What’s up with Kyle Freeland?

In Uncategorized by myles157 Comments

As the 108th most influential Cubs blog, we have a sworn duty to stay in our lane and only give you the highest quality of Cubs analysis. However, I just can't get over Kyle Freeland for some reason. Yes, he's not on the Cubs, and yes, he only played the Cubs once (game score of exactly 50). What's interesting to Kyle Freeland is that he is seemingly the best case scenario of every Cubs pitcher of the last generation: that is, he doesn't ever strike anyone out.

The league is striking out more and more frequently. The league is walking more and more frequently. The league is homering more and more frequently. Kyle Freeland, however, stands out in stark contrast to this trend. 

Name Team TTO%
Ty Blach Giants 17.99%
Ivan Nova Pirates 19.79%
Jeremy Hellickson Phillies 22.60%
Miguel Gonzalez White Sox 24.01%
Josh Tomlin Indians 24.15%
Mike Leake Cardinals 24.58%
Kyle Freeland Rockies 25.24%
Matt Cain Giants 25.34%
Zach Davies Brewers 25.59%
Clayton Richard Padres 25.61%

Freeland doesn't lead the league in No True Outcomes percentage (though he's pretty close). He walks too many people for that to be the case (9.1% of PAs end in a walk). The interesting thing about Freeland in this regard is that he plays half of his games in Coors Field, which is a notorious launching pad for hitters. Freeland gets around this by inducing an obscene amount of groundballs:

Name Team BABIP GB/FB LD% GB% FB%
Lance McCullers Astros 0.281 3.23 17.50% 63.00% 19.50%
Marcus Stroman Blue Jays 0.316 2.61 16.60% 60.30% 23.10%
Clayton Richard Padres 0.341 2.95 21.70% 58.50% 19.80%
Kyle Freeland Rockies 0.299 2.39 17.00% 58.50% 24.50%
Tyler Chatwood Rockies 0.259 2.44 20.10% 56.70% 23.20%
Luis Severino Yankees 0.275 2 15.80% 56.10% 28.10%
Jaime Garcia Braves 0.272 2.09 17.60% 55.70% 26.70%
Mike Leake Cardinals 0.264 2.29 21.00% 55.00% 24.00%
Jhoulys Chacin Padres 0.293 1.8 16.90% 53.40% 29.70%
Wade Miley Orioles 0.324 2.07 21.40% 53.00% 25.60%

That's generally good company to be in. The easiest way to get by without striking people out is to prevent balls from going in the air; that's doubly important when playing in Coors Field. Put together, he actually pitches better at Coors than on the road (.712 opposing OPS home, .817 away). While groundballs result in hits more often than flyballs, flyballs go for home runs at an ever increasing rate (a combination of a juiced ball and more athletic hitters). Freeland, to this point, is showing the way to be successful despite the obvious deficiencies in a put-away pitch (which he'll likely never have). 

In an attempt to bring this into at least quasi-relevance for the Cubs, I think this underscores the importance to limiting flyballs in particular. While it's true that pitchers only have limited control over their batted-ball profiles, it's self-evident that they can influence it somewhat – if they couldn't, there would be no variation from pitcher to pitcher. Pitchers like John Lackey are almost entirely useless simply on the basis of the fact they allow too many flyballs – even yesterday, it was clear to see that Montgomery allowed a home run to Stanton that was a double any year before 2015 or to any other hitter besides Stanton. The rules of the game are changing, and changing quickly. The pitching staff needs to be aware of that, and they need to make changes in approach if at all possible. There's at least some viable path forward if you can induce groundballs and reduce flyballs – at least there is until Freeland regresses to the mean. 

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  1. Edwin

    I generally view pitching as a triangle made up of K%, BB%, and GB%. Obviously great pitchers are good at multiple things, but in general to be successful if a pitcher is bad in one area of the triangle, they need to make it up in some combination in the other areas.

    Sometimes pitchers can try and make a trade off to improve certain areas, so a pitcher might decide to start throwing more sinkers in the zone, lowering their K%, but if they can raise their GB% enough without hurting their BB%, it’s a solid trade.

    Just the general way I think about pitchers when I evaluate them. Personally I’m a big fan of K%, and especially K-BB%, but it’s certainly possible for a pitcher to succeed with a low K% high GB% approach.

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  2. dmick89

    Edwin: Just the general way I think about pitchers when I evaluate them. Personally I’m a big fan of K%, and especially K-BB%, but it’s certainly possible for a pitcher to succeed with a low K% high GB% approach.

    I think the number of low strikeout pitchers who have succeeded for several years is rather limited. There’s so much data in baseball that just about anything is possible and it’s certainly happened and will happen again and again, but odds are a low strikeout pitcher will not have much success at the MLB level. I think that’s what irritates me so much about all these low strikeout pitchers the Cubs have in the minor leagues. Out of dozens of pitchers, they probably won’t get more than a few useful years out of them as starters.

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  3. Author
    myles

    dmick89: I think the number of low strikeout pitchers who have succeeded for several years is rather limited. There’s so much data in baseball that just about anything is possible and it’s certainly happened and will happen again and again, but odds are a low strikeout pitcher will not have much success at the MLB level. I think that’s what irritates me so much about all these low strikeout pitchers the Cubs have in the minor leagues. Out of dozens of pitchers, they probably won’t get more than a few useful years out of them as starters.

