First Pitch: Can the Pirates Fix Ernesto Frieri in Time?

I don’t really want to write another article on why I don’t think it’s a smart move for the Pittsburgh Pirates to spend money and/or prospects to get relief pitching help. As I wrote last week, they’ve got a good track record of finding quality relievers without paying for it. They also have a good late inning combo of Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, which means their focus should only be on the middle innings.

Yet the Pirates are looking around at possible upgrades. They looked at Huston Street, and now they’re connected to Joaquin Benoit and Joakim Soria. We don’t know their level of interest. It could just be checking on the price of those guys. It could be deeper than that.

Rather than giving my thoughts on acquiring relievers again, let’s focus on the big bounce back candidate for the Pirates — Ernesto Frieri.

The Pirates didn’t exactly get Frieri for nothing. He came in a swap of struggling relievers, with Jason Grilli going the other way. So the trade didn’t send anyone of value away (although Grilli has rebounded a bit since the deal). Frieri does cost money, but they were paying slightly more to Grilli, so Frieri didn’t really cost more than what the Pirates had already committed.

The first few outings from Frieri were bad. Since giving up a walk off homer on July 8th, Frieri has looked a little better. He hasn’t allowed a hit or a run in four outings. His only bad outing came on July 12th, when he walked two batters to start the tenth inning, before getting bailed out by Justin Wilson. Obviously we’re dealing with an extremely small sample size here, so we can’t put much stock in the last few outings.

With only a week and a half left until the trade deadline, the Pirates are going to be limited to a small sample sized analysis with Frieri. Even if they don’t add a reliever through a trade, they will need to make a decision in their bullpen when Gerrit Cole returns. Cole will push Vance Worley to the bullpen, which will mean the Pirates will have to decide between Frieri, Stolmy Pimentel, or sending someone with good numbers like Justin Wilson or Jared Hughes down. The easy decision, based on the stats, would be to cut one of Frieri or Pimentel. However, both have good upside, and I can’t see the Pirates letting go of either pitcher easily based on the upsides.

If Frieri could bounce back, then he’d be the perfect example of adding a quality reliever for a cheap price. But there’s not much time to see if he can make this happen. And any other inexpensive reliever they get is most likely going to come with question marks, and will also need a quick turnaround, or to demonstrate success in a small sample. So the question is, can the Pirates fix Ernesto Frieri in time?

Links and Notes

**The ‘Stubborn’ Approach That Has the Pirates Leading the NL in OBP

**Pirates Looking at Joaquin Benoit and Joakim Soria

**Minor League Schedule: Cody Dickson Has Been Solid During the Second Half

**Prospect Watch: Alen Hanson Returns to the Bench

**DSL Pirates Report: All-Star Second Baseman Raul Siri

**Prospect Highlights: A Pirates First Baseman With a Rare Talent

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • pilbobuggins

    Pimentel would be a nice chip for a trade. And once again I say melancon is not I repeat not a long term solution at closer.

    • Lee Young

      I repeat and once again I say, MM is just fine as a closer.

      You must be looking at some other reliever’s statistics or thinking the grass is greener in Hustonland (or Nathanland or….).

      • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5315860 ndbrian

        But Nathanland has been such a pleasant place. Why wouldn’t you want a “proven closer” that has an ERA over 6 and a FIP over 4. He was the Tigers “long term solution at closer.” Bet they’re thrilled.

    • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5315860 ndbrian

      Who would be a long term solution at closer? I’m curious.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Bryan Morris would have been. Sadly we traded him away for a lottery ticket

        • https://profiles.google.com/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

          You mean the Bryan Morris who had a 5.93 FIP and a 14:12 K:BB ratio for the Pirates? The Bryan Morris who gave up at least one run in 9 out of 21 games he appeared in? (Compared to the not repeat not long term solution at closer, who’s also given up one or more runs in 9 games – out of 47?)

          • bucsws2014

            Really. Y2J would’ve been better off if he’d replaced “Morris” with “Grilli”.

            If one really thinks Morris’s “stuff” and potential is great, then the only other explanation for his failings was that he wasn’t listening to his coaches or his catchers. And you can’t have that on the MLB level.

            • cmat0829

              Frieri’s ‘stuff’ is superior to Morris.

            • Y2JGQ2

              do you not understand the term “long term” nowhere did i mention now or this season……LONG TERM!

              • bucsws2014

                Morris wasn’t a solution with this team long term or short term. Be happy he’s functional in Miami. You don’t earn your way to closing or even late innings based on what his body of work was here. If not traded, he could’ve easily been a non-tender candidate down the road.

        • freddylang

          Lottery ticket that hasn’t played yet.

    • freddylang

      Haha!

  • S Brooks

    Best guess I’ve seen so far is that Cole won’t be back until August 2 at the earliest, so he’s got just under 2 weeks to show something. I can’t tell so far if it’s working – he had a nice outing against Colorado Saturday, but he wasn’t exactly facing CarGo-Tulo-Morneau out there. The fastball still looks awfully straight to me. I can’t tell anything from the Pitch fX on his game logs either. Seems like the horizontal release point is still about where it was when he got here, movement is about the same, looks like he either sits 94 with 3-5″ of movement or 92-93 with 5-7″, but the results are all over the place. He’s had good and bad outings at both.

