Last week, Jerry Dipoto made the bold decision to trade Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli. I call it a bold decision because that’s the closest thing to a positive adjective I can come up with for that deal. Puzzling. Odd. Desperate. These all work much better but aren’t well-suited for polite company. Now, I am not normally concerned with someone taking offense to my criticism (hi, J.B. Shuck), but in this case I am, but those are selfish motivations. To be honest, I am worried that I might be wrong (perish the thought).
The thing about this deal is that I can’t shake the feeling that Jerry Dipoto sees something in Jason Grilli that us commonfolk don’t. Well, I hope that is the case because, if it isn’t, the alternate explanation is that he just said “screw it, it can’t get much worse.” So what does he see in Grilli that we don’t?
It can’t be his strikeout rate. He’s fanning 9.13 K/9 with a 22.3 K%. Both were his worst rates since 2008. For those of you not well-versed in Jason Grilli history, he was almost exclusively awful before 2011.
It can’t be his velocity. His fastball is about half a mile per hour slower that it was last year and almost a full mile per hour slower than two years ago. It is almost like he is in his late-thirties or something. To be fair, Grilli did have an oblique earlier in the year that sent him to the DL, so that dip might have just been a symptom of that injury and him needing to build arm strength after missing a month of the season.
Ah! That must be it then. Dipoto is betting that Grilli will get healthy and return to form. That’s a smart bet because we all know that relievers, especially 37-year old relievers, aren’t prone to chronic arm proble-
Um, nevermind. That isn’t good. That isn’t good at all. I think we might need to dig a little deeper. The bounceback theory has legs, we just need to find a different explanation for a potential bounceback.
Has Grilli just been unlucky? Let’s run through the “bad luck” checklist:
- His ERA is 4.37 but his FIP is 5.22.
- His BABIP of .306 is on par with his career BABIP of .303.
- His HR/FB is 14.3%.
So that’s a “no,” another “no” and a “maybe.” That HR/FB is awfully high, but can’t just be written off due to bad luck. I mean, to do that we’d have to prove that he wasn’t getting hard otherwise. For example, we’d want to see that his line drive rate is still normal. We definitely wouldn’t want to see that significantly higher than his career rate. Let me look it up and find out.
Oh no. Oh, that’s not good. Oh, my. That much higher?
Um, yeah, so it turns out his line drive rate is 31.3% in 2014. His previous career high was 25.0%. That is a HUGE jump and very much suggests that he is giving up a lot more hard contact.
But let’s not panic. Hard contact is a problem but can be mitigated if Grilli is still missing bats. Oh, right, he’s not. His strikeout rates are low. We already covered that. Plus, I see here that his swinging strike rate is 11.4%, his lowest since 2009.
That really just leaves us with cliched trappings to hope for. For example, Grilli just needs a “change of scenery.” Anaheim is certainly prettier than Pittsburgh, that’s for sure, but that is only going to improve Grilli’s mood, not his stats. The new scenery he is moving to, from a baseball perspective, is the notably less-pitcher friendly American League. The Big A might be a little more friendly to him on the dinger front, but it certainly isn’t a panacea, just ask Ernesto Frieri.
Or maybe the trapping in play here that Dipoto is banking on is one of those fabled “mechanical adjustments.” Grill himself seems to think that is all he needs:
Other than the change of scenery that the Angels hope will get Jason Grilli back to form, Grilli has another reason for optimism.
A change of mechanics. A small one.
How small? “If your favorite radio station is 95.7, I was at 95.9,” Grilli said. “It was that minor.”
It wasn’t that minor, Jason. Your numbers are awful. The tweak itself might be small, but the impact better be huge otherwise I’m completely out of ideas. Granted, the Angels had success with mechanical fixes to Tyler Skaggs and Kevin Jepsen this year (so, yeah, save your Mike Butcher jokes), but more often than not these supposed fixes are purely cosmetic and done in hopes that there will be a placebo effect on the player.
Actually, I do have one more possibility. I think maybe the real reason behind Dipoto trading Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli is that Grilli is not Ernesto Frieri. Let’s face it, the Halos have been doing the Frieri tango for two and a half years now and it takes a toll. I have a closet full of Tums to prove it. There may not be anything that Dipoto sees in Grilli himself other than an opportunity to get off the Frieri rollercoaster but still placate Scioscia and the fans by giving them a “proven closer” to have on the staff, even if it is just for show.