Pirates Trade Jason Grilli to Angels For Ernesto Frieri

The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded reliever Jason Grilli to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for reliever Ernesto Frieri.

Frieri is a a 28-year-old righty that has struggled in the closer role this year, something he has in common with Grilli. Both have pitched well in the recent past in that role, so they might be able to return to their success in a different uniform.

Frieri has a 6.39 ERA this season in 34 appearances, with 11 saves and a 1.36 WHIP. In 31 innings, he has 38 strikeouts. He had 60 saves total between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Frieri got off to a slow start this year and has recently pitched poorly, but he had a nice stretch from late-April until the first week of June when he was pitching well. He also has two more seasons of control after this year, unlike Grilli, who will become a free agent at the end of the season.

Grilli was recently moved out of the closer role. He has blown four saves in 15 opportunities this year. He also missed a month of this season with a strained oblique injury. Grilli has a 4.87 ERA in 20.1 innings.

UPDATE 6:57 PM: Thoughts from Tim Williams…

This looks like a change of scenery type deal. Frieri wasn’t putting up good numbers for the Angels, and Grilli was struggling for the Pirates. I can’t speak to Frieri’s struggles, but Grilli didn’t look like he had it anymore. His fastball velocity was down, and his slider wasn’t effective, leading to a lower strikeout rate.

Just a quick look at Frieri shows that while his ERA is high this year, it’s largely due to an unlucky HR/FB ratio. He’s got a 21.1% ratio, but still outstanding strikeout numbers, and has actually shown improvements on his walk rate. His xFIP is 3.20, which is the more important stat for relievers. More importantly, a quick glance shows that he still has the same stuff from a velocity standpoint. Frieri is a few years younger than Grilli, so it’s less likely that this is a downward spiral for his career, and more likely that this is just a down year. By comparison, Grilli had a poor ERA, but also a poor xFIP at 4.58.

Salary-wise, there’s not much difference. Grilli was making $200,000 more than Frieri. From a control perspective, the Pirates control the rights of Frieri through the 2016 season, while Grilli was set to be a free agent after the season. This move makes sense all around for the Pirates. Grilli looks like he’s on the decline, while Frieri looks like he’s having bad luck. If you give Grilli a chance to bounce back, you just hopefully get a good reliever the rest of the season. If you give Frieri a chance to bounce back, you get a strong reliever for the rest of the season, who you control for two more seasons. For a team that needs bullpen help, this is a low risk, high reward type move that could pay off for multiple years if it works. If it doesn’t, you non-tender Frieri at the end of the year, and it’s no different than the current situation with Grilli.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • moose7195

    This is all sorts of crazy. Not sure I’m too happy about it. Frieri was doing really bad in LA, and I had hope that Grilli could find his arm;

    • spotswoode

      Not crazy, it is smart for the Bucs. He is a FA after this year and is 37. Hope is not a strategy.

      • moose7195

        Yes, trading a 4.87 ERA for a 6.39 ERA sounds like a fantastically sound strategy that has no chance of backfiring.

        • freddylang

          There is no backfire. Grilli was gone after the season anyways. Why don’t people get this? Frieri has had a solid career with incredible K numbers and is averaging over 94 mph on his fastball. The worst the Pirates do is an average reliever. Melancon had an awful era for Boston before the Bucs got him also.

          • moose7195

            In the short term, there very well could be. Grilli hasn’t performed well this year, but I may argue that Frieri has performed worse. I get that Frieri’s peripherals are better and that he’s had a decent career, but he’s being hit hard THIS YEAR. I mean, what is the more valuable stat: strikeouts or earned runs? Is it okay for him to nearly give up nearly a run per inning pitched as long as he strikes out the side?

            • Kevin_Young

              for a reliever…? K/9 and BB/9 are more important in judging future success. It’s pretty obvious

            • freddylang

              Things I like about the deal: Frieri is younger, cheaper for now, under team control longer, and for his career compared to grilli, a better pitcher. Things I don’t like: if Grilli suddenly starts throwing 95 and dominating and Frieri continues to give up a near 50 HR per 200 ip rate…I like the calculated risk the fo took here…and despite never having great control Frieri never has had a season where his command was totally horrendous. He will give us all headaches I’m sure at times, but he can be devastating as the 12+ K/9 attests to.

