The Colorado Rockies were unable to capture a National League West division title after losing the tie-breaking game 163 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nonetheless, the team is still headed to Rocktober through the Wild Card.
German Marquez was named the NL pitcher of the month for September after compiling a 3-1 record with 48 strikeouts in only 33.2 innings. Before only pitching 4.2 innings and giving up 4 runs (2 earned) during game 163, he had compiled twelve straight quality starts for the Colorado Rockies.
However, following the game 163 loss, Marquez ended up finishing the regular season with a 14-11 record. Throughout his 33 starts on the year, he compiled 230 strikeouts in 196.0 innings pitched. His 230 strikeouts are also a new single-season Rockies franchise record.
Although Marquez was an excellent choice for the tie-breaking game, Rockies manager Bud Black has another excellent option to call on for the Wild Card game. Due to this, Black’s choice for the one-game playoff against the Chicago Cubs will be Denver native, Kyle Freeland.
Freeland finished the 2018 season with a 2.85 earned run average (ERA), a 1.25 walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), and a 17-7 win-loss record. He also has a current streak of 11 straight quality starts, while only allowing 17 runs over 70.1 innings pitched during the streak.
According to FanGraphs, Freeland throws a four-seam fastball, a slider, a cutter, and a change-up. This season, he uses his four-seam fastball 52.4% of the time at a 91.6 mph average. He throws his slider 4.5% of the time at an 80.0 mph average, his cutter 29.3% of the time at an 85.8 mph average, and his change-up 13.8% of the time at an 85.6 mph average.
This pitch usage led Freeland to compile a 3.67 fielding independent pitching (FIP). This statistic is important as it provides a look into how effective a pitcher is with controllable statistics such as strikeouts, base on balls, hit by pitches, and home runs allowed. Although ERA and WHIP do not factor in an underwhelming or over performing defense behind a pitcher, FIP factors this in as it looks into a pitchers independent performance through the statistics a pitcher can control.
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During the regular season, Freeland ranked 10th in the NL and 20th in the MLB with his 3.67 FIP. Out of the current NL pitchers that are headed to the playoffs, Freeland ranks 3rd in FIP behind only his teammate Marquez (3.40) and Mike Foltynewicz of the Atlanta Braves (3.37). The FIP number for Freeland is very impressive considering that he only made his debut in the big leagues last season and that he pitches most of his games in the hitting friendly Coors Field.
Although Freeland went to college in Evansville, Indiana, he was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. Prior to being selected with the 8th pick in the first round of the 2014 MLB draft, Freeland was an All-State athlete during his time at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver. His standout performance in High School also earned him a 35th round selection by the Philadelphia Phillies, but he declined to go play college ball at Evansville.
The Colorado Rockies are looking to advance to the NLDS for the first time since 2009, and the Denver native is ready for the challenge ahead of him in Chicago. In an interview with the Denver Post, Freeland stated: “I’m looking forward to the battle in Chicago. I’ve done everything I could to get my arm feeling good from my last start, and it feels good right now. I’m ready to go, and I’m not too worried about being on short rest.”
Freeland’s only career appearance at Wrigley Field came earlier this season on April 30th. He pitched 7.0 innings while allowing 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk. Jon Lester, who will face off against Freeland in the Wild Card game, allowed 2 runs to the Rockies in 5.2 innings pitched back in April.
All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon also spoke with the Denver Post about his confidence in Freeland taking the mound: “He’s been out best guy. It seems like every time he’s out there, we’re winning, we have a chance to win, or we do win. He’s an amazing competitor and I’m sure he’ll rise to the occasion.”
The Colorado Rockies have every reason to be confident in their young, left-handed starting pitcher that could very well end up a Cy Young award winner in the near future. After all, as hitters get discounted for playing home games at Coors Field, pitchers for the Rockies should receive extra-credit. Although today’s game will not be at altitude, Freeland has a chance to create a special moment by being victorious and further extending Rocktober. If successful, this moment would be something the rest of his hometown in Denver would never forget.