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Competitive Freeland building Cy Young case

September 23, 2018

DENVER -- When you ask Kyle Freeland's teammates to define his strongest trait, one specific adjective transcends the Rockies' clubhouse."It's his competitiveness. First and foremost. It predicates everything else," catcher Chris Iannetta said."I love how competitive he is. ... He's very hard-nosed, very intense when he's out on the mound.

DENVER -- When you ask Kyle Freeland's teammates to define his strongest trait, one specific adjective transcends the Rockies' clubhouse.
"It's his competitiveness. First and foremost. It predicates everything else," catcher Chris Iannetta said.
"I love how competitive he is. ... He's very hard-nosed, very intense when he's out on the mound. It serves him well," outfielder Matthew Holliday echoed.
"He's ultracompetitve and he feels that, even if his stuff isn't there," third baseman Nolan Arenado added.
The reason Freeland has snuck into potential National League Cy Young Award consideration in just his second big league season is his competitive mentality. It isn't up for debate, in his teammates' minds.

Freeland has quietly dominated hitters this season, one year after an encouraging rookie campaign in which he earned a few votes for NL Rookie of the Year. There was no "sophomore slump" for the 25-year-old southpaw. As the Rockies hope to close in on their second consecutive postseason berth, and possibly the first division title in franchise history, Freeland has highlighted a young starting pitching staff eager to change the dynamic in Denver.
Perhaps it's fitting that a homegrown kid, who was born in Denver and attended Thomas Jefferson High School (just 13 miles from Coors Field), is the face of a new wave of talent in Colorado. While Freeland is quick to claim that he's just one of five guys, his stats this season may be enough to change the conversation on the evaluation of pitchers at the hitter-friendly ballpark.
Entering Sunday's start, Freeland is 15-7 and boasts the fourth-highest WAR for a Major League pitcher (7.6) this year. He holds an ERA of 2.95 over 189 1/3 innings. That ERA is significantly higher compared to Cy Young Award frontrunners Jacob deGrom (1.77) and Max Scherzer (2.57), but 14 of Freeland's 31 starts this year have been at Coors Field (2.36 ERA). Colorado hitters have been dinged for their production at home for decades, but pitchers usually receive no different treatment, regardless of the fact that their home ballpark is out to hurt instead of help them.
Freeland is hopeful his campaign this year will shine a light on that concept.
"For so long it's been about knocking hitters there," Freeland said. "Over the 25 years the Rockies have been around, there's only been a handful of pitchers that have had true successful seasons there. I think with myself, and the rest of the young starting staff, we're starting to make people aware of the fact that you can have good pitching in Denver."

Freeland's adjusted earned run average (ERA+) sits at 159 -- fourth in the NL, again well behind deGrom (208). The stat adjusts for ballpark and is based on a league average score of 100. However, it's no substitute for the more common production stats, at least yet.
"The first thing you heard about Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, is that they all play at Coors and their numbers are inflated because they play at Coors," Iannetta said. "Well, if a hitter's numbers are inflated, then a pitcher's numbers are also inflated. They should be getting an equal amount of credit. Putting up a sub-3 ERA at Coors is really like putting up a low-2 or 1-something somewhere else."
Iannetta isn't the only teammate to persist that Freeland should get more consideration as Cy Young Award talks pick up. While Freeland takes a more modest approach to his success, his teammates aren't willing to be as conservative.
"Considering people like to dock hitters for playing at Coors Field, I think that pitchers should be talked about more if they're able to do it at a hitters' ballpark like Coors Field," Holliday said.
For Freeland, he will instead focus more on a tight postseason scramble as the end of the year rapidly approaches.
"Pitch your game and don't change too much, because the moment you try to change is when you become a different pitcher and not yourself," Freeland said.

Katie Woo is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.