On May 3rd, Ernesto Frieri was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for infielder Alexi Amarista and minor league pitcher Donn Roach. What proceeded was one hell of a first-half honeymoon. Frieri quickly established himself as the most solid relief pitcher in the Angels bullpen and nabbed the closer position.
His first 25 1/3 innings in Angels red, Frieri didn’t allow a single run. In his first 9 innings with the Angels he struck out 20. Only 3 other pitchers have done that in the history of baseball. He struck out 40 of the first 91 batters he faced and allowd only six hits. He also was the first pitcher since 1921 with 20-plus strikeouts and no earned runs in his first 10 innings with a new club (according to Stats LLC).
Somehow, in his first half of 2012 with the Angels, Frieri went from the fifth man out of the Padres bullpen to suddenly becoming one of the best relievers in baseball. It seemed improbable.
And guess what? It was. In the second-half of 2012, Frieri put up an 4.50 ERA, allowed 7 home runs in 28 innings of work and blew 3 saves. A far cry from his near perfect first-half performance.
2012 Game of the Year
Every game Frieri pitched in the first-half for the Angels could be a viable candidate for his best game of 2012. His June 2nd game against the the Texas Rangers in front of over 44,000 Angels fans in Anaheim might be the best, though. Not only did Frieri earn his second save in a row in as many nights against the division rivals, but he did it on three strike outs, ending with a swinging strikeout by Josh Hamilton, leaving the bases jammed. It wasn’t his best pitching performance but it showed Frieri had a tough, closer’s mentality. Or so it seemed at the time.
Is Ernesto Frieri the dominant closer-type pitcher the Angels saw in the first-half or the good but not great, middle-reliever type they saw in the second-half? It’s hard to tell but don’t be surprised if Frieri isn’t named the opening day closer in 2013.
Frieri’s success as a pitcher is the result of being able to get a lot of swing and misses on the movement of his four-seam fastball, a pitch he throws 85% of the time and that batters swung at almost 50% of the time in 2012. It’s by far his best pitch. The problem lies in that Frieri doesn’t have a reliable secondary pitch to go with it. So if he’s not locating that fastball, then he becomes hittable or starts walking batters. And with not much else but a shaky curveball in his bag of pitches, that can be a bad combination.
Despite having a very different second-half from his excellent start in 2012, the overall numbers are very similar to his 2011 season with the Padres. If that’s any indication, the Angels acquired a mostly solid relief pitcher in 2012 with a penchant for a low WHIP and a good K/BB ratio.
Is he the closer of the future for the Angels, though? Don’t bet on it.