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Kyle Freeland is tipping his pitches

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Every pitcher has bad outings. It happens to the best of them, from Quad-A pitchers to Cy Young Award winners. Shane Bieber got shelled in the Wild Card Game last season after being unhittable all season. Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander is somehow 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA in his World Series career. Again, it happens. Most of the time, you can shrug these poor performances off as “baseball”, keep it moving, and that same hurler is dominant next time out. It’s important for baseball fans to remember that overreacting to small sample sizes is an unhealthy thing to do.

With that being said, Kyle Freeland’s last start against the Reds was alarming. The final line is ugly enough (4+ IP, 8 H, 9 R, 1 BB, 2 K), but it gets even scarier when you realize five of the eight hits the Reds managed were home runs. And they weren’t cheap GABP shots either; they all went 400+ feet and were hit 100+ MPH off the bat. They crushed him early and often. The Reds took 30 cuts as a team that game, and they missed just FOUR times. Four times! And before you dismiss that as a one-off thing, his previous start against the A’s was another stinker (5 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 1 K), in which he gave up two home runs.

Freeland’s never been a big strikeout guy, but he has struck out just four batters over his last three starts. That’s 67 total batters faced, and only four have gone down on strikes, which is almost impossible in today’s game. For those scoring at home, that’s a 5.97% strikeout rate. The last time the league-wide strikeout mark was that low? I don’t know, because there’s no record of it! Something is going on, and I think I’ve figured it out.

Kyle Freeland is tipping pitches.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: Freeland has been lightly tipping his entire career. The overwhelming majority of pitchers do it to a certain extent, but it’s often so subtle or limited to one particular pitch that batters would be wasting time and concentration trying to to pick up on it. For Freeland, however, it’s been particularly bad this season. There are many ways to tip your pitches, but I think I’ve found Freeland’s problem. I have a lot of release point pictures (courtesy of Baseball Savant’s wonderful Illustrator feature), so let’s dive right into it. Let’s first see the entire arsenal:

There’s a lot of deviation there, but I think it would help even further if we saw the difference in release points between certain pitches. Freeland is a kitchen sink repertoire guy who doesn’t rely too heavily on one particular pitch, but his four-seam/change/slider combination is at the heart of his style. So let’s see those three pitches, first pairing the four-seamer with each offspeed offering, then combined.

Four-seamer/slider...

... Four-seamer/change...

... And finally, all three combined:

It’s easy to see it: Freeland’s arm slot drops noticeably when throwing his slider and changeup. His slider was responsible for two of the five homers he gave up at Cincinnati; his four-seamer was responsible for one. Now let’s look at Freeland’s other two pitches (sinker and curveball) and see how they interact with his four-seamer.

Unsurprinsingly (to me, at least), his four-seamer and his curveball tend to come out of a similar arm slot. His sinker, however, comes out of a similar slot to his slider and changeup, almost sidearm-ish. This is important, because Freeland tends to throw his four-seamer up and in against righties, and the sinker usually goes down and away. This gives batters a clear shot to guess right most of the time, because Freeland’s curve is his least-used pitched, at just a tick over 10%.

Really, the combinations of pitch types you would think mesh together look similar. The classic sinker/slider/changeup mix comes out of pretty similar arm slot:

And as we’ve seen before, so does the also classic four-seam/curveball pairing. This is obviously problematic, because it also creates a big difference between breaking balls:

This is all pretty disturbing if you ask me, especially because Kyle’s been having this issue for a while now, and it hasn’t been fixed whatsoever. In fact, it’s gotten a bit worse over the years, and Bud Black’s postgame comments don’t insinuate any sort of acknowledgement that this is an issue they’ve seen, and instead, the focus was on missing location (which was an issue as well, of course). But even I could tell he was tipping as I was watching the game, so hopefully they have seen it and just didn’t want to say it out load in front of a microphone. Because if they haven’t picked up on it, Kyle Freeland’s going to have it rough for a while. And none of us Kyle Freeland guys and gals would like to see that happen to him again. 2019 was enough torture on that front.

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Are we already seeing effects from MLB’s looming sticky stuff crackdown? | The Athletic ($)

Not Rockies news, but an extremely interesting piece by Eno Sarris and Brittany Ghiroli on how pitchers seem to already be losing spin. MLB officially enforced the new anti foreign substance policy just yesterday, but players saw it coming. Rays ace Tyler Glasnow claims the sudden switch from using sunscreen and rosin to nothing at all played a big part in him getting hurt. This is all extremely interesting, to say the least.

Rockies’ Bud Black supports MLB punishment for “sticky baseballs,” but Kyle Freeland is skeptical | Denver Post ($)

Freeland raises a valid point here. At altitude, the baseball dries up and ends up feeling a lot slicker than anywhere else, and using only rosin can make it even worse. How is that going to affect Rockies pitchers? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Rodgers gets big league lessons from Story | MLB.com

From one Rockies shortstop to (possibly) the next one in line. Brendan Rodgers has been swinging the bat very well this season and taking some excellent at-bats, and Trevor Story has been encouraging him from a distance all throughout. Add “leadership” to the many qualities #27 has as a baseball player.

On The Farm

Nº 29 PurP José Mujica had his best outing of the season (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K) and picked up his first win in the process, with his two runs given up being unearned. Fortunately for him, his offense made sure those two runs meant little to nothing, as Albuquerque batters combined for a total of 11 extra-base-hits and scored 12 runs in total despite going 4-for-17 with RISP. The standout offensive performance came from second baseman Taylor Motter, who went 4-for-5 with two dingers, and every Isotopes starter recorder aside from shortstop Eric Stamets recorder at least one hit. The win split the series between Albuquerque and Salt Lake, and the ‘Topes will travel to Reno having won three of their last five.

Not a whole lot to report here, as the game was suspended in the first inning due to rain. It will be completed today, June 16th.

The Indians got walked off in the 10th inning of the series opener against the Dust Devils, even after managing a run in both the 8th and 9th to tie it up. Nº 7 PurP Chris McMahon was very solid (6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K), but the Spokane bats couldn’t quite figure out Tri-City pitching until it was too late to get him a win, with the team going 1-for-13 with RISP and the heart of its order (Schunk-MacIver-Doyle-Toglia) combining to go 1-for-15 with seven strikeouts. The Indians now drop to 15-22 on the season.

Another day, another dominant performance from the Fresno Grizzlies, who are now 11-2 in the month of June and 25-12 overall on the season, tied for first in the Low-A West North division. The Grizzlies put up 14 runs on 17 hits, with Nº 28 PurP Ezequiel Tovar leading the way (3-for-5 with a homer) and every hitter except for Nº 9 PurP Grant Lavigne (who still managed a hit) getting on base at least twice. Starter Mike Ruff was very solid (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), and Fresno cruised to a blowout win.

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