As we head into the third week of the MLB season the St. Louis Cardinals have already faced a multitude of front-line starting pitchers including Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. They finally appear to be heading for a bit of a reprieve in that area though as they face the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates this week, neither of whom are known for their starting pitching. However, Colorado will be throwing a pitcher with a career ERA+ of 116 meaning he is 16 percent better than the league average starter. By no means is he an ace, but Kyle Freeland is at least an above average rotation piece. Down below we are going to break down what the 4th place finisher in the 2018 NL CY Young voting has in his arsenal.
Next week we will start using 2023 data.
2023 pitch usage rate - Sinker 35 percent, slider 30 percent, curveball 17.5 percent, 4 seam 10.6 percent and changeup 6.9 percent.
Pitch #1 - Four seam fastball - pitch usage - 23.2 percent
2022 stats - .274 xBA, .466 xSLG, .343 xwOBA
Average velo - 90.3 MPH - Spin rate - 2,389 RPM - vertical movement - 19.9 inches - horizontal movement - 5.9 inches
All in all, this really is not a good pitch, and a bit surprising that it led his arsenal last year. It got knocked around a lot and from a movement perspective is well below average. However, its spin rate did rank 84th amongst pitchers with 100 or more at bats against last season. What hurts Freeland a lot with this pitch is the velocity of it. In an era where hitters almost exclusively see 96+ MPH fastballs, it is difficult to get by with one around 90. He was able to throw it in the strike zone last season 56.1 percent of the time, but it only produced an in-zone whiff rate on 13.2 percent of swings against it. Honestly, when looking at his 2023 usage of the pitch, I do not think it is an outlier as I believe he is trying to use this pitch significantly less due to its lack of success.
Pitch #2 - Slider - pitch usage - 22.6 percent
2022 stats - .231 xBA, .449 xSLG, .328 xwOBA
Average velo - 85.5 MPH - Spin rate - 2,376 RPM - vertical movement - 32.6 inches - horizontal movement - 1.4 inches (4 inches below average)
There are multiple lefties in both the present and recent past who made their money off of elite back foot sliders to righties with Chris Sale and Andrew Miller being the first two to come to mind. For Freeland though, his slider is not that pitch as the whiff rate on it to righties was just 22.9 percent. He does use it more to lefties overall as he threw it 25 percent of the time to them compared to 21.9 percent of the time to righties. Lefties did struggle to make solid contact off of it with just an average exit velocity against it of 83.2 MPH, with a hard-hit percentage of 29 percent. Expect left-handed batters in the Cardinals order to see a steady diet of sliders against him.
Pitch #3 - Sinker - pitch usage - 22.2 percent
2022 stats - .302 xBA, .485 xSLG, .380 xwOBA
Average velo - 89.6 MPH - Spin rate - 2,358 RPM - vertical movement - 27.5 inches - horizontal movement - 13 inches
Freeland’s sinker last season was much worse than his four seam, which he is seemingly looking to ditch from his arsenal. Righties only saw this pitch 19.3 percent of the time last year but when they did damage to it with an xWOBA of .342 and an average exit velocity of 91.6 MPH. They hardly swung and missed at it with a whiff rate of just 9.9 percent and an in the strike zone whiff rate of only 7.4 percent. When Freeland throws this pitch, his goal is to induce ground balls and he was successful at doing that last season with it. The ground ball rate on it was 57.1 percent and it had a launch angle of 7 degrees. Based on his usage this year, right-handers should expect to see this pitch at a decent rate and if they do, look for the Cards to have a big offensive night.
Pitch #4 - Curveball - pitch usage - 18.2 percent
2022 stats - .213 xBA, .348 xSLG, .288 xwOBA
Average velo - 80.9 MPH - Spin rate - 2,446 RPM - vertical movement - 48.5 inches - horizontal movement - 4.3 inches (5.4 inches below average)
Based on the metrics, this was the best pitch in Freeland’s repertoire last season. Batters whiffed at it 31.6 percent of the time, his highest with any pitch and the chase rate on it was 37.8 percent, 5.8 percent higher than his next closest pitch. Hitters were able to routinely square it up though as it had an average exit velocity of 90.2 MPH, the second highest on any of his pitches. His curveball was his least used pitch against right-handed batters as it sat at just 17.1 percent. Freeland rarely threw it in the strike zone as it had an out of zone percent of 60.3 last season, the highest amongst all of his pitches. Despite that though, hitters did not chase it consistently with only a chase rate of 28 percent.
Pitch #5 - Changeup - pitch usage - 13.8 percent
2022 stats - .371 xBA, .572 xSLG, .425 xwOBA
Average velo - 84.8 MPH - Spin rate - 1,478 RPM - vertical movement - 30.6 inches - horizontal movement - 11 inches
Lefties can just about cross this pitch off the list as he threw only 2 changeups to them last year, compared to 391 against righties. It does make sense though as traditionally pitchers do not like to throw same sided changeups. Righties absolutely mashed this pitch as it had an xwOBA of .425 and xSLG of .572. To put it into perspective as to how high those numbers were last season, Paul Goldschmidt’s 2022 season carried an overall xwOBA was .367 and his xSLG was .482. So effectively, the NL MVP’s statistics pale in comparison to how dominant right-handed hitters were against this pitch. I would honestly be surprised if we don’t see at least one extra base against this pitch come Tuesday.
Key matchup - Paul Goldschmidt - Goldy has 25 career at bats against the southpaw and despite being viewed as a lefty masher only has a lifetime .240 average against him. The 2022 NL MVP does have 6 walks against him though, compared to only 5 strikeouts. I think we see Freeland try to attack him with multiple changeups in part because of how successful Goldschmidt has been against four seam fastballs in his career.
Prediction - Freeland pitches 5 innings allowing 3 earned runs and striking out 4 batters.