Writing about baseball is my primary job, and before it was my primary job it was my secondary job, so I have no idea how much the average baseball fan knows about baseball. I am no longer an average baseball fan, and my circle isn't comprised of average baseball fans. I can guess what the average baseball fan knows, but it's kind of like guessing what the average hummingbird is thinking when it darts from flower to flower. You assume the hummingbird is thinking "flower flower flower flower flower flower flower" in hummingbird-language, but you can never know for sure. Maybe the average hummingbird is surprisingly intelligent. Maybe the average hummingbird is surprisingly dumb.
Left to guess, though, I'd say the average baseball fan wasn't familiar with Ernesto Frieri before the 2012 season. Probably. Frieri was relatively young, he played for a relatively unpopular team, and he was a reliever. The Padres typically used him in lower-leverage situations, so he wasn't one to demand attention. If the average baseball fan did know about Ernesto Frieri, maybe he wouldn't have known quite how to pronounce the name, recognizing it only in text.
The average baseball fan might still not know about Ernesto Frieri. More people know about him now than ever before, though, because now he's a closer, now he plays for a more visible team, and now he's flipping out. Statistically, not physically or emotionally. Rob Neyer wrote a little bit about Frieri last week, but I was away last week and not paying attention to baseball, so now I'm going to write more about Frieri because enough cannot be said about Ernesto Frieri. What follows are facts that I find incredible, and commentary pertaining to those facts. Frieri's hot streak could come to an end at any moment, but at this writing, it's very much alive and it's very much amazing.
Frieri has struck out 48 of 107 batters faced.
There, now that one's out of the way. I couldn't not include it, but it's not what I want to focus on. Before getting traded to the Angels, Frieri struck out 18 of 50 batters faced as a Padre, which is very good. Since getting traded to the Angels, he has struck out 30 of 57 batters faced, which is outlandishly good. That is more than half of the batters!
Frieri just allowed his first hit as an Angel on Saturday.
Frieri has faced 57 batters with Los Angeles of Anaheim, and batter number 52 was the first to record a hit against him. Batter number 52 wasn't the first to reach base - lots of batters have reached base, because Frieri has issued a bunch of free passes. But Frieri has faced 57 batters and allowed one hit. This was that hit:
It's not a bad pitch. In a two-strike count, Frieri jammed Mike Napoli with a high-and-tight running fastball, and Napoli fought it off the other way. It's not like Frieri allowed a hit because he made a mistake. He didn't make a mistake.
Of course, Frieri had come close to allowing a hit before this hit. Some examples:
According to FanGraphs, this was a line drive. There wasn't a high degree of difficulty, but look, the outfielder nearly lost the ball in the lights! That easily could've dropped for a meaningless single or double. I don't know why Padres batters even bat. I don't know why Padres batters even show up for work. Just go home, relax.
According to Baseball-Reference, this was a line drive. You have now seen all of the balls in play that Ernesto Frieri has allowed as an Angel that somebody somewhere considered a line drive. Turns out Frieri's hitless streak was kind of legitimate. Kudos to Michael Saunders for the decent contact, though. Decent contact against Frieri has been hard to come by. Contact against Frieri has been hard to come by.
Frieri has one of the lowest recorded contact rates.
Frieri has racked up 26 innings between the Padres and the Angels, and according to FanGraphs, he's allowed contact on 60.5 percent of swings. FanGraphs provides contact-rate information going back to 2002. Since 2002, setting a minimum of 20 innings, Frieri's current contact rate ranks 11th-best, between 2004 Eric Gagne and 2010 Carlos Marmol. Now let's make things more amazing. Frieri has thrown 254 pitches as an Angel. Batters have swung at 104 of them. Of those swings, 57 have missed the ball completely. As an Angel, Frieri has posted a contact rate of 45.2 percent. As an Angel, LaTroy Hawkins has posted a contact rate of 91.9 percent. Ernesto Frieri has allowed less than half as much contact as LaTroy Hawkins.
Frieri is basically going crazy with his fastball.
32 percent. 28 percent. 36 percent. These were Frieri's year-by-year strikeout rates as a Padre. He threw his fastball between 70-80 percent of the time. Frieri's strikeout rate as an Angel is 53 percent. He's thrown his fastball 91 percent of the time. You could say he throws two different fastballs instead of one fastball, but the bigger point is that Frieri isn't riding some offspeed gimmick or tricky release point to these numbers. He's not throwing sidearm or coming with slider after slider after slider. He's just like, "gas", and hitters are just like, "no".
Frieri hasn't cared about first-pitch strikes.
I've saved my favorite fact for last. On average, pitchers fall behind 1-and-0 40 percent of the time, and they get ahead 0-and-1 49 percent of the time. After falling behind 1-and-0, pitchers record 16 percent strikeouts. After getting ahead 0-and-1, pitchers record 27 percent strikeouts. Frieri has fallen behind 1-and-0 47 times this season, and he's gotten ahead 0-and-1 53 times this season. After falling behind 1-and-0, Frieri has generated 24 strikeouts. After getting ahead 0-and-1, Frieri has generated 24 strikeouts. In his at-bats, Frieri has followed a number of different paths. Many of them have led to the same destination.