    Extremely true. I don’t think Freeland is demonstrably different than, say, Dallas Beeler. That said, the only route to sustained success if you aren’t striking out hitters is to get the to ground out as frequently as possible, which Freeland has been able to do. In an environment that is rapidly shifting to favor groundball pitchers, it’s opening up a window that was previously closed to low-strikeout pitchers. The margin is extremely thin, but it is getting wider.

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  4. Edwin

    Is it hard to pair low BB% with high GB%? I remember scanning through fangraphs one time, and the amount of pitchers with that skill set seemed low to me. I was thinking maybe pitches which traditionally are GB pitches (sinkers/curveballs/splitters/changeups) are harder to control. Or are GB’s tied to movement/velocity, which might make it harder to control the type of stuff which normally results in more GB’s?

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  5. Edwin

    Henderson Alvarez fits the model. If he’s healthy I think he’d be interesting. Plus he throws an eephus pitch, which I find entertaining.

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  6. Author
    myles

    Edwin:
    Is it hard to pair low BB% with high GB%?I remember scanning through fangraphs one time, and the amount of pitchers with that skill set seemed low to me.I was thinking maybe pitches which traditionally are GB pitches (sinkers/curveballs/splitters/changeups) are harder to control.Or are GB’s tied to movement/velocity, which might make it harder to control the type of stuff which normally results in more GB’s?

    I’ve always thought (perhaps with no basis in reality) that GB pitchers rely on downwards movement, and that the more movement a pitcher has, the more likely they are to live outside the zone (which increases walk rate).

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  7. Author
    myles

    Perhaps an enterprising analyst could also tie release point height to GB rate (or, to be more specific, the ABSOLUTE VALUE of the difference between pitcher x’s release point and the average release point). I’ve thought (again, with perhaps no evidence), that tall pitcher induce more grounders due to a high release point (and therefore a tumbling ball), and submariners obviously try to never get a ball above a hitter’s belt.

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  8. Author
    myles

    berselius:
    myles,

    we use L2 norms around these parts, my frent.

    I’m a simple man, and I stick to my absolute values. If the missus has a birthday or something, we might dip into the city for a Euclidean.

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  9. cerulean

    Edwin:
    Cool post.

    Forgot the “bro” at the end of your sentence fragment. Just thought I’d let you know with a sentence fragment.

    Edwin:
    Nerds.

    I don’t understand who you could be talking about.

    (Not “whom”. That was the only casualty of Y2K.)

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  10. Perkins

    cerulean: Only 22M lose coverage. In 22 revisions, they may come up with Obamacare.

    If the bill gets signed into law, I guess the silver lining is that a bunch of people who support Trump might die. But a lot of people who tried not to fuck over the world probably will as well, so I guess it’s still a bad thing on balance.

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  11. berselius

    Joe is clearly trying to make up for leaving Schwarber in the leadoff position for so long (dying laughing)

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  12. cerulean

    GOP:

    In the long run, we’re all dead.

    Republicans claim to be benevolent Hayekians in spirit, but are malevolent Keynesians in reality.

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  13. Rizzo the Rat

    From the Wikipedia entry on “Catcher”:

    Rarely, a catcher can make a successful pick-off throw to a base to surprise an inattentive or incautious baserunner. Especially at the higher levels of baseball (where this play almost never results in an out), the catcher’s snap throws are mainly for psychological effect.

    (dying laughing)

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  14. cerulean

    Rizzo the Rat:
    cerulean,

    He did a good job working that 3-2 count, but then, ugh.

    How did you decide to take that 50% strike on the inside edge and then flail at something offspeed way off the plate in. Baseball is hard enough already.

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  15. cerulean

    Eddie Butler is a high-wire act.
    John Lackey is a clown show.
    Jon Lester is a man shot from a cannon.
    Jake Arrieta is an acrobat.
    Kyle Hendricks is an illusionist.
    Mike Montgomery is a lion tamer.

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  16. Perkins

    The Cubs’ strategy for this series needs to be “work the starters’ pitch counts as high as you can” and just concentrate on the Nats’ relievers.

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  17. cerulean

    I did not realize that the Nats have scored the most runs in baseball. I think it should be Davis time. Maddon agrees.

    EDIT: Deunsing!? WTF, Joe!?

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  18. cerulean

    Phew. Grimm remains lights out since returning, but the longer that goes on, the more I expect the wheels to come flying off.

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  19. Perkins

    JKV:
    So Miggy is throwing the pitching staff (mostly Jake) under the bus.

    Should be an interesting rest of the season if the team can’t get its shit together.

    With all the injuries and instances of underperformance, this team is reminding me a lot of the 2009 team. Good thing they won the World Series last year instead of getting bounced im the NLDS, or this would be a lot more frustrating than it already is.

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  20. Edwin

    Worst of all, I twittered at Kyle Freeland and he still hasn’t gotten back to me so we still have no idea what’s up with him. #weareback

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  21. Rizzo the Rat

    dmick89:
    Maybe starting Montero against any opponent with functioning legs is a bad idea.

    Too bad he can’t start against the Cubs, then.

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  22. dmick89

    Perkins,

    I think this is more frustrating because this team is built, supposedly, for now and the future, but both of those are in doubt. The 2009 team was old and its window was closing, but this team is young and their window doesn’t look as though it will be around beyond this year.

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