It was a minor swap made earlier this month, but Ernesto Frieri has already been a major contributor to the Angels’ bullpen. Since being acquired from the Padres for Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach more than three weeks ago, the 26-year-old right-hander has thrown 11 hitless innings for the Halos. With Jordan Walden stumbling out of the gate, Frieri has quickly assumed right-handed relief ace work while Scott Downs handles things from the left side.
The late-inning, high-leverage work is a new experience for Frieri. While with the Padres from 2009-2010, only two relievers — Carlos Fisher (0.56) and Rich Thompson (0.61) — had a lower gmLI than Frieri’s 0.66 mark (min. 90 IP). He very rarely entered the game in a tight spot for San Diego, but that has more to do with sharing a bullpen with guys like Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson than it does manager Bud Black‘s lack of trust. It’s hard to get an opportunity when the skipper has guys like that available, but opportunity is abound in an Anaheim.
Frieri has always posted an exceptional strikeout rate (career 12.07 K/9 and 31.9 K%), but walks have been a bit of an issue (4.83 BB/9 and 12.8 BB%). His fly ball ways (just 23.0% grounders in his career) have resulted in a low .274 BABIP and, thanks to Petco Park, a low home run rate (0.56 HR/9). Frieri has taken that approach to the extreme in his short time with the Angels, with 23 strikeouts and eight walks in those 11 innings. He’s allowed exactly zero ground balls and as you’d expect with all those hitless innings, a .000 BABIP.
It’s a fun statistical line to look at but one you can’t really take seriously given the sample size. At some point Frieri will give up a hit and a run and then several more, and eventually the strikeout and walk rates will approach his career norms. That production is in the bank though and it’s helped the Angels win some games already. GM Jerry Dipoto deserves credit for being aggressive and shoring up one of his team’s weaknesses with a trade this early in the season. I’m sure even he’d tell you they didn’t expect this much out of Frieri.