Cy Young has the most wins of any pitcher in the history of baseball and is credited with the first perfect game of the modern era. The annual award for pitching excellence was named after him. Ubaldo Jiménez, the only member of the Colorado Rockies to start the All-Star Game and throw a no-hitter, placed higher in Cy Young Award voting than any other hurler in franchise history with his third-place finish in 2010. 

Ubaldo Jiménez Award for Best Pitcher

Starting pitching in the year 2022 was a disappointment according to GM Bill Schmidt.

Last season, all five starters staked claim to month-long stretches as the club’s best pitcher. The highest ERA in the rotation was 4.59 by Jon Gray, a player who would receive $56 million in free agency during the offseason. 

With several new faces getting regular start, only Kyle Freeland could best that mark this season.

Five different starters had an ERA above 5.00 (min. 15 games started), tied for most in team history with the 2001 Rockies.

On one hand, that doesn’t bode well for the quality of the staff. On the other, the coaching staff and front office felt there was some rotational depth to hand out that many starts. 

For the first time in franchise history, seven different players made 17 starts or more.

The apparent staff ace, Germán Márquez, took a step back from 2021 when he was an All-Star for the first time and appeared to have a legitimate chance to throw a no-hitter each game he ascended the bump.

Jun 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez (48) delivers against the San Diego Padres in the first inning at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

In what was the worst season of his career, Márquez gave up a career-high 30 home runs and became just the ninth pitcher in team history to surrender as many. His Hard Hit Percentage (46.8%) was highest of any MLB starter (min. 150 IP) in 2022.

Antonio Senzatela, signed to a five-year, $50.5 million extension during the offseason, had his year ended abruptly when tearing his left ACL covering first base on August 18. Before that outing in St. Louis, he held a respectable 4.67 ERA despite two earlier stints on the injured list. 

As for the rest of the rotation, it was a mixed bag.

Ryan Feltner performed moderately well according to some metrics when considering he pitched most of the season as a 25-year-old rookie. 

José Ureña and Chad Kuhl each had their moments of impressive performances, none more than Kuhl’s complete game shutout of the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 27.

Austin Gomber, relegated to the bullpen in mid-July, was given the ball to start the final game of the season.

In the bullpen, a trio of relievers – Carlos Estévez, Lucas Gilbreath and Jake Bird – held their own through the dog days of summer when the club was out of contention. 

But it was Daniel Bard that made a significant impact during the final outs in 34 of the Rockies’ 68 wins, marking only the third time a closer saved at least half of team’s wins. 

Bard was dominant in one of the finest seasons the club has ever witnessed from a reliever.  

Depending on the source for wins-above-replacement, both Kyle Freeland and Daniel Bard was best among their peers with the Rockies.

When considering one man pitched three times as many innings as the other and started both the first and last games at Coors Field this season while having the most consistency in an otherwise inconsistent rotation, the choice becomes much more clear.

Kyle Freeland

Freeland entered 2022 at somewhat of a crossroad. In a span of just 18 months, he could be a free agent and leave the only organization – and state – the Denver native had known since a spell during college. 

Through his first two starts, both at home, he gave up five earned runs and exited the game prematurely. Then came the news that changed the course of his career and season.

The Rockies and Freeland announced the signing of a five-year, $64.5 million extension that ensured the hometown hero would pitch at Coors Field regularly until at least his age-33 season.

From that point until his final start, a season-high eight strikeout performance at Dodger Stadium against the 111-win league leader, his 4.24 ERA was a notch better than his previous two campaigns (4.33 ERA in 2020 and 2021).

Away from home, Freeland put together some of the best numbers in franchise history. His 3.08 ERA is third-best with the club all-time amongst starters who have made at least 15 starts on the road. Subtract that from the 2022 Rockies’ team totals and the remaining rotation would have posted the second-worst (5.10) earned run average in club history.

His strikeout rate (17.1%) may have dipped below his average in 2021 (20.4%) as well as his career (17.9%). Fastball velocity (90.4 mph) was at an all-time low, same as his ground ball percentage. Fly ball percentage went up from last season, as did his hard hit percentage.

Apr 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Kyle Freeland (21) pitches in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

But Freeland did not give up homers as in the past. Home runs per fly ball and home runs per nine innings were near his first two seasons as a big leaguer, including that memorable 2018 campaign when he finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. 

Most important for the 29-year-old was his ability to show up and be competitive. He made 31 starts, tied for most on the team with Márquez.

Just 13 pitchers with Colorado have ever made at least 30 starts and posted an ERA south of 5.00 for a season. Now, Freeland has done it twice.

He’ll get four more bites at the apple to increase that total, not to mention get back into the elusive Cy Young Award conversation some day.

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