DNVR Rockies beat reporters Drew Creasman and Patrick Lyons battle for supremacy discussing various hot topics pertaining to the inhabitants of 2001 Blake Street as well all the scuttlebutt in-and-around the game of baseball.
The overriding confidence that starting pitcher Kyle Freeland will have a bounce back season is one of the biggest takeaways coming out of Scottsdale this spring based upon quotes from teammates and coaches alike.
With plenty of reasons to think he can improve upon his nightmarish campaign from a season ago when he posted a 6.73 ERA, the 26-year-old is coming into his physical prime with key adjustments to a new and improved delivery.
Will he return to being a dominant force in Colorado’s rotation? If so, will that be enough to get the club back on track?
1. How important is Freeland to Colorado’s overall success?
Creasman: Very. He may be more important than any other individual on the 26-man roster when it comes to swinging this team into or out of contention.
Almost certain to be slotted in after German Márquez and Jon Gray in the rotation, he could either be the guy that solidifies a solid group or ends up leaving those two on their own much like it was for most of last season.
By allowing the back end of the rotation to simply eat up innings rather than requiring to excel, a good Freeland takes pressure off whoever brings up the rear: Antonio Senzatela, Peter Lambert, Jeff Hoffman, Chi Chi González and possibly more.
If he can get back to even dominating at times, Colorado could suddenly have the three-headed monster that powered them into consecutive postseason back in the fold.
Lyons: With Márquez and Gray having put up an ERA+ at or above 105 and 2.0 WAR or better for three seasons already – both were over 109 and 3.5 in 2019, respectively – adding a third reliable-to-above-average starter is precisely what Colorado has needed every year of playoff contention in franchise history. Some of the contenders for the 4th and 5th spot in the rotation have the potential to be of this class, but only Freeland has proven capable of such production more than once.
Regardless of whether Freeland can regain some of the glory of the 2018 season that saw him finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting, his value to the rotation as the lone left-handed starter is invaluable. Until top pitching prospect Ryan Rolison can contribute consistently to the parent club in a few seasons, Freeland’s inclusion every five days will force other Senior Circuit squads to consider resting some of their top left-handed hitters when playing Colorado.
While he may occupy only one spot, or 20% of the starting rotation, Freeland’s success this season will be worth much closer to 50%.
2. What type of performance does he need in 2020 to meet a threshold of success?
Creasman: One of the reasons why Freeland is so important is his wide range of fair expectations.
If his struggles from 2019 continue unabated into 2020, Colorado will once again struggle to keep their heads above water. If he returns to the Cy Young conversation, the sky is the limit.
But I’ll say that if he splits the difference between his last two campaigns in terms of ERA – a pretty achievable goal at 4.79 – you can call that a personal success and should put the Rockies at least back in the mix of teams fighting for the Wild Card.
Of course, this assumed no major dropoffs from Marquez and Gray and general health of the rest of the team but all other things being equal, getting a league average pitcher out of the Denver native would do a world of good for this club and this franchise.
Lyons: Penciled in as the third starter, the Denver native will need to be exactly that or better to quell any fears that 2018 was more magic than manifestation.
Looking back, Tyler Chatwood held down the title of third best starter in Colorado’s rotation en route to the team’s first playoff appearance in eight seasons. His 2017 season: 25 games started, 146 innings pitched, 4.69 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.44 WHIP, 2.1 bWAR.
It was another Tyler (Anderson) accumulating the third most WAR for a Rockies starter to boost the club to consecutive postseasons. His 2018 season: 32 games started, 176 innings pitched, 4.55 ERA, 104 ERA+ 1.273 WHIP, 3.0 bWAR.
With that as a template, Freeland will need to start approximately 30 games for 160 innings pitched and put up an earned run average of 4.60 with a 1.35 WHIP. In other words, he’ll need to pitch close to how he did in his rookie season of 2017.
3. Prediction: What numbers will we see Freeland put up?
Creasman: I’ll take the over, if only just barely, on my scenario above. He will put up an ERA in the mid-4 range, pitch 160+ innings. Perhaps just as importantly, his confidence and smile will return. He will get back to being the heartbeat of the team.
Lyons: Should the lower back spasms that forced him to an early exit of his first Spring Training start become more of an aberration than albatross, I think the 2011 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School could hit all the marks of a third starter by the end of the season. The quicker he can settle into his role in the rotation this season, the more likely he erases 2019 from his psyche.