For the first time in five seasons, Kyle Freeland threw more than 40% sinkers in his last start. Check out that orange spike on the far right:
This outing, last Wednesday against St. Louis, was one of Freeland’s shortest of the year (4 2⁄3 IP). He matched a season-high six earned runs allowed, also letting up double-digit hits for just the second time in 2022.
Freeland returns to the mound tonight for his first game since, facing the exact same Cardinals that he did last week. It would be easy to suggest his game plan will be different given his showing from a week ago, but what exactly prompted that sinker spike to begin with?
Freeland’s Best Start of 2022: July 25 @ MIL. 7 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K.
30.3% sinkers (highest of 2022, excluding last Wednesday)
Since 2018, Freeland has shown a primary-use sinker in just one or two starts per season. This game in Milwaukee was one of them; seven innings was a season high for Freeland, and zero runs allowed suggested his pitch mix was working serious favors.
Challenge would await in his next two opponents: the Dodgers and Padres. In those two starts combined, Freeland allowed a respectable five runs in 11 2⁄3 innings. His sinker use would dip significantly, however; it was back near his full-season average.
Back To Sinkers - August 10 vs. STL
In his last start, Freeland tried his hand at primary sinkers again. The strategy could have been prompted by the red-hot St. Louis bats, holders of the sixth-best wRC+ in baseball and a team with proven affinity for extra-base hits.
The difference in vertical break between a four-seamer and sinker can be large — eight inches, for Freeland last Wednesday — and a pitch with drop is often favorable if ground-ball contact is preferred.
Mix in the Coors Field elevation, and this reasons as a desirable game plan — until it wasn’t?
4 1⁄3 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 1 K.
We have seen Freeland at his best and at his near-worst in 2022 by using sinkers at his primary pitch. It has been primary for just two of his 22 starts this year (@ MIL, July 25; vs. STL, August 10), but with such differing results, what made one day better than the other?
Here’s what it wasn’t:
It wasn’t a notable velocity drop that contributed to Freeland’s sinker struggles against the Cardinals; his average sinker was just 0.9 MPH slower than it was against the Brewers.
It wasn’t spin rate; a 2362-RPM sinker spin in Milwaukee was met with a 2337 against St. Louis, following a similar and correlating trend to his velocity.
The pitch wasn’t exactly barreled last Wednesday either; a .283 sinker xwOBA against the Cardinals was his fifth-lowest out of 22 starts this year. His best was against the Brewers by a wide margin (.146), but if Freeland was truly beat by the Cardinals on sinkers, one could expect this figure would have spiked last week. (His sinker xwOBA averages .366 this year, jumping as high as .676 in a single start on May 24).
We could continue to evaluate this pitch on a granular level, but perhaps the biggest indicator of his performance is way more simple:
Unlike his start in Milwaukee, Freeland wasn’t finding the zone with sinkers against the Cardinals quite as often:
There were fluctuations in Freeland’s horizontal and vertical break between the two starts, but nothing out of the norm for the sinker range he has been within all season. Blaming the difference on release inefficiency does not provide a clear directive on how to fix it, but it can serve as a potential starting point in explaining just how good he was against the Brewers. If it feels good out of the hand, and if it lands where he wants it, this seems to be the recipe for a good day with Freeland’s sinker.
What do we watch for in his start tonight? It could be nothing more than sinker command early in counts; this could be the difference between Freeland cruising toward seven innings or fighting through five.
Setting Up Strikeouts
In 2022, there has been a 58.3% chance that Freeland will open a count with either a fastball or a sinker. When his sinker use jumps, as it did on July 25 and August 10, his early strike percentage can prove vital for setting up his full arsenal of pitches:
Freeland’s preferred weapon for strikeouts is his slider and curveball, but these cannot be at their best if his sinker pushes him behind in counts. It’s easier to be unpredictable when you’re ahead on the mound, and it’s easier to take on the workload of a starter if counts are established accordingly.
It makes practical sense for Freeland to throw sinkers early in counts to the tough-hitting Cardinals, purveyors of extra-base power, as opposed to standard four-seamers. It could make sense to do this all the time at Coors Field, as was often the case in 2017 when Freeland first made it to the league.
For any strategy to excel, however, it appears that sinkers and fastballs must be thrown for called strikes or whiffs early in counts. This kept Freeland’s pitch count down in Milwaukee, and the ability to take on serious innings can provide breathing room for the Rockies with relievers Alex Colomé and Tyler Kinley on the injured list.
Margin for error gets smaller against tough lineups, just like the one Freeland will see again this evening. Watch for what pitch he opens counts with, how he gets ahead, and how deep his start is based on those exact measures — and the result of perhaps one pitch in particular.
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It appears the Rockies will have at least one participant in the March 2023 rounds of the World Baseball Classic. Starting pitcher Germán Márquez said he will be pitching for his native Venezuela, as reported by Thomas Harding. Márquez is now anticipating a formal invite from the national team and the green light from Rockies manager Bud Black and general manager Bill Schmidt.
The right-handed starter is planning to pitch in Venezuela winter ball; with this already cleared by the Rockies, it may seem certain he’s on his way to wearing the national uniform this spring.
Rockies fans had the chance to watch Albert Pujols last week in his projected final games at Coors Field. Pending any change of heart, the series this week in St. Louis will be his final games against Colorado. Pujols recently confirmed that 2022 will indeed be his final season, no matter if he hits the 11 home runs currently keeping him from the 700 club.
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On the Farm
Monday, August 8: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates
New series starting today:
Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) at Tacoma Rainiers (SEA)
Double-A: New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR) at Hartford Yard Goats (COL)
High-A: Tri-City Dust Devils (LAA) at Spokane Indians (COL)
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) at Visalia Rawhide (ARI)
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