In a world of arguments and takes, it’s pretty uncontroversial to call Ubaldo Jiménez’s 2010 the best pitched season for a starter in Rockies history. Ubaldo had an ERA under 3.00 — just the second qualified starter to do so for the team (Marvin Freeman had the other during the strike-shortened 1994 season). Jiménez also had an adjusted ERA 61 percent better than his National League colleagues, was nigh un-hittable during the first half (an ERA of 0.93 after 12 starts), started for the NL in the All-Star Game, came in third in the Cy Young vote, and came closer to 20 wins than any other pitcher in team history, with 19. By any metric, no other single season comes close.
That could change, and Kyle Freeland could be the pitcher to do it. Freeland is in the midst of an incredible season for the Rockies, and he has a legitimate shot to challenge Ubaldo’s 2010 as the best season for a starter the Rockies have ever had.
Freeland’s most recent start of six inning, one-run ball lowered his season ERA under 3.00 for the first time in 2018. It currently sits at 2.96, which isn’t far from Ubaldo’s 2.88 ERA from 2010. Unlike Ubaldo, though, Freeland didn’t get off to a blazing hot start. In fact, Freeland didn’t even pitch well over his first four starts. He averaged just five innings per start and had a 5.85 ERA. But in Freeland’s fifth start on April 24, he pitched seven scoreless innings at home against the Padres. That began a stretch of 21 starts in which Freeland has posted a 2.52 ERA. In contrast, Ubaldo had a 4.15 ERA over his final 21 starts in 2010 — after his 0.93 ERA over his first 12. Freeland has never been as unhittable as Ubaldo, but he’s been more consistent good.
It would be an accomplishment if Freeland is able to finish with an ERA under 3.00, but since the end of May he’s pitched much better than that. We can’t pretend that those first four starts don’t count, but that sustained run of excellence has resulted in a season the Rockies get about once a decade.
Ubaldo’s 2010 also stands out when it comes to adjusted ERA. He posted an ERA+ of 161 over 2122⁄3 innings pitched, which was good for third in the NL that season. Freeland? His ERA+ is 159. Let’s put that into context. Among all starters to have thrown at least 150 innings pitched in Rockies history, Ubaldo’s 161 in 2010 ranks first, Freeland’s 159 in 2018 currently ranks second, and Jiménez’s 2009 season ranks third — at 136. The ERA+ difference between second and third is about the same as between third and twenty-ninth.
There’s also the potential for Freeland to become the first Rockies pitcher since — no surprise — Ubaldo Jiménez in 2010 to throw 200 innings. If Freeland continues to start every fifth game from today until the end of the season, he’ll get eight more starts. And if he averages six innings per start, he’ll finish up with exactly 200 innings. The 200 inning mark is getting rarer and rarer due to pitcher usage, and there’s nothing inherent in the number that elevates those types of seasons above others. But when combined with how good Freeland has been overall, the 200 inning mark would be the durability cherry on top.
As of now, Ubaldo Jiménez’s 2010 season stands as the best season from a starter in Rockies history. Also as of now, Kyle Freeland’s 2018 is, at the very least, the second best. Whether or not Freeland’s season unseats Ubaldo’s 2010 is almost beside the point. It’s the first time any pitcher has even come close.