Still reeling from upsetting a band of gypsys, Ernesto Frieri‘s bad luck continued this season after the Pittsburgh Pirates, who traded away reliable former Tiger Jason Grilli for Frieri, released the former Angel’s closer due to his dry-heave conjuring 7.43 ERA. So, naturally, I think it’d be best if the Detroit Tigers snatched him up.
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But that ERA! Don’t we have enough late-game bungling without a guy whose ERA is over 7?
Well, that depends on how you look at it. On one hand, MLB Trade Rumors got right to the culprit, pointing at Frieri’s ungodly 3.30 BABIP and 60.9% strand rate. Both stats have shown to be extremely luck-driven, mostly because both of those are just as much a defender’s issue as they are a pitcher’s. For example, according to Fangraph’s glossary points out that the league average for strand rate is 72%, and also throw in some context:
"Not all pitchers will regress toward league-average, though: high strikeout pitchers have been shown to have some control over their LOB%. Pitchers that record a high numbers of strikeouts can pitch their way out of jams more easily than pitchers that rely upon their team’s defense, so they are able to maintain LOB%s higher than league average. Also, if a pitcher isn’t a major-league caliber starter — or if they’re a borderline case — it’s likely that their true-talent LOB% is below league average.By using this statistic in conjunction with others — specifically BABIP and HR/FB— it’s possible to get an idea of if a pitcher is under- or over-performing and likely to regress."
What’s goofy about these stats is the Frieri is an incredible strikeout pitcher – during all his time in the big leagues his K/9 only dipped below double-digits once, and that was in his two-inning appearance with the Padres in 2009 (When it was still 9.0 K/9).
Yeah, so what? His ERA is still uglier then a deformed angler fish! THAT ERA DON’T LIE, BROTHER!
In a sense, yes, it does.
As pointed out previously, his BABIP and strand rate were just bonkers, and if guys keep getting on base and then make their way around to score of course it’ll drive up a regular ol’ ERA. However, his xFIP and SIERA, which take both park effects and defense into account, again show a pitcher who is getting all the luck of a man wearing pajamas made out of black cats: his xFIP is currently 3.69, and his SIERA is 2.97.
For those of us looking for an example that’s closer to home, take a look at Rick Porcello: for the last three seasons he has seemingly pitched well, but his ERA didn’t back it up. His xFIP, on the other hand, has been under 4 the last three years. He also had sub-70% strand rate and BABIPs over 3. With better luck and better defense, he’s put together a season that looks quite pleasing statistically (and should net him a big deal from somewhere else, but that’s a grumble for another time.)
Okay, okay. I get it – he can still be good. But why would the Tigers take yet another flier on a former closer who’s come on bad times?
The answer is in the question: they’ve been doing it all season so far, why not another?
In fact, Frieri fits into Dombrowksi’s typical bullpen makeup in that he’s a big arm with past experience. As stated earlier, Frieri’s K/9 has always been bananas, and it’s quite higher than any other bullpen arm they have, including Al Alburquerque. He’s also younger than Joe Nathan, Jim Johnson, Joakim Soria, Phil Coke, and Joel Hanrahan, and would be worth investing in right now while his value is at its lowest. I mean, the Tigers have resurrected Joba Chamberlain‘s career, and his stats pre-2014 had gotten pretty gross.
To sum it all up, at this point in the season the Tigers should be trying to grab hold of any piece that can compliment the team and replace any parts that aren’t working. Only a year or so ago Frieri was one of the hottest names in closerdom, and with a bit of Jeff Jones‘ instruction and some patience I don’t see why he couldn’t flourish here.
Who knows? Maybe he can even close better than Joe Nathan (who’s currently dealing with a tender elbow).