The Angels’ bullpen has been a joke for the last few years, and the rough start that closer Ernesto Frieri has gotten off to has not helped at all with the concerns that fans and the organization have. The first thing to remember is that 8.2 IP is not a very large sample, so there is still a chance that Frieri can turn it around. In the short amount of time he has pitched in 2014, Frieri has posted a K% of 28.6%, lower than his career norm but a number he can still be effective at. His BB% is actually less than half of his career norm, currently 7.1% compared to his career mark of 11.3%. Then again, you have to realize that is only in 42 batters faced, so the walks will probably start coming back. The biggest issue throughout his career with the Angels has been the homerun, as his HR/FB% has been over the league average of roughly 10% each year. Right now, it is sitting at a staggering 38.5%. If you believe this will eventually normalize towards his career mark, which it should to some sort of extent, you may not be overly worried about Frieri’s future performance. Although I do expect that, I decide to look at some data and images to see if anything has changed about Frieri that could be the cause of his early homer problems.
Velocity & Movement
So far, fastball velocity does not appear to be an issue. Frieri has been a gainer each month when it comes to velocity, so his current average velocity of 94.71 is appears to be nothing to worry about compared to his 94.79 average velocity from last April. Brooks Baseball lists Frieri’s slider as a cutter, and the velocity of that is actually down a good 3-4 MPH from last season. His changeup, which he rare throws, is still around the same range. Quick look says velocity might not be the issue. Movement numbers tell a similar story, in that there is not such a large drop-off anywhere that you could voice concerns. These trends are still worth keeping tabs on however.
Here are some images, via Brooks Baseball, showing Frieri’s release point throughout his time with the Angels.
Do you guys see what I see? Thus far, Frieri’s release point has been noticeably closer to the center of the rubber. This could result in hitters having an easier time picking up the ball, or where he is able to locate his pitches. The puzzling thing is that even with his release point moving, the grouping of all of his pitches is much tighter, which is good for most pitchers because of the increased difficulty in picking up offspeed pitches. Perhaps a fastball heavy pitcher like Frieri is negatively affected by this?
Pitch Selection and Results
Compared to the previous years, Frieri’s fastball is way down, currently just under 78%. This is compared to him generally using it in the range of the 88-91%. The decrease has almost entirely been towards using his curve and change slightly more. With Frieri, he has shown that he can tip off the usage of his offspeed pitches due to his arm angle or slowed down delivery, which would result in hitters picking up them up earlier. This seems to be the case, considering his curve and change each have a Whiff/Swing of 0%, while also rarely being offered at by hitters. A huge red flag is the fact that his whiff rate on his fastball currently sits at about half of his career norm, especially concerning that pitch makes up a huge portion of his selections.
Ernesto Frieri is more than likely not broken, and just needs luck to start going his way again, as it seems highly unlikely for flyballs to result in homers 40% of the time for the long-term. However, there are some signs that should worry us and need to be watched, as the Angels cannot afford to have another pitcher bite the dust in the bullpen.