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Kyle Freeland solidified himself as a leader in the Rockies rotation in 2023

In a season decimated by pitching injuries, Freeland proved to be the good man in the storm

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 4, Kyle Freeland: 1.7 rWAR

You’ve heard the narrative time and time again: The Colorado Rockies’ starting rotation was decimated by injuries in 2023, and they spent much of the season piecing things together. Of their five Opening Day starters, none of them finished the season, and only two of them made it to September.

Kyle Freeland was one of those two, pitching in 29 games before being placed on the season-ending 15-day IL on September 17 with an oblique strain. Prior to that, he also suffered a right shoulder subluxation while diving for a ground ball in San Francisco during the Rockies’ first-half finale and was placed on the 15-day. Being one of two healthy Opening Day starters took its toll on Freeland, though.

“It’s tough whenever you have a handful of your starting rotation go down, especially early in the season,” Freeland said in September. “As a healthy starting pitcher, you kind of feel like you’ve got to start carrying that weigh that’s missing, so [Austin] Gomber and I are unfortunately trying to carry that extra weight.

“It’s really hard when you don’t have guys in your system who are quite ready to be at the big-league level as starting pitchers and we’ve got to go out and sign free agents or guys off waivers,” he continued. “It definitely weighs on your because you’re trying to pick up that slack, and know that the slack is going to be there for the entire season.”

The Rockies did make some signings throughout the year and ended up trotting out a franchise-record 34 pitchers — three more than the 2019 club and tied for the ninth-most pitchers used in the Majors in 2023. The Oakland Athletics used 41.

Freeland struggled in 2023, posting a 6-14 record and 5.03 ERA in his 29 starts. The 14 losses were a career-high and finished tied for second-most in the NL. His 5.03 ERA was his highest since his 6.73 in 2019. He also gave up a career-high 29 home runs.

That said, many of those ugly stats were not Freeland’s fault. He was only give 63 runs of support and posted a 3.64 RSA. Both were his second-fewest in a full season since 21. And to add insult to injury, the 63 RS were the second-fewest in the entire National League (min. 25 GS).

On the flip side, he did post some other career-highs. His 55 career wins rank seventh in franchise history, and he is only one away from tying Ubaldo Jiménez for sixth. His 179 career starts rank fourth in franchise history, and he is six away from tying Jeff Francis. And finally, he ranks seventh with 735 career strikeouts, seven shy of tying Francis.

With all that in mind, Freeland continued to step up as a leader in the clubhouse through the adversity.

“I’m very big on on leading by example with my work ethic, with how I go about my day-to-day activities,” he said. “I’m not a huge vocal leader, but I definitely try to reach out to the other pitchers and speak to them about things I’ve been going through and things they’re going through, or bouncing ideas off them.”

He sees a good leader as someone who goes about their work, but also someone who can help uplift guys and steer them in the right direction.

“On and off the field, always making sure that everyone in this clubhouse is feeling welcomed and part of the brotherhood, whether it’s their first day in the big leagues or their 10th year,” Freeland said. He said he, Ryan McMahon, Charlie Blackmon, Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela do a good job of that.

Freeland cited Ian Desmond as an inspiration to him and someone he models himself after as a leader.

“He was the guy that immediately took me under his wing during his first spring training with us,” Freeland said. “We mesh really well together, and I still talk to him every couple of weeks. He’s an asset that you’ll always have on and off the field to talk about whatever. He’s a great family man who’s been in the league for a long time on multiple teams, and he’s always a great leader by example and vocally.”

Looking ahead to 2024, Freeland is excited to see some of the same young players that we’re excited to see continue to grow.

“[Ezequial Tovar]’s had an exceptional year for a rookie. [Hunter] Goodman coming up, doing his thing and getting his first run was a breath of fresh air. The whole scouting report game was that he’s going to do damage, so it was exciting to see that out of him,” Freeland said. “[Brenton] Doyle and [Nolan] Jones in the outfield... some of their outfield catches were absolutely incredible. And some of these young pitchers are exciting to see. We’re seeing our system start to pay off from these young guys and some trades as well. It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to next nyear and the following year to se how this team shakes up.”

Freeland turned 30 this year and is entering the third year of his five-year, $64.5 million contract. That means he can continue to anchor the rotation for the foreseeable future, and hopefully the team will support him through that.