in his first eight starts of the season, tied for the least in that span to start a season in his career.
The 3.57 ERA in 2023 is also the third-lowest to start a season in that same span, behind his rookie 2017 campaign and 2018 Cy Young-caliber season. His 140 ERA+ would be the second-best of his career for an entire season, and his 1.4 WAR up to his point is tied for the highest of the team, as he has been one of the only reasons the team has won as many games as they have.
Tallying a total game score of 53.1 is the second-highest eight-game start to a season, and overall has looked much more confident on the mound, but his resurgence has not been perfect.
The Negative of Kyle Freeland
During his best years, Freeland limited hard-hit balls at an elite rate, ranking in the 87th percentile in average exit velocity and 91st percentile in hard-hit percentage in 2018. However, in 2023, he ranked 37th and 52nd, respectively. While they are improving over the past few seasons, they should be somewhere else to show proper improvement. Although walks are down for the lefty, strikeouts have also been down. Striking out just six batters per nine innings, he is on pace to record the second-least amount in a single season of his career.
The final and most significant potential negative sign is his FIP. Despite having a 3.74 ERA, Freeland has a 4.99 FIP, with the -1.42 difference being the worst of his career.
The Verdict on Kyle Freeland
Freeland is a talented pitcher that suffers mainly from the inability to prevent the long ball in a hitter’s friendly ballpark. He also has a 2.84 ERA away from Coors thus far in 2023, the lowest road mark of his career.
If he can strike out more batters while keeping his walks low, one of the best seasons of his career is entirely plausible and possible. But for fans of the Rockies, the positive signs are welcomed, as he is under contract through 2027. With the 2023 season being an apparent wash, his signs of finding his form could be the catalyst for a playoff push sometime in the next half-decade.
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