Pirates look to fix Ernesto Frieri

Justin K. Aller

Ray Searage and Ernesto Frieri are working on tweaking the right-hander's mechanics to get his arm slot back to where it was in 2011 and 2012.

"We're working on that right now," Searage said. "We looked at some film today, and his arm is usually at low three-quarters slot and that's what we're trying to get back to. We're looking at film from 2011 and 2012, and his slot is considerably lower than it is right now."

We noted Frieri's more over-the-top arm slot two weeks ago, and speculated that it may have something to do with the problems he's had with the fastball this year.

Batting Average Year Slugging Percentage
.184 2011 .321
.151 2012 .277
.194 2013 .347
.283 2014 .566

Frieri's arm slot is two to three more inches vertical, and five to seven inches less horizontal, than it was in 2011 and 2012.

Vertical Year Horizontal
5.41 2011 -2.25
5.53 2012 -2.36
5.77 2014 -1.69

Here are graphs from Texas Leaguers of Frieri's release point. The top one is for 2011 and 2012.

Ernestorelease1112.png_medium

This one is from 2014.

Tlernestorelease2014.png_medium

(Here is an excellent image from Brooks Baseball.)

Here is a side-by-side comparison. The left two pics are from 2014; the far right is 2012.

2014_medium_medium Withbucss.jpg_medium_medium 2012release_medium_medium

Searage said that the problem with the Frieri's higher arm slot is that "he loses deception when he comes up top and his front side clears early so they see the pitch sooner."

Returning to the 2011 and 2012 release point is something that the the two of them are trying to "get back as soon as possible," Searage said. "[It] will be a big difference for him and for his deception of his pitches."

Also, as we noted in the original post, Frieri is also looking to improve his changeup. Indeed, it is the first topic that he and Searage discussed when they met.

"It is something that I am working on and something that I need," Frieri said. "I need it to feel good, it needs to feel good in my hand. [Searage] said, ‘Great, we'll work on it.'"

Searage said it is an important pitch for Frieri because it will get hitters off of his fastball.

"Usually when you can add and subtract it makes your fastball that much quicker, it gets hitters a lot faster. The changeup is a vital part that all of our pitchers throw and I think that will be a good weapon for him."

Frieri's problems with the changeup begin with his grip. He says the ball just doesn't feel comfortable in his hand. A comfortable grip is vital because it allows a pitcher to maintain the same mechanics and arm velocity that he has when throwing a fastball. It provides deception, by both lowering velocity and providing movement. Without a comfortable grip, a pitcher is apt not to maintain the same mechanics, thus losing deception.

"It is different with everybody," Searage said of the changeup grip. "And with Ernesto, he's pretty much got the middle finger over the middle of the ball. We'll see how that plays out. So far in flat ground right now the biggest thing is not to let up on the pitch. Just throw the pitch, the grip is going to change the speed of the pitch. That's the biggest thing he had an issue with was trying to slow down the arm."

Learning to throw an effective changeup is something Clint Hurdle has seen pitchers develop very quickly, or not at all.

"I've seen guys pull it off in 48 hours and I've seen guys not throw one for four years and work on it every day," Hurdle said. "Crazy. I actually saw a guy pull it off in the major leagues who didn't have one. Tried a few grips and then all the sudden somebody gave him a different grip threw it in the bullpen, got in the game that night, threw a couple and when he threw them the light went on and he was like ‘Oh my,' and then he wanted it called again."

Hurdle said that it's not only the change of speed that would help Frieri, but also the changeup would drop into the bottom part of the strike zone, providing even more protection for his fastball, which he likes to ride up and in on right-handed hitters.

"It could prove to be a very good separator for him just as a good to pitch. Something other than the fastball and throw it in a leverage count or offensive count," Hurdle said.

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