Kyle Freeland finished in the top-5 in NL Cy Young voting last year, but another rough outing Thursday got him demoted to Triple-A in Friday.
After allowing five runs on seven hits over three innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, Kyle Freeland’s ERA for the season went over 7.00 (7.13). He has pitched just 8.2 innings over his last three starts, so something had to change.
On Friday, Freeland was demoted to Triple-A Albuquerque as the Rockies made a few roster moves.
Freeland had a breakout season in 2018, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA over 202.1 innings (33 starts) on his way to finishing fourth in National League Cy Young voting. He particularly conquered hitter-friendly Coors Field, with a 2.40 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 10-2 record at home.
But there were signs regression was coming for Freeland this season. His FIP (3.67) xFIP (4.22) and SIERA (4.35), to go with a fortunate BABIP (.285 overall, .272 at home) all screamed for correction, and a correction has come in a big way.
With two more on Thursday, Freeland has allowed a National League-high 16 home runs this year. Last year, he allowed 17 total all season. That difference is accounted for in allowing more fly balls (34.5 percent last year; 37.9 percent so far this year) and a spike in home run/fly ball rate (8.5 percent last year; 21.6 percent so far this year). Hitters are also pulling the ball a lot more than they did off Freeland last year, and hitting the ball harder.
The root of Freeland’s struggles has been his fastball. He hasn’t lost much velocity, but hitters are hitting .295 and slugging .605 against his fastball this year after hitting .248 and slugging just .384 off of it last year. The peripherals related to his four-seamer are in close proximity to 2018 this year, but what seems to be a greater percentage in the upper half of the strike zone is yielding a better barrel rate (better contact).
Rockies manager Bud Black suggested Freeland needs to throw his changeup with less velocity, in order to create better separation from his fastball like he did last year. But FanGraphs’ data shows Freeland’s average changeup velocity was 86.1 MPH last year and is 86.0 MPH so far in 2019. So unless Black is dealing with a different set of data, maybe with a recency bias, Freeland’s changeup velocity is not a core issue.
Last year was probably the best Freeland will ever be in terms of raw surface numbers, and his first 12 starts this year is probably as bad as it will get. After getting himself back on the right track in Triple-A, somewhere in-between is where the former top-10 pick (No. 8 in the 2014 draft) should settle over the long haul.