We talked about Kris Bryant yesterday, but the decision between spots four and five was pretty easy. Where Bryant presents high upside and high risk, the team's number four player gives the Rockies something that they have lacked: stability and consistency. Easily, the number one pitcher on our 2024 Player Rankings this year, expect more of the same for the hometown lefty Kyle Freeland this upcoming season.
Kyle Freeland's dependability earns him the No. 1 spot for a pitcher and the No. 4 overall spot in our 2024 Rockies Player Rankings
Freeland is coming off a pretty bad year for his standards. He was able to throw 155.2 innings, but posted the second highest ERA of his career at 5.03, the lowest strikeout rate (5.43 K/9), and the second highest home run rate (1.68 HR/9) of his career. He was only worth 1.2 fWAR (his lowest since 2019, excluding the COVID year), but dealt with a couple of injuries that affected his performance and forced him to miss the last few weeks of the season.
Freeland will look to rebound in 2024 as the ace of one of the worst pitching staffs in the game. The Rockies are really lacking pitching in almost every aspect. Freeland looked to be on the verge of becoming a legit frontline starter when he put up a 4.1 fWAR season in 2018, but just hasn't been able to find that same version of himself.
One of the ways that Freeland could get back to the 2018 version of himself is by tweaking his pitch distribution. Looking at his Baseball Savant page, he used a sinker 28.3% of the time, a slider at 23.6%, a four-seamer at 18.4%, a curveball at 17.6% and a changeup at 12.1%. This is vastly different than his 2018 season that saw him use his four-seamer 39.8% of the time, slider 29.3% of the time and the changeup at 13.7%, while the sinker was used just 12.5% of the time.
His four-seamer in 2023 was his best pitch, with opponents hitting .239 with a .431 slugging percentage (the sinker was at .353 batting average against and a .537 slugging percentage). Freeland needs to get back to his fastball and slider, as they have been his two best pitches over the last five years. Doing so could help him return to his former self.
The Rockies have missed out on quite a few solid starting pitchers already but would be smart to add a few pitchers to their rotation. Even if they do that, Freeland is going to be the ace of this staff and is going to be expected to make 30+ starts this year, while leading a young group of pitchers. Freeland shouldn't be expected to replicate his 2.85 ERA over 202 innings like he did in 2018, but with a few adjustments, he could put up a low-4.00 ERA and approach that 200-inning mark. That could potentially make him a 3.0-win pitcher for the Rockies.