It took 13 and a third innings, but Ernesto Frieri finally gave up a hit as an Angel; to which he replied, “I’m human.” To which I replied (in my head, of course), well, no Ernesto you’re not human and you have not been since you began wearing Angels’ red.
Any pitcher who strikes out Josh Hamilton on three straight swings with the bases-loaded and two outs in a one run game will turn some heads. But if that same pitcher starts his career with a team by having batters go 1 for 42 with 30 K’s, then he not only turns heads, but people begin to doubt whether or not that pitcher is in fact human, at all.
In April, the Angels were in shambles as a team and one of their many flaws was bad bullpen performance. Instead of waiting for his own players to find their form or their luck to turn around Los Angeles’ GM Jerry Dipoto decided to trade the expendable Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach for Frieri, on May 3rd.
The Angels have used Ernesto in much higher leverage situations than he was used with San Diego, who used alternatives to Frieri in those types of spots. The right-hander has been unbelievable in bigger spots in the American League, seizing the Angels’ closer role like he was born to do the job.
For those who prefer saves/holds, Ernesto has four saves, three holds and zero blown saves, with Anaheim. And for those who are into shutdowns/meltdowns, Frieri has seven shutdowns and zero meltdowns. Thus, as noted by people all over the baseball world he’s been a very good addition to Dipoto’s club.
The national media has been all over the Frieri story with tweets and articles, discussing his incredible amount of strikeouts and lack of hits against him. Rob Neyer even went as far as to claim that Frieri is the canary in the coal mine for how strikeouts are becoming too popular in today’s game. But something else about Frieri’s work with Los Angeles has startled me.
He’s been viciously wild.
Frieri currently sports a 6.91 BB/9 rate with the Angels; which is extremely high. That number doesn’t include the fact that he’s also hit two batters, when that is included into that metric than he’s giving up a free pass almost every inning. Albeit 14.1 IP is such a small sample size, even for a reliever, a walk-rate of 8.17 per nine innings should never lead to success. But for Frieri it has led to just that… which leads me to question if there’s a chance that the Angels’ right-hander has been effectively wild?
Has his stuff been so nasty and effective on the corners that it has lead to both an extremely high K/9 (18.84), but also a ton of walks and hit by pitches?
First let’s look at Frieri’s pre-Angels career. He had 108.1 careers IP with San Diego and posted an above-average K-rate (11.38) and a high BB-rate (4.65). If his HBP are again included in his walk-rate then it moves up to 5.57 per 9. At first glance it looks like Frieri has been the same pitcher for the Angels as he was for the Padres; high K’s coupled with high BB’s. The Angels have just given him higher leverage chances; which caused his skills to be thrust into the national spotlight. But at second glance it seems that this may not be the case, as his walks and strikeouts have nearly doubled since he joined the Angels. So I delved deeper.
There are two changes in Frieri’s game that could be leading to him being more effective despite being even wilder than before. Frieri is throwing his two-seamer over twice as much as he did with San Diego and surprisingly this hasn’t been off-set by a reduction in his four-seamer, but instead he’s reduced his slider usage by over half, according to Pitch f/x. His slider was never an effective pitch with the Padres, but he’s throwing it one MPH faster with the Angels, and this uptick in speed, coupled with his light use of the pitch has caused it to be more effective.
The change in Frieri’s usage of his slider and two-seamer could shed some light on why he’s been more effective, but it does not give any evidence to how him being more wild has helped him (if it even has).
A pitcher who gets a ton of strikeouts, but also walks a lot of batters tends to get a large amount of swings and misses on pitches outside the zone. Thus, a spike in that those type of misses would be expected for Frieri. He has seen a 13% increase, over his career rate,in misses on pitches thrown outside the zone, since joining the Angels. However, the major change for Frieri has occurred on pitches thrown IN the strike zone.
Frieri threw 51.5% of pitches in the zone with San Diego, but only 44.9% of his pitches with the Angels have been in the zone. Although Frieri is throwing very few pitches in the strike zone, hitters are swinging at them 9% less than they did when he was throwing more strikes in San Diego. This leads me to postulate that Frieri’s lack of control is keeping hitters off-balance, as they never know when to expect his pitches to cross the plate.
The combination of nasty stuff and hitters never knowing if the pitch is going to be five feet outside or right on the black has led to an incredibly low-contact rate (44.9%) on pitches Frieri has thrown in the zone; 31.4% below his career rate. This low-rate may not be caused entirely (or at all for that matter) by his wildness, but it definitely is a major indicator of how effective Frieri has been over the last 14.1 IP.
It is tough to make any real conclusions about Ernesto’s start with the Angels, because he’s only thrown 14.1 IP. He still needs to throw at least 15 to 20 more innings before his strikeout rate, the first pitching statistic to do so, stabilizes. At that point we’ll be able to begin attributing his results to true talent level.
While no real conclusions can be made about his performance at this point, it’s clear that he’s been a great acquistion by Dipoto. He’s been unbelievably effective despite pitching in higher pressure situations with less command than he did in San Diego; and that’s something all Angels’ fans hope will continue.
All statistics and Pitch f/x data courtesy of Fangraphs.