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A Brief Look at Ernesto Frieri’s Fastball

Right-hander Ernesto Frieri is currently closing games for the Los Angeles Angels of You-Know-Where. He also currently owns a strikeout rate of 43.2%, which mark is not only over 10 percentage points above his previous high (albeit, in a short career so far), but is also the second-highest rate among all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 10 innings — behind only Aroldis Chapman (46.6%).

A curious thing is how Frieri is getting those strikeouts — which is to say, largely by way of his fastball. According to Texas Leaguers, Frieri has gotten a swing and miss on roughly 20% of the fastballs he’s thrown, while the league-average fastball has induced a whiff only about 5% or 6% of the time*. Frieri’s breaking ball, alternately classified as a slider or curve, has gotten whiffs only about 8% of the time — almost half of league average.

*Note: there are indications that Frieri might be throwing two fastballs, a four- and a two-seamer. Even if that is the case, they’re both above average and all comments made here apply to both. For the sake of ease, I’ll just use the term “fastball,” singular.

Of particular note is Frieri’s effectiveness against left-handed batters: according to Texas Leaguers again, Frieri has a fastball whiff rate above 25% against lefties. It’s no surprise, then, that Frieri has also recorded a pretty significant platoon split so far. In 13.1 innings against 52 left-handed batters, Frieri has a 57.7% strikeout rate and 1.19 xFIP. His numbers in 15.2 innings against 66 right-handers aren’t as good: 31.8% K, 4.60 xFIP.

Last night, closing out a game against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium, represented the first time this season that Frieri had appeared in front of a mostly decent center-field camera — giving viewers a chance to see the fastball at work. He induced just one whiff — but it was on a fastball, and it was against a left-handed batter.

Against the left-handed Dee Gordon, specifically:

The Dodger Stadium camera isn’t straight-on, so it still distorts some of the movement on Frieri’s fastball, but PITCHf/x (per Brooks Baseball) indicates that the pitch was thrown at about 94 mph with a little over 8 inches of arm-side run and just over 11 inches of “rise” (relative to a spinless ball). The latter number is normal for Frieri — he averages about 10 inches of rise on his fastball — but probably about 2-3 inches above average for major-league pitchers on that particular offering.

Other than that, however, Frieri’s fastball doesn’t look devastating on paper. Nor — speaking anecdotally, at least — does it look as effective on paper as it does in the footage above.