Contributing to the Ernesto Frieri Conversation

By now you’ve surely heard that the Rays have DFA’d Sean Rodriguez to make room for the newly signed Ernesto Frieri on an incentive-laden deal with a base of $800K. Dude’s coming off a rough one as Ian Malinowski very capably showed but all might not be lost according to industry stalwart R.J. Anderson. Seriously, go read those guys first because I couldn’t agree more with their takes so there is little value in rehashing what they said. Kudos, lads.

What I would like to dig into is something that was spurred by published author, a poster at DRaysBay:

So we swapped an old flyball/homer-prone pitcher for a newer model?

Of course, he’s referring to the recently traded Joel Peralta and at first blush it seems like a pretty solid comparison. Does it hold up to further scrutiny? I took a look at all relievers over the last three years that threw at least 40 innings in a season across a broad swath of categories that highlight each pitchers strengths and weaknesses. I established a weighted average for each year and calculated the standard deviation so that we could establish Z-scores for each pitcher across each category and then rank their performance compared to all 497 peers. Here’s how these two compare to each other:

The left hand portion of the table (color-scaled) shows their z-score for each category with green being better and the right-hand portion shows their rank amongst those 497 peers. For instance, in 2012 Joel Peralta had the highest Outfield Fly Ball% (OFFB%) among all relievers over the three-year period with a z-score of 2.5. If you find it helpful, here’s a link to their raw figures for each of the years. Please note that OFFB% is FB% minus IFFB%.

They both give up a ton of fly balls to the outfield. This has always manifested in higher than league average HR/FB rates for Frieri while Peralta’s figures were more subdued and actually better than average in 2013 by a good amount. While Frieri always had an issue, it became a severe problem in 2014 as he put up one of the worst z-scores across this term at +2.1 ranking 483rd which led to his next to last 496th ranked HR/9 in 2014 with a z-score of 3.9!!! That alone should scream regression even if it’s only back to the merely bad 1.0 and 1.6 that he put up in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

So that’s the obvious flaw, but as R.J. pointed out you can live with this issue when he’s also putting up K% figures in the 90th percentile, which went away in 2014 turning him into a human piñata. Peralta was always better than average, but his best year (2012) merely approaches Frieri’s 2013 and the other years aren’t close. Of course that comes with the trade off of walks where Peralta paired pretty good strikeout rates with usually pretty good walk rates. No such luck for Frieri, though he did a lot better in 2014 and maybe that’s part of the problem. Effectively wild may or may not be merely cliché, but hittable pitches getting whacked is no myth. You’d love to see him maintain the walk decline and improve the other areas, but given the choice I’d rather see an elevated walk rate and fewer homers. Live with the small frustration over the facepalm.

Moving on to the plate discipline stats we see that Frieri wasn’t as good at getting batters to swing out of the zone in 2014, which was a huge strength for Peralta this past season. Additionally, Peralta induced more jelly leg and frozen bats within the zone which may speak to his guile or deeper pitch mix. With Frieri you kind of know what you’re going to get, but can you muscle up while Peralta will leave you guessing and chasing. Despite those relatively high levels of zone swings for Frieri he did a tremendous job (99th percentile) of turning those swings into no contact. Both pitchers fared worse at this in 2014, but Frieri went from zone contact being his carrying tool to league average while Peralta merely showed more natural progression.

This stuff carries over to swing strike rate for Frieri as his 2014 is just so far removed from what he was doing at an incredible rate prior to his implosion. Peralta oscillated from good to meh and back again, and while their worst years are pretty close, Peralta can’t hold a candle to Frieri’s best years.

So while these guys are pretty similar, in that, they induce fly balls and live by the strikeout there are some subtle differences. Frieri is going to walk more guys and he’s going to give up slightly more homers per game and per fly ball. Those are real weaknesses, but if he can get back to what made him an elite, and I don’t use that word lightly, strikeout ace from 2012 – 13 then you’re looking at a guy that you can bring in when you absolutely need a strikeout and maybe the walk doesn’t kill you all that much. The downside is very real, and it will manifest often enough to draw ire from fans, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Rays spun straw into gold. Get him back to what he did well and you’re looking at a suitable replacement for similar money. If getting back to more crossfire leads to an injury or he just never comes back, well, you rolled the dice, saved $1.8M, and you flush him down the J. C. Oviedo tube. The risk is relatively small, but the reward could be tremendous. Silverman sure learned a lot from his dearly departed predecessor.


About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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2 Responses to Contributing to the Ernesto Frieri Conversation

  1. Pingback: FEATURED POST: More analysis of Ernesto Frieri | Baseball Dugout Online | The Ultimate Baseball Blogs

  2. Pingback: FEATURED RAYS POST: More analysis of Ernesto Frieri | Tampa Bay Rays Dugout Online | Tampa Bay Rays Blog

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