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Everything about Kyle Freeland’s 2019 was complicated. But maybe nothing more so than his pitching motion: The 26-year-old lefty started the season with a longer pause at the top of his delivery, a hitch that contributed to myriad mechanical problems. The glitchy motion made it difficult for him to locate his pitches, and he was regularly giving up moon shots. On top of that, he had coaches in his ear constantly suggesting slight adjustments. “I didn’t feel confident at all,” Freeland says. “I was just hoping not to give up runs.”
Freeland’s 2018 season had been everything he dreamed of growing up in southeast Denver. He put together one of the best overall pitching seasons in franchise history, which included 17 wins and a fourth-place finish in National League Cy Young voting. But as the 2019 campaign entered late May, it seemed increasingly unlikely he’d regain that impressive form. To help Freeland get out of the spotlight so he could work through adjustments, Rockies brass sent him down to the team’s minor league affiliate in Albuquerque. “Kyle put a lot of pressure on himself to replicate the previous season,” says Rockies manager Bud Black. “We all knew he needed to take a step back.” Freeland would eventually return to the big league team in July, but injuries limited him the rest of the season.
Despite the team’s dismal 2019, the Rockies didn’t make any drastic changes to the pitching staff this offseason. The plan is for German Márquez and Jon Gray to once again hold down the front of the rotation with Freeland. But there aren’t any other pitchers on the roster who have proven themselves as serviceable fourth or fifth starters yet, which means another lackluster year from Freeland could leave the Rockies with a debilitating dearth of reliable arms.
There are many major league pitchers—Mark Fidrych of the Detroit Tigers and Pete Schourek of the Cincinnati Reds among them—who produced Cy Young–worthy seasons only to never replicate such greatness again. There are also a select few, like Hall of Famer Roy Halladay, who were sent down to the minors and were able to resurrect their careers. In order to help his future hew closer to the latter scenario, Freeland spent the winter in Scottsdale working on a more straightforward pitching motion. “You aren’t going to see the long pause,” Black says. “It will be a free-flowing, momentum-building delivery.” In other words, simplicity might be the solution.