  • csnumber23

    Absolutely love it!! I was hoping they would DFA Grilli and they got a big arm back in return. Frieri has big time stuff and big time strikeouts. Yes he is having a bad year but he was very good before this year and is still young. Move him to the NL at PNC and throw in the Searage factor and I m ecstatic over this trade!!!

    • Brian K. Rhodes

      I agree. Frieri has 71 career saves with a 12.1 K rate and 4.2 BB rate. This year his walks and K’s are down but he’s given up 8 homers and has a career tendency to give up the long ball. This is a guy that should help us beyond this year but how much can he help this year?

      • csnumber23

        I don’t think he will be any worse this year than we were getting from Grilli. I think he will be a big help in the future. Frieri has so much more upside than Grilli. Only 28 which is young for a late inning RP and signed for a few years. Grilli at 37 looks done, plus is a FA at season’s end. I expect Frieri to help this year too.

    • Matt Beam

      agree, plus 2.5 yrs of control vs 0.5 yrs; what is the downside of this trade?

      I do wish Grilli well though; class guy and great story; plus he was integral to helping this team finally get over the hump last yr. so I’ll always buy him a beer if given the chance

      • csnumber23

        I agree, seem like a great guy and I wish him well too but this trade is great!

      • SteveW

        Also agree. Grillii was a great guy who had a couple dominant years but this deal is very good for the Pirates. It is clear that Frieri is pitching a lot better now than Grilli, with a lot of bad luck that will hopefully even out.

  • Sean Epstein

    This is an absolute no brainer. It is a steal, a heist, a highway robbery. You have a young power pitcher with 2 years of control who could clearly benefit from the teachings of master Ray. You give up a 37 year old pitcher who clearly has lost his stuff and the confidence of his manager. What is not to like?

  • letsgobucs22

    Tim, why do you and many other believers in xFIP always label a player’s home run rates as “unlucky” if they are above the 10% MLB average? There are some players who just give up more home runs because they are pitching poorly (see Wandy Rodriguez, Grilli, and Johnathan Sanchez). I think this is a very good trade for all the reasons you listed, but this guy has to improve his home run rate with better pitch location and not just chalk it up to bad luck when he has had a high HR rate for several years in a row and is a fly ball pitcher who pitches high in the zone with regularity.

    • Andrew

      Yes there is distribution in the population, but Frieri’s career HR/FB rate is 10%, rare events are volatile in small samples.

    • SteveW

      The reason is that most players’ HR/FB rates move towards the 10% mark (unless they are in an extreme park). It has been shown that the difference between a 350 flyball out and a 400 foot flyball HR is miniscule when bat hits ball, and much of it is random. Pitchers often have huge fluctuations year-to-year that are simply good or bad luck. Frieri had averaged about 11% for his MLB career before this year. Best bet on what it will be going forward is likely 10-11%.

      • Timothy Wolfe

        I am with letsgobucs22 here- I tend to believe homeruns are due to bad pitching more bad luck just like actually hitting homeruns is no more luck than skill. Was it luck that Jacoby Ellsbury and Joe Maurer put up individual unique 30+ homerun seasons, maybe…..but I don’t think any of us are cocky enough to state something which is a theory as a fact

        • freddylang

          Fact is Frieri’s high HR rate is not sustainable.

  • S Brooks

    There’s definitely upside, but I wouldn’t be too quick to assume Frieri’s here beyond 2014, no matter how he pitches. If he rights the ship, he’ll be heading into his Arb2 offseason, and would command up to $5M. If that’s your closer, then fine, but if Melancon is the 9th inning guy, then it’s a lot of dough to spend on another bullpen arm.

