Player Profile 2013: Ernesto Frieri
Teams make trades for an assortment of different reasons. They trade players for salary relief, they trade for the playoff push by acquiring that “final piece.” Most of the time however, teams make simple trades that receive little to no fanfare, small trades that include role players that have major league talent, but little to no chance of breaking in with their original club. These trades don’t get remembered by baseball fans as a whole, they don’t usually get remembered by fans of the teams that orchestrated the swap in the first place. They are not Pappas for Robinson or Fregosi for Ryan or Babe Ruth for $100,000 and a piece of Fenway Park, they are viewed as inconsequential and are treated as such.
Most of the baseball world didn’t take notice last year when the Angels sent blocked prospect Alexi Amarista along with Donn Roach to the Padres for Ernesto Frieri. Amarista had been mildly impressive in his short stints with the Angels and even showed some serious hops while getting acclimated to the outfield. However, Howie Kendrick had been locked up with a four year extension and wasn’t going anywhere, and Amarista’s trade value was going to tank squandering in AAA. So, Dipoto moved him for a relief pitcher who was entering his second full season and – up to that point – had a posted a career K/9 of 11.4 and, as fans would soon find out, had one of the nastiest two seam fastballs in existence.
The Colombia native spent his minor league career as a mediocre prospect according to Baseball America rankings, probably because along with missing bats he was missing the strike zone with regularity as well. But a relief pitcher who boasts a career minor league K/9 of 12.01 is bound to find himself on a major league roster someday, even if he does have weak walkup music for a reliever. Frieri doesn’t care about musical taste though, so along with his Gypsy Kings music, he methodically worked his way up through the Padres system eventually being named Reliever of the Year for the Pacific Coast League in 2010 and getting a mid-season call up that would turn out to be (aside from his four AAA appearances in 2011), his final promotion to the Show.
So, what did the Angels get from their newly acquired reliever? Well, his first nine innings pitched resulted in 20 strikeouts while allowing zero hits. When Jordan Walden was demoted from his closer role and Scott Downs’ effectiveness began to slip, Frieri was inserted into that role and went on to convert 24 of his 27 save opportunities. They got a right handed reliever he bucks the trend and makes left handed hitters look silly as they posted a slash line of .095/.202/.171 against Ernasty, and he struck out 32 lefties across 119 combined plate appearances. According to Fangraphs, that was good for a K/9 of 17.81 or, better than Craig Kimbrell last year. He did slump towards the end of the season, or maybe Zack Greinke just pissed him off, but the team got a lot of bang for it’s buck as Frieri is now a very important cog in the bullpen coming into 2013.
Ditch the cutter, brother.
Reports out of the Angels Spring Training camp were that Ernesto was working on a new pitch which at first was tabbed as a changeup, but subsequent reports have it now tabbed as a cutter. Prior to last week’s podcast with Kevin, I was for Ernesto complimenting his two seamer with a pitch that darts the other way and is not called a slider. My opinion was that it would help him be more effective against lefties; obviously I had not seen the splits. What’s my opinion now? K.I.S.S., Keep It Simple Stupid (Disclaimer: I am not implying that Ernesto is stupid, and if you did think I was implying said stupidity, please, get over it). Frieri is a reliever and doesn’t need an arsenal of pitches, he needs two, and it seems to me that what he has done so far with his two has been prettah prettah good, no?
Three cheers for bullpen depth
Of course, we don’t have anyone that could actually step in and be Ernesto Frieri should Frieri go down in the same vein as Nick Maronde being able to adequately fill either Sean Burnett’s or Scott Downs’ shoes, but with the Madsen signing, all signs point to Frieri not being the closer since Scioscia will simply pull the “veteran” card. Frieri will join the setup man corps that also includes another righty in Kevin Jepsen. There are also late inning lefty options in Burnett and Downs. Of course, this bullpen is one tweaked Ulnar Collateral Ligament away from being just as thin as it was in 2011 and 2012, but the foundation of this bullpen is already much stronger than what the Angels had the last couple of seasons, so an injury should be much easier to absorb in 2013. Frieri may have earned the closer role in 2012, but his ability to strike hitters out by the bus load really makes his presence in the 7th and 8th innings necessary. He and Jepsen are the only relievers that really have swing and miss “stuff,” and what better way to squash a late inning rally than to make sure that a hitter’s bat doesn’t touch the pitch.
Some trades are forgotten at almost the exact moment that they take place. To be honest, I had to go to Baseball-Reference to make sure that there was, in fact, a third player involved and what his name was. This trade probably won’t invoke any kind of nostalgia 20 years from now when a list of greatest trades is published, it might, but I’m about 99% sure that it doesn’t have snowball’s chance in H-E-double hockey sticks chance. But it doesn’t need to be a trade that gets remembered in the annals of baseball history for it to be a success, it just needs to work, and in this case, it needed to work for the Angels. So far, I think it’s safe to say that this trade has been quite the win, unless of course you don’t like dominant pitchers who make hitters look like little leaguers. In that case, well, I don’t know what to tell you, maybe just that you can keep rooting for Jason Isringhausen or something.