How Safe is Ernesto Frieri’s Job?

When the Angels acquired Ernesto Frieri from the Padres in May of 2012, they knew they were getting a strikeout machine, but were aware that those strikeouts came with a cost — namely, walks and lots and lots of fly balls. And at the time, he was just a middle reliever who had shown the overall skills to close, but had yet to be afforded such an opportunity. He then continued to dominate and eventually became the undisputed man at the end of the bullpen for the Halos.

A 2.41 SIERA fully supported his 2.32 ERA and suggested that he was one of the best relievers in baseball. That’s what a 36.4% strikeout rate will do for ya! But then 2013 came along and it was a roller coaster ride as he lost his job, regained it, lost it, regained it, etc etc. Although he posted virtually the same peripherals, his ERA shot up to 3.80 as his BABIP corrected and his HR/FB rate remained above the league average.

But SIERA thought he was nearly as good as 2012. Interestingly though, Frieri is one strong example of the differing methodologies of the two ERA estimators that regress HR/FB rates — SIERA and xFIP. Usually the two are fairly close, but Frieri’s career SIERA is nearly a full run below his xFIP. The reason for this I suspect is that SIERA gives Frieri major credit for his ridiculously extreme fly ball tendency. It therefore assumes a low BABIP, whereas xFIP doesn’t care what a pitcher’s batted ball distribution is. This is one of the advantages of SIERA and why I use it as my ERA estimator of choice rather than xFIP.

So if you’re going by SIERA, Frieri was quite a bit unlucky last year, while his luck was only slightly on the bad side based on xFIP. Frieri’s control isn’t great, but his walk rate has declined each year and he pushed his F-Strike% up to well above the league average last season, which provides reason for optimism. But just like any closer who struggles with his control at times, there will be games that end in ugly fashion with a blown save. Mike Scioscia simply needs to learn to be patient here.

Joe Smith was signed by the Angels this offseason and will act as one of the primary setup men. He has shown solid skills as well with a ground ball tendency, albeit a declining one. The problem here is that Smith is a sidearmer and features a fastball/slider combo. Both of those characteristics raise the warning flags that he’s probably much less effective against lefties. And this has been the case, though he hasn’t been absolutely awful. He’s almost a ROOGY though and that means he poses absolutely no threat to Frieri’s job.

When Frieri was plucked from the closer role, one of the candidates to replace him was Dane de la Rosa. De la Rosa had thrown just 12.1 innings over two previous stints in the Majors, but his peripherals looked similar to Smith’s. The difference between the two is that de la Rosa can actually handle lefties, and in fact he was dramatically more effective against them in 2013. He throws hard and every pitch of his generated a SwStk% above 10%, which is quite impressive. He makes for a nice handcuff to Frieri in AL-Only leagues.

Veteran southpaw Sean Burnett and Kevin Jepsen are likely to act as prominent members of the middle relief corps. Burnett is coming off surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow, but the team expects him to be ready for opening day. Once a failed starter, he has been pretty good in bullpen work, driven by his extreme ground ball tendency. Unfortunately, he’s nothing more than a middle reliever with no chance to close and therefore has no fantasy appeal.

Jepsen’s ERA has been up and down, but his skills haven’t. In fact, his SIERA marks have fit within a rather narrow range, but it’s basically been at the whim of his BABIP and LOB% to determine where his ERA falls. He also throws hard but curiously has never enjoyed strong SwStk% marks. That’s likely related to the fact that he has been throwing a fastball or cutter 85%-90% of the time, which typically don’t result in swings and misses as often as breaking/offspeed stuff. He should again be an important contributor for the Angels, but not for your fantasy team.

Print This Post

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

First sentence “When the Angels acquired Ernesto Frieri from the Padres in May of 2013 2012″

Having him in fantasy last year, he was hard to watch live. Higher pitch counts and the frustration of watching him throw a fastball over and over again