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Transaction analysis: is the Grilli trade the new Hanrahan trade?


SOUTH HILLS – Some shocking news came down an hour before first pitch tonight as the Pirates traded their melt-down-prone reliever Jason Grilli for the Angles’ melt-down-prone reliever Ernesto Frieri. At first glance it appears this is a classic change-of-scenery, we’ll-give-you-our-problem-for-your-problem trade. But this trade is a clear win for the Pirates.

For starters, Grilli possesses almost no upside. He’s 37 years old and a free agent to be.

Frieri is 28 and has two years of club control remaining. He’s earning a similar salary to Grill this season ($3.8 million) in his first year of arbitration. Moreover, Frieri’s strikeout rate (11 per nine) and walk rates (2.6 per nine) are very good and superior to that of Grilli. He has a 94 mph fastball. By keeping him away from save situations the Pirates might be able to keep down future arbitration earnings.

Both pitcher’s have ugly ERAs, that’s true. But the Pirates are again trusting the magical powers of Fielding Independent Pitching, FIP. In short, FIP, unlike ERA, takes into account what pitchers control: strikeouts and walks and home runs and removes defensive play. Frieri, like AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon acquired before him, has a FIP that suggests he hasn’t pitched as poorly as his ERA.

Last offseason the Pirates traded a pitcher whose FIP suggested he was over-achieving (Joel Hanrahan) for a pitcher, Melancon, whose FIP suggested he was under-achieving. The trade was a clear win for the Pirates.

Melancon’s 2012 ERA (6.20) and FIP (4.58) and HR rate (22 percent).

Frieri’s 2014 ERA (6.39) FIP (4.97) and HR rate (21 percent).

Frieri’s a good bet to improve simply because his HR/FB ratio is unlikely to remain that high. Frieri’s biggest problem is he is an extreme flyball pitcher, like Grilli. Still, he misses a ton of bats and limits walks.

Here’s what Neal Huntington had to say:

“I think we caught (Grilli) off guard. He was planning on working through his challenges here as we were and then this came together. We decided to make a move. He was shaken up. This is the tough part of it. The human element part.”

“Ernesto is a guy we have pursued for a couple of years and haven’t been able to get him. He’s been going through a rough stretch but there’s a lot of things our scouts like, that our analysts like. We feel like we’ve had some success with guys like this in the past. Change of leagues, change of scenery.”

“(Frieri) comes with years of control. We have to get him back on track, and if we do that that’s one of the potential upside.”

“(Frieri) has got a good strikeout rate. There are indicators there that indicate he can (improve)….  and getting him around our staff, the change of scenery part of it.”

Huntington said he expected Melancon to continue to close but noted Frieri has done it.

“Obviously Ernesto has done it in the past. We are very confident with Mark and Tony at the back end. It gives Clint another high-leverage option that may pitch in the middle innings.”

Huntington has to be giddy. This is a nothing-to-lose trade, only upside to be gained. It might not work out, but there’s nothing to lose.




  1. Jason says:

    Totally agree. Grilli was done. There was no working through his issues here. Best of luck to him.

  2. radio wave says:

    Excellent work TS. My first thought was the age factor. What is the contract/control status with Fieri?

  3. Pig Legs Robinson says:

    If he’s an extreme flyball pitcher like you say, he will now have an outfield able to run down just about anything as long as he can keep it in the park. Searage & Benedict will be able to bring out the best in him too
    Good trade, I like it.

  4. HebnerRuled says:

    Grilli would have been gone after this season anyway. Great no-lose trade, low impact (at this point) which could be a real steal later.

  5. LeeFoo says:

    I have to agree with everyone so far. I was ready to have them DFA Grilli, but to actually get someone like Frieri is tremendous.

    Win Win.

  6. Jim says:

    Sad to see Jason go after the magical season last year which he greatly contributed. That said, baseball wise and for the future it was the right thing to do. The memories will still be there.

  7. The Gunner says:

    The BMTIB made a good deal here – Frieri appears to have some upside & Uncle Ray can probably help him.

    Grilli did a great job in his time here but, he has not been the same since last year’s & this year’s injuries. His best days are clearly behind him.

  8. Sandy says:

    Excellent trade. Pirates fans are grateful for Grillis’ contributions the last few years but this is a performance based game. The GM made two fine acquisitions last year when he picked up M. Byrd and J. Morneau and now he is trying to help the bullpen.

  9. Ken Simon says:

    While I the trade makes sense, I disagree that there is nothing to lose. Grilli was a role model, a stellar representative of the team, and and a valuable member of the community. He will be missed, even if the trade works out well.

