Freeland pitching with peace of mind

Rox lefty's 2020 rebound bid underway in Spring Training

February 23rd, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The resurgent 2020 season that Rockies left-handed starter Kyle Freeland is expecting began last August.

While rehabbing a left groin strain, he and the Rockies devised a treatment plan for the ails that led to a rough 2019, when he went 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA in 22 starts, after going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA in 33 starts in 2018.

“That's when we started gathering information about my mechanics, about what I want to do and how to finish the season strong,” said Freeland, who finished the year with two short yet positive and information-rich outings. “We all feel good about it.”

Freeland’s offseason corrections, which began with honing the simplified delivery he employed against the Dodgers and the Giants to finish 2019, have produced positive results in bullpen and live batting practice sessions in Spring Training.

Let’s unpack what Freeland brings into 2020, which he hopes will resemble his work while earning a fourth-place finish in Cy Young Award voting in '18.

Attitude: What stuck with Rockies manager Bud Black was Freeland’s insistence on returning after being placed on the injured list on Aug. 22. Reasonably, he could have just began his offseason.

“It was just a couple starts. They were abbreviated. He knew they were going to be abbreviated,” Black said. “And that showed me a lot.”

Strategy: It’s easy to go overboard on the change in Freeland's windup. Gone is what Black called the “Flamingo pause” -- on one leg before driving plateward. He also has the “[Clayton] Kershaw pause,” during his kick toward the plate -- and says he may employ either mid-at-bat to disturb a hitter’s timing.

But there has to be an end goal. In Freeland’s case, eliminating the pause is just part of the process toward a goal of sharp, late movement.

MLB Quality of Pitch, which uses Statcast data and some of its own measures, calculated that Freeland’s 2019 overall pitch location was in the top 9% among MLB pitchers. However, vertical break (from high point to location) was in the bottom 44%, late break (which gets the ball off the barrel) in the bottom 28%, and horizontal break in the bottom 20%.

How did he boil the charts and numbers into simple thoughts and actions?

“It was a mentality of drive this ball, to the bottom of the zone, that bottom third of the zone -- with intent down there,” Freeland said.

This counters the new-age pitching trend of fastball up, curveball/changeup down. Freeland said he understands the importance of changing eye levels for the hitter. But his fastball/cutter/slider/changeup mix doesn’t play that way, yet pitchers like the Nationals’ Patrick Corbin succeed that way.

“Over the past couple of years, people have told me, ‘You might want to watch this guy,’ and I definitely have,” Freeland said.

Education: Early last season, Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster and then-bullpen coach Darren Holmes alerted Freeland to inconsistent release points, which led to overall inconsistency and hurt his deception. But correcting those issues in-season proved difficult.

Freeland’s late-season injury gave him time to absorb the results of the Rockies’ focused study of extensive data (since they weren’t studying postseason opponents), and gave him time to make corrections. Freeland's offseason included work in Scottsdale with Foster, new bullpen coach Darryl Scott and co-pitching coordinator Steve Merriman, using various technologies that the Rockies have incorporated.

With that information and simplified mechanics, Freeland has developed a better feel for what goes right and/or what goes wrong with each pitch.

“Even talking to hitters in the past two live BPs and they’re saying, ‘Between your fastball and your changeup, we can’t tell the difference out of your hand,'” Freeland said.

Quiet assurance: Before the information boom, Freeland and the coaches were on their own in making corrections. Pitchers did it for generations before, but Freeland might have eliminated a lengthy trial-and-error period.

“It feels good to have a plan executed and coming to camp being healthy, comfortable with mechanics and ready to use them in a game situation,” said Freeland, who will likely make his Cactus League debut the second time through the rotation.