SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Colorado left-hander Kyle Freeland has a new look this spring as he attempts to move past his struggles from 2019.
Freeland worked in the offseason to take a small pause out of his delivery after falling from a fourth place finish in the NL Cy Young award voting in 2018 to a 3-11 record and a brief return to a the minor leagues a year ago.
The result is a more fluid and athletic approach, and both Freeland and Rockies manager Bud Black are on board.
“The extended pause at the top of the delivery, I think, was a little bit too extreme,” Black said. “You’ll see a more momentum-building delivery, more aggressive from the start down the mound. You won’t see the flamingo pause.”
Freeland, who was 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA in 2018, entered camp as the Rockies’ No. 3 starter, with right-handers Jon Gray and German Marquez in the first two spots.
“When I was doing well (with the pause), I was very in tune with my mechanics. I was able to repeat,” Freeland said. “I came to realize it became harder and harder to repeat over time. We’ve gotten to a point now I understand that the weight has to be on the back side and stay loaded back there. Everything needs to move down the mound as one instead of in separate parts.”
Freeland did not add a pause in his delivery until 2017, his fourth year in the Rockies organization after being a first-round pick in 2013. He adopted a Clayton Kershaw-type pause after coming set, and that turned into brief lull before releasing the ball the last two years.
“I did that throughout my entire life,” Freeland said. “Now, it is just getting back to it.”
Freeland’s numbers last season could not have been much more different from the previous two years. He was 11-11 with a 4.10 ERA in 2017, when he finished seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
With his strong 2018, Freeland became a vital part of a starting rotation that helped the Rockies to the postseason for a second straight season. But his ERA more than doubled and his home run rate almost tripled last year, when he was 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA and gave up 25 home runs in 104 1/3 innings.
The rate and velocity of his three-pitch mix of fastball, cut fastball and changeup was almost exactly the same as in 2018, but his percentage of soft contact dropped to a career low, according to FanGraphs.
“For me, it came down to a lot of location,” said Freeland, who signed a $2.8 million deal to avoid arbitration in the offseason. “I was in the right general area with a lot of pitches, it just wasn’t extremely locked into the exact point.
“There was good control and there was bad command. I need that really good command. I need to be able to hit spots exactly where they need to be and have very small misses, and I was having bigger misses last year.”
Missing by two inches at the major league level can be a big deal, Freeland said.
“That’s the difference between a hard-hit line drive and a broken-bat ground ball,” he said.
Freeland said he still may use a pause as a way to disrupt a hitter’s timing in situations this season, but it will be the exception rather than the rule.
“You just have to be body conscious. It is something you can still incorporate,” he said.