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Marvin Freeman conquered altitude almost 30 years ago

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, November 4, 2021

Kyle Freeland’s 2018 campaign was a big deal for Rockies fans. The young local pitcher put up one of the best single seasons of any Rockies starting pitcher in the franchises’ history. He came in fourth for National League Cy Young Award voting while a transcendent talent out east took home the award. Despite not winning though, Freeland was one of the first pitchers since Ubaldo Jiménez in 2010 to show the world Rockies pitching could dominate.

In honor of the Atlanta Braves winning the 2021 World Series with Rockies alumni Walt Weiss, Eric Young Sr., and Tyler Matzek, I want to explore something that some Rockies fans might not remember or possibly even be too young to have heard of: a former Brave who came to Colorado and did what Freeland did 24 years beforehand. Before our current rotation — before Ubaldo, before Rocktober, and even before the Wild Card existed — Marvin Freeman came to town.

Right-handed pitcher Marvin Freeman made his big league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1986, working as both a starter and reliever for three and a half seasons before being traded to Atlanta in 1990. It was with the Braves that Freeman seemed to find his groove as a major league pitcher, posting a 1.72 ERA across nine games and 15 23 innings in 1990 and setting the tone for his next two years with the club. From 1991-1992, Freeman had 92 appearances for the Braves, with an ERA of 3.12 and an ERA+ of 122 over 112 13 innings. Unfortunately, the 1993 season was a difficult one, where injuries and poor performance led to Freeman’s release at the end of the year after a 6.08 ERA in 21 appearances.

Leading into the 1994 season, Marvin Freeman signed on as a free agent with the expansion Colorado Rockies in their second year of existence. When starter Kent Bottenfield broke his hand early in spring training, Freeman stepped up and won a spot in the rotation despite not having started a game since 1990.

Freeman excelled in 1994, leading the Rockies to ten victories on the mound—just the second player to have done so in the team’s young history. Freeman put up single season numbers in 1994 campaign that are still team bests: an ERA of 2.80, an ERA+ of 179, and a third best WHIP of 1.207. What’s truly unfortunate is that these numbers are seldom spoken of due to a colossal and depressing asterisk: the 1994 players’ strike that ended the season on August 12th of that year.

It’s a damn shame too, because through his 18 starts in 1994, Freeman was having the single best season any Rockies pitcher would have thrown until Ubaldo Jiménez and a then-infant Kyle Freeland came to town.

Marvin Freeman, Ubaldo Jiménez, and Kyle Freeland compared

Player G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA+ FIP
Player G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA+ FIP
Marvin Freeman - 1994 19 18 112.2 113 39 35 10 23 67 1.207 179 3.84
Ubaldo Jiménez - 2010 33 33 221.2 164 73 71 10 92 214 1.155 161 3.10
Kyle Freeland - 2018 33 33 202.1 182 64 64 17 70 173 1.245 166 3.67

What was also fascinating about Freeman’s incredible season is how he showed traits that still help Rockies pitchers thrive at altitude to this day. Freeman wasn’t a strikeout king. He had only struck out 67 batters for an SO9 of just 5.4. He instead found success in avoiding walks with a BB9 of just 1.8, avoiding home runs with an HR9 of just 0.8, and inducing frequent ground ball contact. Despite allowing a fairly high number of hits in 1994, Freeman only had 35 earned runs and just 10 total home runs. He kept the ball on the ground 54.1% of the time it was put into play.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it looks a lot like what Rockies pitchers like Antonio Senzatela have done to succeed in Colorado. Senzatela’s fantastic 2021 season that earned him a contract extension has a lot of statistical similarities with Freeman’s 1994 season.

Marvin Freeman and Antonio Senzatela comparison

Player H HR BB SO H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 GB% LD% FB%
Player H HR BB SO H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 GB% LD% FB%
Marvin Freeman - 1994 113 10 23 67 9.0 0.8 1.8 5.4 54.1 19.2 15.9
Antonio Senzatela - 2021 178 12 32 105 10.2 0.7 1.8 6.0 50.4 23.9 19.8

Freeman finished fourth in Cy Young voting, with his former teammate and Hall of Famer Greg Maddux taking home the hardware. He finished the short year with the fourth best ERA in the league (third-best in the National League behind Maddux and future Rockies teammate Bret Saberhagen), and the second best ERA+ behind just Maddux. Freeman would unfortunately be unable to repeat his stellar success, with his 1995 and 1996 seasons being marred by injuries and declining performance. He would not play Major League Baseball again after the 1996 season.

Despite the strike and the unending march of time causing him to fade from the memories of some, Marvin Freeman’s incredible 1994 season deserves to be remembered. He showed that altitude was a thing to be conquered, and he did it with methodology that still finds success to this day.

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Here’s the important dates for this offseason | Rox Pile

With the World Series over and the 2021 season officially done, Rox Pile’s Noah Yingling outlines the schedule for the offseason leading into 2022. Things are fairly set in stone for November, but all dates after December 1st are tentative. If MLB and the MLBPA are unable to agree to a new CBA before the current one expires on December 1st, the remaining schedule could fall apart quite quickly with the potential for a backbreaking lockout.

MLB offseason cheat sheet: Key needs each team must address this winter | The Athletic ($)

With the offseason officially started, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden briefly touches on the key needs of each MLB team for the winter. For the Rockies, Bowden reiterates the need for a strong outfield bat. He specifically mentions Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte, and Michael Conforto. If the Rockies fail to retain Jon Gray, they might need to sign a free agent starting pitcher. As always, the bullpen will need work as well.

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On the Farm: Arizona Fall League Edition

Surprise Saguaros 3, Salt River Rafters 2

Michael Toglia and Ezequiel Tovar both started for the Rafters in yesterday’s loss to the Saguaros. Toglia was 1-for-4 with a triple and a run scored, while Tovar was 1-for-2 with a walk and was hit by a pitch at the bottom of the lineup card. Catcher Willie MacIver was a late game substitution and drew a walk during his only plate appearance. Reliever Reagan Todd continues to impress in the desert, pitching yet another scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Todd has yet to allow a run this fall, and has given up just one hit.

The Rafters will take on the Glendale Desert Dogs on the road this afternoon, with the first pitch coming at 1:35 PM MDT.

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