Major League Baseball isn’t a land of mulligans. As a results-based endeavor, good and bad performances are the dichotomy that determines the perceived “value” of every player.
Judging a returning starting pitcher after one game is foolhardy. Doing so with the luck – or lack thereof – and delay that Kyle Freeland encountered is impossible.
“Regardless of what the numbers say, the eyeball test says he was getting balls that were fisted that landed in the infield for a hit, broken bat, seeing-eye (singles), balls that were spinning that were landing in the outfield,” Chris Iannetta said.
The numbers, outside of the surface-level stats, coincidentally told the same tale.
According to Statcast, Freeland threw five different pitches – curveball, fastball, sinker, slider and changeup – throughout his outing. None of the five had an expected batting average over .300. Conversely, the actual batting average of three of the five offerings was north of .500.
Furthering the trend, only three balls put into play had an exit velocity over 95 miles per hour – the figure that determines a “hard-hit” ball.
In all, he went a mere four innings and allowed five earned runs. Of the 20 batters he faced, nine tallied a hit. He also allowed four triples, becoming the first pitcher to allow that many in a single game in Rockies’ history.
Among the record-breaking four triples, only one of them was hit on a pitch near the middle of the zone. The other three were all on the corner or out of the zone.
Numbers are easy to point towards. As calculated and concrete data points, each tells a tale that is hard to counter.
The nuanced aspect of the outing can’t be ignored though.
Due to inclement weather that rivaled any that’s occurred during Colorado’s storm season, the game was delayed. While most games incur short-lived delays to let showers pass over, Freeland was dealt a three-hour break.
“I’ve never had a three-hour delay before,” Freeland said. “That’s brand new to me, that’s pretty rare too.”
The impact of the stoppage was severe. Armed with the adrenaline of a fast-approaching start, Freeland was forced to completely shut down his routine, only to do it a second time later on.
With extreme circumstances, fatigue began to set in. In the first two innings, Freeland allowed three hits, all singles. The next two yielded all four of the triples, as well as the majority of well-struck balls in his shortened outing.
“I feel like anybody would (get tired),” Freeland said. “You get hot, you get ready to go, you’ve got your adrenaline pumping, you’re ready to go out and battle and then you’re told you’ve got to shut it down and you don’t know for how long.”
Through a different lens than every other player on the field, Iannetta saw more sparkling results than merely a starter getting battered and sleepy.
“I think there were maybe one or two pitches that I thought weren’t quality,” Iannetta said. “I thought the rest was vintage Freeland.”
Vintage Freeland is an encouraging stance. With his apex standing as the second-best season in franchise history by earned run average, the sentiment is even greater.
Of the many things Freeland sought to fix with Triple-A Albuquerque during his demotion, mechanics were the leader. After his breakout year, the youngster began to see his mechanics shift early in the year, a catalyst for his struggles.
“Mechanically speaking, (Freeland was) coming directly at me with his front shoulder, his front hip, his body (and) his head,” Iannetta said. “Earlier in the season, I felt like he was really overrotating too much and flying off. Anytime a pitcher does that, their arm drags and your misses tend to be more over the plate.”
As a craftsman, wayward control is a killer. The biggest part of Freeland’s 2018 campaign was pinpoint accuracy. When pitches missed, they weren’t in bad spots. The trend returned for Iannetta on Saturday.
“What made Freeland really good last year, aside from everything else, was all his misses were off the plate,” Iannetta said. “They were (on) corners (or) off the plate. This year, all of his misses were middle. It was great to see that his misses were more off the plate than over the plate.”
Things aren’t going to get easier for Freeland.
Moving on from the start, despite the deceptive final numbers, will take effort. Doing so against the New York Yankees – a team that features more right-handed power than any other roster in the league – will be even harder.
For the Rockies, his return to form is one of their only in-house options left in their pursuit of returning to even a league-average rotation.