Cincinnati Reds: Kyle Freeland should be a trade target this offseason

DENVER, COLORADO - AUGUST 04: Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland #21 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on August 04, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - AUGUST 04: Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland #21 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on August 04, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

As the Cincinnati Reds continue their eternal search for an effective southpaw for the starting rotation, taking a gamble on Kyle Freeland could pay off handsomely.

After making a trade for Alex Wood, it appeared the Cincinnati Reds had found their left-handed starter. However, a back injury has turned Wood’s 2019 season has been a nightmare and it’s back to the drawing board. Could the Reds strike gold with Kyle Freeland this offseason?

Let’s get  this out of the way right now, Freeland has been having terrible this season. Sporting a 6.98 ERA and surrendering more than two home runs per nine innings pitched, there’s very little positive to be gained from his 2019 season. However, just a year ago the southpaw was thought to be one of the best young hurlers in the game.

Finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young Award race in 2018 when he went 17-7 with a sparkling 2.85 ERA, Kyle Freeland had all the makings of a future ace. Tossing 202.1 innings and allowing just 189 hits, he also fanned 173 batters. Just as impressive, these numbers were compiled while making half of his starts in Coors Field.

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So what’s happened to the 26-year-old University of Evansville alum? For starters, he’s been absolutely horrendous at home. Pitching in the hitter’s paradise known as Coors Field, he’s been saddled with a 9.25 ERA and has allowed a staggering 16 round trippers in just 47.2 innings of work.

Freeland has been better on the road, but still well shy of being a consistent performer. Away from the thin air of Colorado, Freeland has accumulated a 4.88 ERA in 51.2 innings and surrendered nearly half as many, nine, home runs.

Strangely enough, the former first-round pick is allowing fewer fly balls than he did last year when allowed just 17 dingers over 33 starts. The one major outlier has been that opponents are pulling the ball much more this season against the Rockies left-hander. Last year, hitters pulled the ball just 37.6% of the time. This year that number has skyrocketed to 47.5%.

The good news is there’s no sign of a velocity issue. Freeland’s readings on the radar gun are virtually equal with what he did last year. However, he has mixed up his pitch selection in 2019 compared to his banner year the previous season.

Freeland is throwing his four seam fastball and cutter more than he has at any time in his three-year career, while using his off-speed pitches, changeup and slider, less.

Nevertheless, there are some numbers to indicate Kyle Freeland is not nearly as bad as he seems. Opponents are swinging at Freeland offerings outside of the strike zone more than at any time in his career. In addition, his contact %, total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches, is at a career-low.

One of his greatest strengths is his ability to induce ground balls. The average ground ball rate among pitchers in 2019 is 42.9%. This year, the southpaw has rolled up ground balls at 46.7% rate, which bests his 46.0% mark from last year. In fact, Freeland has been above the league average in ground ball rate all three years of his young career.

The question begs, are the Rockies willing to give up on the Denver-born leftie? That’s a tough question the Rockies must answer. Is Freeland just having a bad season or has he been so damaged pitching at Coors that he can no longer be effective in a Colorado uniform?

Cincinnati should at least place a call to the Colorado front office this offseason. Freeland’s situation is eerily similar to that of current Cincinnati Reds ace Sonny Gray. A formerly excellent pitcher, battling with a lack of confidence in desperate need of a change of scenery.

With the impending departure of Wood, the Reds could use a left-hander in the starting rotation especially in a division where you face Christian Yelich and Anthony Rizzo 19 times a season. Even more enticing is that Freeland is just now eligible for arbitration and won’t hit free agency until the 2023 season.

What might it take to wrestle the southpaw from the Rockie Mountains? Colorado is always looking for pitching help and their bullpen has been a disaster this season. The Reds could put a package together that features an experienced reliever who could probably use a change of scenery as well.

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Will any of this come to fruition? Who knows, but if I’m Dick Williams and Nick Krall I’m picking up the phone and preparing to the roll the dice on a 26-year-old left-hander starter who is just a year removed from being one of the best starters in the National League.