  10. RobertoForever says:

    I was shocked to hear of the trade. Loved Grill I and what he represented to the Bucs the last two years.

    But then the more I let it sink in, the more I realized that my image if Grilled Cheese, is not the Grill I we have seen this year. I wish Jason all the luck, and will root for his success.

    Thanks for the memories, Jason

  11. RobertoForever says:

    auto correct seems to keep changing Grilli to Grill I. Ugh.

  12. piratemike says:

    I guess Bock Holt makes the Sox feel a little bit better about the Hanny trade.

  13. piratemike says:

    Bock ? I meant Brock.

  14. hak says:

    An observation from an Angels fan here.

    It is likely that Bucs have a good chance to get value out of this deal, but it is a good trade from our perspective also.

    As the article notes, Frieri has great stuff and excellent peripherals coupled with almost ridiculous gopher ball tendencies that was already noticeable in 2012 and steadily got worse, until it became unacceptable by this year. While this may be fixable by a good coaching staff, that has been sorely lacking in Angels organization for some time, since Bud Black left to manage the Padres (Jordan Walden, who has done fairly well with the Braves last couple of years, was having similar problems with the Angels, although not quite to this extent. You should hear what a lot of Angel fans have to say about Mike Butcher, the current pitching coach.) and Frieri was looking like a non tender candidate by the end of the season.

    Most Angel fans aren’t looking for much out of Grilli, but we also knew that, as long as Frieri stayed with us, he wasn’t going to be of much use and our coaching staff would not be able to help him. That he was able to fetch us a major league arm, even at the end of service life, is something from our perspective. Given that Frieri has won much affection from us by being a great fan friendly presence, most of us, I am sure, are pulling for him to get himself back together and if your people can help him pull through, we will be grateful.

  15. NMR says:

    Much appreciated perspective.

    Some corners of Pirate blogosphere have been downright laughable in their praise of this trade, blatantly saying that Frieri has been “unlucky” in giving up homeruns. That is absolutely false, and demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of sabermetric principles. Homeruns, along with strikeouts and walks, are something that the pitcher DOES have control over.

    Frieri made those pitches. They were mistakes. And the got hit a long way.

    That’s not “unlucky”, by any definition of the word.

    IF, and let me stress IF, Frieri can harness the fastball command that has been spotty since the second half of 2013, then yes, one can expect his homerun rate to regress back toward career norms. But don’t let anyone tell you that’ll happen magically due to luck. It’ll take real work.

  16. Andrew says:

    I think the original idea of FIP was simply to remove all plays that the defense impacted behind the pitcher and xFIP came along because it was found that HR/FB were incredibly volatile. Luck is such a loaded term, and I cringe when see it use to describe performance.

    Frieri’s xFIP being similar to past season is a bit deceiving his strikeouts are down 8% points, but his walks have declined also, so the xFIP looks the similar. That is due to Frieri’s whiff rate on his fastball falling from 17.7% to 11.6%, and as he doesn’t really have a secondary pitch, the Pirates might want to figure out the reason.

    And if Ernoest keeps locating his fastball like this, the HR/FB will go up.

  17. Jim S. says:

    I think the deal was as advertised – a trade of relievers who have experienced success in the past who both needed a fresh start.

    I believe the Pirates got the better end of the deal, simply because Grilli was essentially done in Pittsburgh, most likely. He would have needed to re-establish himself as a late inning reliever, and that was going to be tough to do since he was going to be appearing in low leverage situations. So, barring something unforseen that might have thrust him back into a more important role, he would have not been extended for next season. With Frieri, the Pirates get a guy who has glaring warts (gopher balls), but also some assets. They have some time to try and help him. If that doesn’t come about, it’s a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained. I don’t believe Huntington was looking at this as solidifying his bullpen for a stretch run.

  18. NMR says:

    Ha, yikes. Thanks for that, Andrew.

    I think you might’ve answered your own question regarding fastball whiff rate, though. Not gonna get a lot of big leaguers swinging through center-cut fastballs.

  19. NMR says:

    When Frieri has been good he kind’ve reminds me a bit of what Sean Doolittle is doing. Everything hard and high.

  20. NMR says:

    This is a bit of a stretch, but I wonder if the Pirates bullpen reinforcements aren’t already on the roster?

    Stolmy Pimentel turned some serious head on saturday by coming in and dominating a lineup that just tore up Gerrit Cole. And I bet Edinson Volquez would be nasty letting mid to upper 90s fastballs loose in one-inning stints.

    Pair those guys with Melancon and Watson, throw Justin Wilson into the mix, and see what you can get out of Frieri. All the sudden you’re looking at a bullpen full of big, big arms.

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