NL Wild Card Game: Pitching Comparison

Divisions have been settled and the wild-card games are upon us. The Cubs and Rockies meet at Wrigley Field for a win-or-go-home game on Tuesday night. Let’s take a look at the starting pitchers for the game.

First, a quick pitching comparison

Kyle Freeland 202.1 2.85 1.25 7.70 46.0% 34.5% 4.2 4.72
Jon Lester 181.2 3.32 1.31 7.38 37.7% 36.4% 1.7 2.22

There’s no denying it, Freeland has been better this season. Higher WAR and WPA show you what he’s meant to this pitching-lead Rockies team. Freeland has been Colorado’s best starting pitcher all season long.

Kyle Freeland Jon Lester
Vs RHB 600 0.255 0.319 0.385 Vs RHB 601 0.250 0.315 0.381
Vs LHB 157 0.185 0.264 0.255 Vs LHB 160 0.279 0.357 0.521

The area that sticks out to me on this chart is Freeland’s dominance against lefties compared to Lester actually being better against right-handed batters. It will be interesting to see how Anthony Rizzo stacks up and whether or not Joe Maddon plays Jason Heyward and switch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ (both hit better left-handed). I would expect Albert Almora should be in the lineup and starting in center for the Cubs.

Where Lester has struggled more than usual is the first time through the order. Lester has been below average the first-time through the order, but has been better after that. Freeland has been much better than average the first two times through, but his numbers are worse the third time through the order (opponent’s batting average increases .050). It’s also important to see how each pitcher has done recently. The next two charts show the last 5 outings for each starter.



Both pitchers have been pitching very well as of late and each pitcher’s team has won four of their last five starts.

Scouting Report: LHP Kyle Freeland

Pitches: 4-seam Fastball (52%), Cutter (29%), Changeup (14%), Slider (5%)

Denver native and the 8th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. He has only been in the majors for two seasons, but his 3.04 career Coors Field ERA is the lowest home ERA in franchise history (minimum 100 innings). His fastball sits around 91-93 mph and has natural sinking action which helps him get a few more ground balls than average. His cutter (usually around 87 mph) is his swing-and-miss pitch. He has done a great job in 2018 of attacking both sides of the plate. Freeland won’t leave many balls over┬áthe middle. He can live on both the outside and the inside and because of this has been one of the best in the majors at generating weak contact. The heatmap below illustrates where Freeland’s pitches have been located this year. The darkest areas are where he throws the ball most often. You can see how he uses both sides of the plate and stays out of the middle.

freeland heatmap

Scouting Report: LHP Jon Lester

Pitches: 4-seam Fastball (45%), Cutter (25%), Curveball (16%), Changeup (9%), Sinker (5%)

Lester has pitched in many big games and multiple World Series’ with the Cubs and Red Sox. He makes his living at the bottom of the zone, if he can spot his fastball low and get those calls from the ump, he will be successful. When he doesn’t, his pitch count can skyrocket. His cutter has good movement. His big curveball generates more swings-and-misses than average. Lester’s game always comes down to whether he spots his fastballs, gets the low strike and can survive the first few innings. Below is a heatmap of Jon Lester’s pitches this season. You can see how rarely he works up in the zone and likes to live at the knees.


Two really talented pitchers, but not the hardest of throwers face-off in the wild card game tonight. It could very easily come down to the bullpens if these two do their jobs.

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