Breaking Down the Grilli – Frieri Trade

It came out of nowhere, but the Pirates officially parted ways with Jason Grilli on Friday:

Two guys who notched over 30 saves in 2013 but found themselves demoted from the closer role less than a year later. Now, they trade places. Jason Grilli is an Angel and Ernesto Frieri is a Pirate. Let’s take a look at both sides of the deal…


Jason Grilli

The numbers from Grilli’s Pirate career:

Year Age Tm W L ERA G SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
2011 34 PIT 2 1 2.48 28 1 32.2 24 9 2 15 37 151 3.30 1.194 4.1 10.2
2012 35 PIT 1 6 2.91 64 2 58.2 45 19 7 22 90 130 2.81 1.142 3.4 13.8
2013 ★ 36 PIT 0 2 2.70 54 33 50.0 40 15 4 13 74 133 1.97 1.060 2.3 13.3
2014 37 PIT 0 2 4.87 22 11 20.1 22 11 4 11 21 74 5.36 1.623 4.9 9.3
PIT (4 yrs) 3 11 3.01 168 47 161.2 131 54 17 61 222 123 2.97 1.188 3.4 12.4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/27/2014.

Simply put, Grilli is done — or almost there. Ever since his injury suffered in Washington last year — on the same day his Sports Illustrated cover hit news stands — he hasn’t been the same pitcher. The velocity has declined, the command has been out of control at times. His strikeout percentage has fallen to 22.6% of batters after resting above 36% each of the past two years, while his walk rate has gone in the other direction.

The free-agent-to-be just hasn’t been effective all year long. The blown saves, especially the ones against the Brewers, killed the team early on and justified his demotion out of the closer role. He’s been getting pounded recently, allowing opponents to hit a ridiculous .351/.442/.568 against him in June.

It was weird to see him fall from grace over the last year. Fans (like myself) quickly turned on him for his poor performances and overkill book promotions. Let’s not forget what he did for the Pirates, though. He was instrumental to the team’s success for a few years, whether it was setting up for Joel Hanrahan or closing things out himself. It’s hard to imagine the 2013 Bucs without their shutdown bullpen, especially the closer and leader, Jason Grilli.

Still, it was time to move on. He was hurting them a lot more than helping them in 2014, and it’s impressive that they were even able to get something for him.


Ernesto Frieri

Career numbers for Frieri:

Year Age Tm W L ERA G SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9
2009 23 SDP 0 0 0.00 2 0 2.0 0 0 0 1 2 2.60 0.500 4.5 9.0
2010 24 SDP 1 1 1.71 33 0 31.2 18 6 2 17 41 218 2.92 1.105 4.8 11.7
2011 25 SDP 1 2 2.71 59 0 63.0 51 19 3 34 76 132 3.28 1.349 4.9 10.9
2012 26 SDP 1 0 2.31 11 0 11.2 9 3 2 4 18 161 3.78 1.114 3.1 13.9
2012 26 LAA 4 2 2.32 56 23 54.1 26 14 7 26 80 165 3.54 0.957 4.3 13.3
2013 27 LAA 2 4 3.80 67 37 68.2 55 29 11 30 98 99 3.72 1.238 3.9 12.8
2014 28 LAA 0 3 6.39 34 11 31.0 33 22 8 9 38 60 4.97 1.355 2.6 11.0
6 Yrs 9 12 3.19 262 71 262.1 192 93 33 121 353 117 3.62 1.193 4.2 12.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/27/2014.

ernesto frieri0001

Like Grilli, Frieri quickly fell from favor in 2014. His 6.39 ERA certainly isn’t anything to write home about; however, there a few reasons to be intrigued by him.

1. Age. Frieri’s 28 right now — will turn 29 on July 29th — still relatively young, considering his years of experience.

2. Years of control. While Grilli will be a free agent after this season, Frieri could stick around for a while — he still has two years of arbitration eligibility, meaning he won’t be a FA until after the 2016 season. He’s earning $3.8 million this year; he could be plenty affordable the next couple of seasons.

3. He strikes people out. He’s seen excellent strikeout rates in each of his MLB seasons, averaging nearly 11 or more K per nine innings each year.

4. He’s shown better control. Even in this down year, he’s improved his walk rate compared to previous seasons. Walking just 6.8% of batters in 2014 is the best he’s ever done.

Season BB/9 BB%
2009 4.50 14.3%
2010 4.83 13.3%
2011 4.86 12.3%
2012 4.09 11.2%
2013 3.93 10.3%
2014 2.61 6.8%

5. Higher ground ball rates. Good ground ball rates are something the Pirates look for. Of course, grounders can’t go over the fence. And Frieri’s — while not stellar — has improved.

Season GB%
2010 24.6%
2011 24.0%
2012 26.3%
2013 23.6%
2014 35.3%

6. The luck factor. His ground ball rate is up, meaning his fly ball rate is down — however, a higher percentage of those are finding their way over the fence. His HR/FB ratio is an absurd 21.1%, third highest among qualified relievers. Further, his strand rate is down and opponents batting average on balls in play is way up. You can only hope that these three “luck” stats will regress (for the better) to the mean.

7. He’s a hard thrower with a decent arsenal. Here’s what he’s worked with in 2014:

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph)
Fourseam 456 77.16% 94.97
Change 27 4.57% 87.51
Slider 103 17.43% 82.98
Curve 1 0.17% 79.93

via Brooks Baseball

There’s a good chance he can bounce back from what looks to be a bad year. We saw the Pirates do this same thing with relievers Joel Hanrahan and Mark Melancon, to name a few. Put him in a pitchers park in the National League, let him perform in some moderate-to-high leverage situations, give Ray Searage some time to work his magic, and go from there.

Worst case, he’ll be terrible and they’ll dump him and move on, just like they were going to do with Grilli anyway. But it’s worth giving this guy a shot.


Final Thoughts

Neither one of these guys has been good this season. But if I had to choose between 1) a 37-year-old with declining abilities who will be a free agent after the season and 2) a 28-year-old with a couple years of control and a greater probability of bouncing back, I think I’d take option #2 every time.

If Frieri works out, great — they’d be getting a solid return for a piece they were soon going to part with anyway. If not, not much harm done.

Best of luck to Grilli in Los Angeles and with the rest of his career.

UPDATE:

ROOT Sports caught Grilli waving goodbye to his bullpen mates before exiting PNC Park:

grilligoodbye0001

On the other hand, Ernesto “Ernasty” Frieri is ready to join the fold:

Go Bucs

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