Kyle Freeland’s season deserves more attention

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Rockies starter Kyle Freeland pitched into the seventh inning on Thursday afternoon against the division rival Diamondbacks. Ultimately, the lefty was on the hook for three runs over 6 1/3 innings on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts. The Rockies went on to win 10-3, increasing their lead in the NL West over the Dodgers to two games and the D-Backs to four games.

Freeland improves his season stats to 15-7 with a 2.96 ERA and a 159/64 K/BB ratio in 182 2/3 innings. He isn’t the best pitcher in the National League and he won’t win the NL Cy Young Award, but we should be talking about his impressive season more than we currently are.

When a hitter has an outstanding season with the Rockies, the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field are used as a cudgel against any argument that that player should earn an award or just praise in general. This is the case for shortstop Trevor Story, who has catapaulted himself into the NL MVP conversation. It was true for Charlie Blackmon, who won the batting title last year. Rarely do people apply Coors credit in reverse: praising pitchers for succeeding in the toughest park for pitchers.

Freeland could become just the third Rockies pitcher to pitch enough innings to qualify for the Cy Young Award and finish the season with an ERA under 3.00. Ubaldo Jimenez did it last in 2010 (2.88) and Marvin Freeman accomplished it in 1994 (2.80). What makes Freeland’s success even more impressive is that his home/road splits are the opposite of what we would expect: he pitches better at Coors Field. His home ERA is 2.21 with 76 strikeouts and 29 walks in 81 1/3 innings. His road ERA is 3.51 with 77 strikeouts and 34 walks in 95 innings.

Freeland also sticks out like a sore thumb compared to his rotation mates. German Marquez is the only other pitcher with a respectable ERA, at 3.94 over 29 starts. Tyler Anderson is at 4.89 in 29 starts, Jon Gray 4.80 in 28, Chad Bettis 5.23 in 19 starts and five relief appearances, and Antonio Senzatela 5.01 over 10 starts and 10 relief appearances. One wonders where the Rockies might be without Freeland.

Jacob deGrom should win the Cy Young Award in the National League. He probably will. For whatever it’s worth, however, Freeland is worthy of consideration for second-, third-, and fourth-place votes along with Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, and Mike Foltynewicz. And, in general, his season is worthy of a lot more respect and attention than he’s currently getting.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.