On Friday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Angels decided to pull off an ‘old fashioned baseball trade’. This means that rather than trading an established veteran for prospects, both teams traded a player from their roster. The Pirates sent former closer Jason Grilli out west and the Halos sent Ernesto Frieri to the Bucs.
On the surface, this looks like two teams exchanging very bad relievers. When one dives deeper into the numbers, however, the Pirates appear to be the clear winners of this move.
Grilli, 37, has a 4.87 ERA in 20.1 innings this season for the Pirates. Not only is his ERA inflated, but his peripheral numbers are headed in the wrong direction as well. His strikeouts are way down and he is walking more than double the amount of batters he walked in 2013. His ground-ball percentage is all the way down to a mere 24.1 and he’s giving up 1.77 HR/9. Even if you are in the camp that believes ERA isn’t an important stat for relievers, his 5.36 FIP and 4.58 xFIP don’t show any signs of Grilli’s performance getting better.
Frieri, just 28 years old, has a 6.39 ERA in 31 innings in 2014. However, unlike Grilli, the rest of his numbers are extremely solid. Frieri is still getting 11.03 K/9 and his walks are actually down this season to just 2.61 BB/9 (compared to a career 4.15 BB/9). His problem this year has been allowing home runs, with 2.32 HR/9, but that can be blamed on his horribly unlucky 21.1 HR/FB ratio. He will always give up more than his fair share of home runs because he doesn’t induce many ground balls, but he won’t continue to allow as many as he has this season. Frieri’s FIP is 4.97 (way better than his 6.39 ERA) and his xFIP is a stellar 3.19. These are all indicators that Frieri’s performance will progress positively as the season moves forward.
Along with indicators that he is the better pitcher, the Pirates also have more years of control with Frieri. Grilli is set to become a free agent after the season (or earlier, if he doesn’t turn his awful season around). If you know anything about baseball, there is no way you could see this trade as anything other than a win for the Pirates.