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Every year there is one pitcher who, despite all underlying peripherals, puts up monster numbers and leaves fantasy owners wondering how to value them come next year. In 2018, that pitcher was Kyle Freeland, who not only put up inexplicable numbers, but did so in Colorado. Freeland's success despite a contact-heavy pitching style makes him the perfect pitcher to compare with Jose Quintana, who was once the king of low-dominance success before a two-year dip in production.

Can Freeland conquer Coors again, can Quintana return to former glory, and most importantly, are either of them worth putting on your fantasy team?

In this article, I will be comparing the average draft position (ADP) of Kyle Freeland to Jose Quintana to determine who the better value is on draft day. ADP data is based on NFBC leagues and is current as of 02/25/2019.

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Kyle Freeland (ADP: 38th SP, 150th Overall)

Freeland had a breakout season in 2018, posting a 17-7 record along with a 2.85 ERA in 202.1 innings. That’s a brilliant season for anyone, but especially impressive considering Freeland calls Coors Field home. With a season like that, one would expect Freeland to shoot up draft boards, but at just pick 150 his draft value isn’t commensurate with his surface perform. Fantasy owners are reluctant to buy into Freeland’s performance, and after looking into Freeland’s underlying stats it’s clear why there is so much doubt.

To begin with, Freeland somehow managed a .285 BABIP against despite pitching half his games in Colorado. The even crazier part is that Freeland had a .269 BABIP at home. His road BABIP was basically league average at .299, but at Coors Field the hits just didn’t fall; an odd phenomenon to say the least. How would a pitcher be able to achieve this feat, and, more importantly, repeat it?

Well, perhaps Freeland is one of those mythical contact management pitchers, ala Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Keuchel, where he makes up for lack of stuff by inducing favorable contact. The best type of hit for a pitcher to induce is an infield flyball, since these are basically automatic outs. Freeland had an 11.4% infield flyball rate last season, which was only 1% above the league average. The next best hit would be a groundball. While a groundball is more likely to go for a hit than a flyball, it’s rare for one to be more than a single, and when a groundball goes for extra bases it’s usually a down-the-line double or something equally as fluky. Freeland posted a 46% groundball rate was slightly above the league average, but not spectacular or noteworthy. These are solid skills, but neither would explain his success on batted balls.

Freeland does excel in limiting hard contact by Statcast’s metrics. He was in the 88th percentile of average exit velocity against and the 91st percentile of hard contact allowed last season. Freeland’s slider was a big reason for his success last season, as batters hit just .203 against the pitch, and even more impressively opposing hitters had a .191 xBA against Freeland’s slider. The pitch also had a 32.8% infield flyball rate. While not a big strikeout pitch in relative terms, it was Freeland’s best strikeout pitch with a 13.7% SwStr rate. His slider is an impressive pitch, but it will allow Freeland to overcome his deficiencies to a degree.

He has underwhelming stuff, generally speaking, has poor control and low dominance, and plays for the Rockies. No one expects him to repeat a 2.85 ERA, but an ERA around 4.39, which was his SIERA in 2018, seems possible. Pick 150 isn’t a huge investment given last year’s surface stats, but there are too many red flags here to consider Freeland even as a top 50 starting pitcher. He’s currently the 38th SP off the board in NFBC leagues, and I would not recommend him at that ADP.

 

Jose Quintana (ADP 52nd SP, 184th Overall)

Look up the word "dependable" in the dictionary and you’ll see a brief sentence defining the word. That sentence perfectly described Jose Quintana between the 2013-2016 seasons. In those four years, Quintana pitched at least 200 innings every season with an ERA of 3.51 or better and a K/BB ratio of 2.93 or better. He flew under the radar to most baseball fans because the White Sox weren’t competitive during that time, but fantasy owners grew to appreciate Quintana’s reliability in this age of pitcher volatility.

In 2017, we saw the first warning signs from Quintana when he posted an ERA above four for the first time in his career and failed to pitch 200 innings for the first time. It was a season of streaks for Quintana, as he posted an ERA above 5.20 in three separate months, but also posted an ERA of 2.51 or better in two different months. The two positives from 2017 that gave us hope for a bounce back were Quintana’s trade to the Cubs, which was better for him across the board. Better team, better defense, better ballpark, and an easier league. The second positive was an increased strikeout rate, which was up to a career-high 26.2% in 2017. Quintana was a prime rebound candidate heading into 2018.

Based on his 2017 performance, it was easy to tell that the increased strikeout rate wasn’t here to stay. The strikeout rate was fluky based on an uncharacteristic and unsustainable changeup results. Quintana also had a well below average swinging strike rate in 2017. Things normalized for Quintana in 2018, and the results weren’t pretty. His 13 wins tied a career high, but everything else is on a negative trend. His changeup regressed, and his trademark curveball got clobbered last year for a .222 ISO against. The pitch was a big reason for Quintana’s career-high 1.29 HR/9 rate, as nine of the 25 homers he allowed came off curveballs.

Furthermore, Quintana posted a bloated 9.2% walk rate last season, by far the highest of his career. It would be one thing if Quintana was walking more batters because he couldn’t find the zone, but something even more concerning happened; he couldn’t get hitters to chase. He had a 26.9% O-swing rate last year, the lowest since his rookie season. He also lost three inches of drop on his curveball, and those two things hand-in-hand suggest either injury or age-related decline for Quintana.

His velocity didn’t drop last year, which would seemingly rule out injury, and Quintana only turned 30 last month, which doesn’t make him a grandpa yet, even in today’s youth-obsessed game. He does have over 1300 major league innings on his arm thanks to his workhorse-like stability with the White Sox, which could contribute to an early decline, but it just seems premature to write Quintana off so early. Unfortunately, there just isn’t anything in his profile to suggest a bounce back for Quintana in 2019. In fact, most of the evidence points to the contrary.

His current ADP makes him pick 184 in NFBC drafts and the 52nd starting pitcher off the board. That isn’t low enough to make the risk worth the potential reward. Other, higher upside pitchers are going after Quintana. At best, he can be an innings eater, and at worst he’ll damage your ERA and WHIP.

 

Conclusion

Admittedly, neither of these pitchers fit the archetype of pitchers I target in fantasy, which are typically high strikeout guys with one or two killer pitches but considerable risk, be it injury, control issues, lack of a third pitch, or otherwise. That being said, I went into this article with an open mind, hoping to uncover the secret behind Kyle Freeland’s success, or looking for the key to a Jose Quintana bounce back. Sadly, I came away from this article just as I began it, disinterested in both of these pitchers. Maybe that makes me biased against them, but I cannot find a compelling reason to draft either of them.

At their current ADP neither provide good value, and I can’t recommend either one this draft season. If forced to choose, I’d select Kyle Freeland at pick 150 over Jose Quintana at pick 188. Freeland isn’t going to post another 2.85 ERA - I’d wager the entire contents of my cookie jar on that one, but he’ll likely wind up with the better season than Quintana. If I wound up with Quintana on my team I’d hope for a hot start to flip him, and I would feel free to drop him if he gets off to a slow start.

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