Ernesto Frieri: Canary In The Coal Mine

ANAHEIM, CA: Relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri throws against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. The Angels beat the Athletics 4-0. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

Angels right-hander Ernesto Frieri has posted some truly brilliant numbers since joining the club after a trade with the Padres. Frieri's not the only guy lighting up the strikeout tables, though.

Ernesto Frieri's on a pretty good run.

And with that, I nominate myself for the understatement of this young season.

In his last 11 innings, Frieri's struck out 23 batters while allowing exactly zero hits.

And that 11-inning cutoff isn't arbitrary; 11 innings ago, the San Diego Padres traded Frieri to the Orange County Angels for a couple of middling prospects.

Of course 23 strikeouts (and zero hits and zero runs) is impressive, and I'm sure Frieri's now setting obscure records every time he pitches. But while it's only 11 innings, it's not like Frieri wasn't pretty good before. Before the Angels got him, he'd pitched 11⅔ with the Padres and struck out 18 guys, with only four walks. He's just really good. And even before this season, he'd struck 11 per nine innings.

And nobody noticed.

Seriously. Before this season, could you have picked Ernesto Frieri out of a lineup? I didn't think so. If I'd asked you in March, could you even have told me which team Ernesto Frieri pitched for? Don't feel bad; I'm not sure I could have, either. If Ernesto Frieri had come along 20 or 30 years ago and done what he's doing, he'd have been on the cover of The Sporting News; now he's just another bit of Twitter fodder. Because everybody's getting strikeouts ... and everybody's striking out.

As Benjamin Hoffman noted in the Times, in addition to Frieri's antics we've seen Dan Haren strike out 14 Mariners, and Max Scherzer strike out 15 Pirates in seven innings. Monday, Chris Sale struck out 15 Rays. Of course all these performances are anomalous ... but they're not that anomalous, in context. Hoffman:

If it feels like strikeouts have been increasing every year, it is because they have. In each season since 2005 the average number of strikeouts a game has gone up. Having reached a record pace of 7.42 a game this season, the average is now more than one strikeout higher than it was in 2005. The increase of 0.32 a game since last season is the largest yearly change in that timeframe.

Meanwhile the average of 4.21 runs a game is the lowest it has been since 1992 and this is the third consecutive season that there has been less than one home run a game after 16 consecutive seasons of surpassing the mark, with a peak of 1.17 in 2000.

I've written about this before, and I'm sure I will write about it again. The two biggest problems in baseball right now are pitching-related: too many strikeouts, and too many pitching changes.

Apologies if you've heard this before, but strikeouts are boring and ground balls are democratic and all I need to know about baseball I learned in Bull Durham.

Prediction: At some point in Major League Baseball's future, something to limit strikeouts will be done, and at some other point, something to limit pitching changes will be done. Why? Because the sport's not run for the benefit of the pitchers. It's run for the benefit of the owners and the players, and ultimately everyone will make more money if the fans are happy. And the fans will be happier with fewer strikeouts and fewer pitching changes. If not fewer than now, fewer than we'll see in five or 10 years if these trends continue. Which they probably will, if Commissioner Emeritus Selig doesn't step in, someday.

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