    It’s a far cry from THIS Frieri: http://losangeles.angels.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120503&content_id=30336252&vkey=news_ana&c_id=ana

    • emjayinTN

      The most difficult part of pitching to cure is the loss of confidence, and Frieri as well as Grilli had it big time. The change of scenery was a good move for both pitchers and both teams. It seems that Frieri has been victimized by poor command – putting the ball in all of the wrong places. His inning Saturday was very good and he commanded the ball well. If he can build on those good outings, we will have something for now and for the future. The most difficult thing about watching Grilli pitch was his inability to get his breaking ball anywhere near the strike zone – so, they waited on the fastball.

      I like where the Pirates are at right now, winning with pitching and defense, and I hope we see the offense start to give more support than they did this past weekend. Mark Melancon has come to the rescue once again as our Closer, and this year we have a lot more quality support leading up to the 9th inning. When you are not 98-102, you have to rely on your location, finesse, and your mental toughness, and he can be absolutely surgical at times. He and Watson are doing the heavy lifting this year, and I am glad we have them both. With the possibility of Andy Oliver and/or Vin Mazzaro getting a call in September, I would forego trying to sign another VERY EXPENSIVE late relief guy.

  • jaygray007

    Frieri is so confusing. How can you have the stuff necessary to K so many guys per 9, the control necessary to walk so few guys per 9, but give so many homers?

    Is it an issue of control vs command? My brain tells me that Frieri is due for awesomeness. But my bucco fan heart wants to replace him with Soria or Benoit. So confused!

    • Y2JGQ2

      Soria would be worth the price of Pimental and Hansen and Frieri. Get it done.

      • Mike C.

        No, please no

    • http://batman-news.com NMR

      “Is it an issue of control vs command?”
      .
      Bingo. It is also the manner in which Frieri gets those K’s. He’s not a guy that gets hitters chasing breaking balls in the dirt. He’s a guy who gets hitters swinging through fastballs at the letters. That style is always going to produce more home runs. Add lack of command with loss of deception and you get the guy we currently see.

      • jaygray007

        But why does that style all of a sudden not work after an outstanding career so far? He is a mystery.

        • http://batman-news.com NMR

          Because baseball is really, really hard.

  • bucsws2014

    We’re not going to know if Frieri is fixed w/o the Bucs putting him in situations where he could cost the team a key game. Facing the Rockies in PNC was not that challenge.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Pimentel and Frieri both have value to teams who are out of the race- you trade them both for someone (a late inning reliever, set up man)….who can help now. If they get better, you aren’t losing anything as both come from areas of depth

    • S Brooks

      Neither of those guys is making it through waivers, so any trade would have to happen in the next 10 days. Which is another reason I think Stolmy is a good bet to get moved for a piece soon. The Phillies might take him straight up for Burnett; Kennedy would require an additional piece.

  • leadoff

    Frieri is a mystery, but he does have talent and a good arm + experience, I doubt that the Pirates will give up on him very easily and I don’t know when you declare him fixed or broken, IMO it all comes down to when the manager gets confidence in him enough to use him in high leverage situations with the expectations that he will succeed.

  • leadoff

    After watching Chote and Howell, both specialty left handers shut down Dodger and Card rallies I am going to still beat the drum for a specialty left hander, IMO and this has been my opinion for a long time that the Pirates missing link is a specialty left hander in that pen.

  • Mike C.

    As long as that bum Melancon with a 2.22 era, 23 k% 3 b%, is on our team, no matter what we do next, this team is Doomed i tell you, Doomed!

    • smurph

      You forgot to mention his horrendous 0.87 WHIP.

    • leadoff

      You apparently are the only one that thinks the Bucs are doomed with Melancon on the team, I have not heard anyone say that they don’t like Melancon on this team or pitching late in games. True many don’t like him as a closer, but nobody that I have read about wants him gone.
      By the way his numbers look good as a whole, but please let me know what his numbers are against the Reds, Cards and Brewers, don’t forget he may be the most important pitcher they have the last week of the season when the Pirates may have to figure out how to beat the Reds the last 3 games of the season.

      • jaygray007

        stolen from a comment by Tim in the Melancon article:

        “Melancon vs the Cardinals and Reds this year: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K”

        and i believe he had that one bad outing vs the brewers where he gave up 3. Those are the only runs vs the brewers. not sure how many innings he’s thrown.

  • Halvy Buckets

    I think it depends on the amount of time you want to give Frieri…are we just talking until Cole comes back, until the 7/31 deadline or until the 8/31 deadline? If it’s when Cole comes back, no he won’t be fixed by then and probably not by the 7/31 deadline. If he isn’t fixed by the end of August, you cut him loose, imo.

    • S Brooks

      I think the 7/31 deadline will come sooner than Cole’s return. He just had a bullpen session Sunday, and the next step per NH is either another bullpen or a sim game on or about the 23rd, and assuming no hiccups and the quickest return path, a rehab start on the 28th, which would put him back in Pittsburgh on or around August 2. That’s if everything goes smoothly.

      • Halvy Buckets

        Wow…this year is flying by.

  • CalipariFan506

    He threw one or two nice slurves tonight. That’s a step in the right direction IMO.

  • http://twitter.com/TSweeneyG7 TSweeneyG7

    I’m not so sure that Cole’s return sends Worley to the bullpen. I’d rather see Volquez sent there.