    I think if Frieri’s good but not great it gives the Bucs some options for the offseason – trading a certified pre-owned closer for another cost-controlled piece the Bucs can use, and putting the savings toward re-signing Russell Martin.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    Anything is possible. Just remember how awful Joel Hanrahan was when they got him from the Expos.

    • impliedi

      And he was even worse with the Nationals!

      • Monsoon Harvard

        They will always be the Montreal Expos to me :-)

    • freddylang

      Or how awful Grilli was the year before he came to the Pirates.

  • http://www.acme-tv.com LongJohnSilver

    Thanks John for making some sense out of this trade for me. It had me perplexed at first, seemingly changing one struggling closer for another. Now if only we hadn’t had to give up Black…..

    • Timothy Wolfe

      we didnt HAVE to…..we chose to

  • NSA

    I would have been happy if we simply DFA’d him and brought Mazzaro up again. If we can coach him up like we’ve done with AJ, Worley, Volquez, Liriano etc. this can be an outstanding bonus for years. Frieri needs to screw his head on straight, Grilli needs to screw on a new arm. Grilli is just doing what 37 year old pitchers do…

  • juniorkrz

    While this probably is a good move for our Buccos, I will miss Grilled Cheese as he was one of my favorite players. I loved his fire. That being said, I also love the upside of this deal as Frieri has nasty stuff when he is on.

  • R Edwards

    Actually Frieri is almost a decade younger than Grilli – that is a lot more than a few years. I like this trade only from the perspective that IMHO Grilli is done – has not been the same since the injury last year and time is not on his side. Frieri is young enough, that you could see where a change of scenery – plus a move to the NL – may rejuvenate him.

    This just make the Morris trade even worse, because he had the stuff and upside to have possibly become a closer, even if in a short term role. If we needed to make room and get rid of an arm, Gomez or Grilli should have been let go.

  • Timothy Wolfe

    Salary on cbssports.com has Frieri at only 550K salary. Either way, this is a very good move. I’m really curious as to how we got a player with more control with a better arm and 9 years younger, who also has way better advanced metrics. Its a win, no doubt

    • Timothy Wolfe

      and this is coming from a pretty big Grilli fan by the way. WAY better than the potential DFA people were talking about

  • Pie Rat

    out of the Grill and into the Frier….

    • http://www.acme-tv.com LongJohnSilver

      Now that’s funny :)

  • Andrew

    After a quick look at his number I would say the concern about Frieri is that he basically pounds the zone with fastballs, and while his velocity looks fine, his whiff rate this season is at 11.8%. Coming into this year the whiff number was 16.5%, none of his other stuff has even average whiff rates. He has only faced 133 batters this year so not a large sample but if you are getting less swing and misses on your only good pitch that is not good.

  • freddylang

    Grilli’s a great dude but his career path most similarly compares to Anthony Telford. Frieri compares to guys like Brian Harvey, Troy Percival & Brad Lidge…so you can see Frieri’s potential just by seeing the guys he pitches similarly to.

  • Thomas

    Now they don’t have a closer unless Watson’s role changes. No knowledgeable fan as an ounce of faith in Melancon.

  • bucsws2014

    I liked Grilli for the past 3 years as a pitcher (I thought his marketing company was a definite over-reach, especially considering Grilli’s own efforts at social media). But after reading Charlie Wilmoth’s hilarious review of Grilli’s book, wow… the guy sounds like a complete d-bag. I can now more easily understand why Jim Leyland couldn’t stand him.

    Anyway, even if Frieri doesn’t work out, the Bucs just saved $200K. That’s enough for another bobblehead giveaway plus an extra fireworks show and maybe enough left over to book a Pat Benatar/Billy Squier concert.

  • moose7195

    I haven’t judged anyone, I’m comparing the rate that one pitcher has given up earned runs to the rate another pitcher has given up earned runs. Are runs no longer important in baseball?

  • Thom

    Pitch f/x data: Frieri’s two seam fastball was the best in the biz in 2012.

    Maybe Bucs can get it back to where it was.

    • freddylang

      Gotta like the .201 career avg allowed with the Pirates defense playing behind him.