Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Closer-by-committee: a term tossed around major league clubhouses with shaky relievers. It’s also one Los Angeles Angels Manager Mike Scioscia refers to time and time again, ultimately relying on inauspicious right-hander Ernesto Frieri.
If this is Scioscia’s idea of a committee, it’s time to elect new members.
Los Angeles hasn’t fielded a proven closer since Francisco Rodriguez left following his record-setting 2008 campaign. “K-Rod” was anything but automatic- averaging 3.9 walks per nine innings from 2002-2008-but still earned multiple All-Star nominations and Relief Man of the Year Awards. Scioscia’s replacements haven’t fared as well.
A 2009 trade brought Brian Fuentes to Anaheim, and while he enjoyed limited success-48 saves that year-the sidearmer wore out his welcome with Alex Rodriguez’s ALCS deciding home run. Fuentes never recovered and was dealt to Minnesota one year later.
The next few seasons saw a mix of youth (Jordan Walden) and high-priced relief (Fernando Rodney) take over ninth-inning duties. Neither fared well until their jerseys’ hit Angel Stadium clearance racks. Rodney’s enjoyed considerable success in Tampa Bay while Walden’s hitting his stride in Atlanta.
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Which bring us to Frieri. He was the centerpiece in a 2012 mid-season trade that sent Angels’ infield prospect Alexi Amarista to San Diego. If anything, Frieri was a steal; an under-the-radar pickup that carried a 1.27 WHIP and 11.2 strikeouts per nine inning ratio in two full years with the Padres.
His National League success translated into the junior circuit early on. The Colombian notched four wins and 23 saves in 56 games with the Angels, cumulating a 2.32 ERA. His walk rate declined from a career-high 4.9 per nine in 2011 to just under 4.0 two seasons later. In 2013-his first full season as a Halo-Frieri earned a career-best 37 saves, seventh most among AL closers.
Frieri gave Scioscia, and fans, a dependable flame-thrower. An intrepid closer without the smugness of one. Unfortunately, one takes the good with the bad, and for every triumph there was a grievous mistake to make up for.
Last year, Frieri reached career-highs in ERA (3.80), hits per nine innings (9.8), and runs allowed (29), though five of the 29 came in a July 23 appearance against Minnesota. Hits allowed jumped from 26 in 2012 to 55 last year. This year he’s on track to smash that, yielding 32 in as many games.
The biggest problem Frieri has isn’t that he seamlessly allows runners on base, or that he’ll give up a long ball now and then. It’s that he is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With a -.08 WAR and three blown saves, Frieri is the epitome of unreliability. On the just completed road trip, Frieri appeared three thrice; surrendering runs in each outing. On June 14, Atlanta scored four runs off the closer without recording an out. The Angels won but note before Frieri’s ERA exceeded five.
Yesterday, he was staked with a three-run ninth-inning lead in Cleveland. Sure, rookie Cam Bedrosian loaded the bases, but Frieri did nothing to help. Four straight fastballs to anybody, especially former All-Star Nick Swisher, isn’t going to fool anybody. It didn’t. Swisher launched Frieri’s fourth pitcher into the right field grandstand for a game-winning Grand Slam.
Maybe Joe Smith could have done more, had he pitched the eighth and ninth frames. Or Kevin Jepsen could have taken his 14-consecutive scoreless inning streak into the ninth rather than the seventh. Even Mike Morin may have done more; he hasn’t been scored upon in the last three innings.
Either way, Frieri alone isn’t the answer. He is a cog on a relief core ranking near bottom in most AL pitching categories. For the Angels to be successful Frieri has to be successful. And for Frieri to be successful, he’s going to need a bigger committee backing him.