A year ago, Kyle Freeland had a very good season. For some, it was almost too good. Here at FanGraphs, Freeland put up a 3.67 FIP, and playing half his games in Colorado meant a 4.2 WAR in over 200 innings and one of the 10 best pitching seasons in the National League. Freeland’s ERA was even better than his FIP, and with a 2.85 mark, his RA/9WAR was 7.5, the fifth-best mark in all of baseball. The distance between his ERA and FIP likely created a gap between those who believed Freeland was one of the best pitchers in baseball and merely a good one. The latter group thought that Freeland was in for some regression this year. After a rough two months, including time on the injured list, Freeland has been dispatched to the minors. That’s not regression. Allow me to explain.
Before being sent down, Freeland had a 6.37 FIP, a 7.13 ERA, and had given up 16 homers in 12 starts after giving up 17 in all of 2018. After last season, it’s possible some were expecting another sub-three ERA, but doing so would have been unrealistic. Expecting some regression might have meant that Freeland’s BABIP would go up from the .285 where it was a year ago and his LOB% would go down from 83%. Those numbers wouldn’t affect his 3.67 FIP, but it might take his ERA closer to his FIP. Maybe Freeland’s 8.5% HR/FB would creep up closer to average, leading to a higher FIP and ERA. In fact, projections considered many of those factors and forecast Freeland for a roughly average season with an ERA and FIP around 4.50. If regression had come for Kyle Freeland, that might have been what it looked like. If Freeland were pitching just like last season, we might expect a similar FIP and worse ERA. The problem is that Freeland isn’t pitching like he did last season. This isn’t regression (or reversion). This is Kyle Freeland being not as good of a pitcher as he was a year ago.
Freeland is a command lefty who excelled last season by pitching to his spots. In late 2018, Jeff Sullivan wrote about how good Freeland’s command had been all season, using multiple heat maps. We’ll engage in a similar exercise below, showing Freeland last year and this year. First, here are all of his pitches in 2019 compared to all of his pitches last season:
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