Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jason Grilli Traded To LA For Ernesto Frieri

It looks like your basic change-of-scenery deal: two struggling relievers with a history of recent past success switching clubs looking to regain their mojo.

Jason Grilli, 37, had become injury prone and hasn't really been sharp since last year's All-Star break. With 11 saves, one hold and four blown saves and a 4.87 ERA to go with a 1.62 WHIP, he lost his closer job and even back-end duties. His velocity dropped just a hair, but his movement and command were MIA.

But he mostly shined in Pittsburgh. From 2011-13, he compiled a 2.74 ERA in 141-1/3 innings with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He was an All-Star closer last season and helped the Bucs get over that two decade hump to the playoffs.

But he's worth the gamble to the Angels. The Halos are still within hailing distance of Oakland, and Grilli been through the playoff wars and worked as both a set-up man and closer, so he provides experience and versatility. He's also a free agent at the end of the year, so LA's hands aren't tied contractually.

RHP Ernesto Frieri, 28, also lost his job as closer, with 11 saves, three holds and three blown saves, a 6.39 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. But he does have 60 saves from 2012-13, though his dropoff started last season.

He's also a good dice roll for the Pirates, who plucked Grilli, Mark Melancon and Joel Hanrahan, their last three closers, from the "as is" shelves. They have a lot of confidence in being able to turn guys around if their stuff still plays.

The peripherals on Grilli were trending down - a little loss in velocity, a fair drop in K's and a big jump in walks. Frieri's tale of the tape is a little different.

His K's have dropped from 13 to 11 per nine, still decent, although one red flag is that his swing and misses have dropped from 16% to 10%. And he's not been lucky this year, with a HR/fly ball rate of 21%, which is double his career average, and a BABIP of .325, fifty points higher than his usual average. So some regression to the good seems to be in order for him.

On the plus side, his walks have dropped for the fourth consecutive season (2.6/nine in 2014, which may or may not be sustainable), his ground ball rate is 35%, by far the best of his career, and his velocity of 94 MPH has remained level over three seasons. Frieri is also transitioning from a one time fastball-curve toolkit to a four seam-sinker-slider-change arsenal, and that fits the Pirate teaching and tweaking profile.

In a Pirate statement, Neil Huntington said "...despite his struggles to date this season, (Frieri) has solid indicators that cause us to believe he will be a quality addition to our bullpen this season and potentially beyond,” so you can be sure the Bucco Sabermetric gang has looked over those peripheral numbers.

The Pirates gave up a 37 year old that didn't fit into next season's plans and has been trending downward for a 28 year old who's had problems with his counting numbers, but hasn't been so bad with his performance stats. Frieri still has two years of arb (he makes $3.8M now) remaining if they can turn him around, so he has the added benefit of being under team control through 2016.

It's a calculated risk on both sides, with the Angels looking for immediate help while the Bucs appear to have the odds stacked more in their favor of getting some longer-term value from the deal.

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