WITH A NICE HIGH ARM SLOT AND LOTS OF GAS CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH SHOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT STARTER. IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. BUT DID 2014 SHOW US WE MIGHT HAVE OUR VERY OWN ANDREW MILLER?
The all-time biggest bust for the Rockies is going to Greg Reynolds forever I have a feeling. That is of course in part due to how well the players chosen after him in the draft performed. But for Reynolds there will always be a “what if” component. If he hadn’t have pushed through in 2008 to help the team, might he have avoided blowing up his shoulder? And what would his career have looked like with a healthy throwing shoulder. We cannot know, and that is of course the risk with all pitchers chosen in the first round. Can they stay healthy. The Rox thought they had their future closer in Casey Weathers, and might have indeed had him, but he blew out his elbow and became one of the 10% for whom Tommy John isn’t something you can return from and be successful.
I bring up these two bad sad stories of the team’s failed #1 picks of 2006 and 2007 because I will always believe that Christian Friedrich (#1 2008), if he could have had any luck with injuries, could have been a decent #3 or #4 starter for Colorado. But that isn’t the story we get, and that isn’t the player the Rockies have to evaluate.
Friedrich made good promise through the minors after his drafting in 2008. He did well at low A in 2008 (struggled in high A), was great in 2009 (where he began the season as the #95 Prospect in baseball ) showing a 2.41 ERA across 22 starts at 2 levels. Going into 2010 he was the #22 rated prospect in baseball. But 2010 didn’t go well. He only made 18 starts and struggled with a 5.05 ERA and repeated at AA with a 5.00 ERA across 25 starts. He struggled in 2010 with a triceps injury, and was still not quite right in 2011. Going into 2012 Friedrich worked out with Cliff Lee (a pitcher he very much looks like in his motion), and it seemed to help, as he had a 3.00 ERA in 5 starts at AAA before going to the show. Of course 2012 was the year I call “the Year the Humidor Broke” and thanks to one of the hottest, driest, windiest summers in state history (and one of the most dangerous for house fires as we learned here in Colorado Springs), Friedrich’s performance at the major league level was uneven. In 16 starts he went 5-8 with a 6.17 ERA and a 1.559 WHIP (his fielding independent ERA was only 4.63). In his road starts that year he went 3-3 with a very nice 3.77 ERA and a 1.279 WHIP, with a 2.47K/BB rate, 8.3K/9, while being unlucky slightly allowing a BABIP of .303. All signs looked great for Friedrich for 2013.
2013 was a lost season, as he broke a bone in his back, resulting in his only making 4 so-so starts in Colorado Springs before being DLd for the season. But even with that, the Rox still had high hopes for Christian entering 2014. Why not, one of the few real strikeout pitchers in the system, Christian had 405 Ks in just 388 minor league innings going into 2014. And with the rash of injuries that started to hit the team even before leaving Arizona, it seemed only a matter of time before Christian would be starting at Coors.
Let’s look at Christian as a starter first, because I think it will be the last time he has starting stats.
As a starter at Colorado Springs he didn’t do to well. He allowed a .329 BA/.394 OBP/.921 OPS in AAA. These included 3 really good starts allowing 1,0, and 2 ER. The last of these over 6 innings though was misleading as he allowed 10 hits. But it earned his ticket to Coors. But he had 5 starts (out of 9) in AAA with 5 or more earned runs (including a 7 and two 6 run games). When he was sent back down after one relief chance in the bigs, he had 4 more starts, only one even decent, a 5 inning 1 run game, but was shelled for 6,9 and 7 earned runs in three games pitching only 5.2, 2.1, and 5.1 innings. The clock was running out on Christian despite the emergancy room situation at Coors. He was sent back to Coors for 3 more starts and that was the end of his starting.
His numbers starting for the Rockies? Ouch:
|6/21 MIL||6.0||7 Hits||4 ER (9 total)||3:3 K/BB|
|6/26 @MIL||4.0||9 Hits||9 ER||8:1|
|7/1 @ WASH||3.1||5 Hits||5 ER||3:4|
Look, you want your #1 picks to be starters, of course. But the most important thing is to get value from those picks, and relievers can actually become quite valuable to a team. An example from the Royals, of another failed starter, Wade Davis, shows us. In the 2 years he started all season, he only created .7 and 1.0 WAR. This year, after still trying to make him a starter in 2013, he turned in 3.1 WAR (and much of the 1.7 WAR in 2013 came after his shift). Luke Hochever, had one of his best WAR seasons after switching in 2013 to relief. So the fact that Christian Friedrich is done starting doesn’t mean his value has ended. Quite the opposite, in 2015 I bet he gets in 60+ games, and if what we saw in 2014 is any indication…his value might be quite high.
The Rox started his switch by sending him down to AAA to learn to work from the bullpen. It isn’t as simply as just throwing less. It requires a different approach to the game. The team gave him 14 outings at Colorado Springs, where he his numbers changed dramatically, down to .211/.299/.674. While he still allowed a number of runs in some of his outings, he looked even better than the raw numbers. And by late August he was in Colorado to stay.
In 13 games as a reliever covering 11 innings, he threw out a .111/.175/.342 stat line while going 0-1 with a 1.64 ERA and a WHIP of .545! While his strikeouts/9 had remained over 9 as a starter, as a reliever they jumped up to 10.6/9! And his K/BB ratio went from 1.75 to 6.50! To put it bluntly, he was awesome! His BABIP as a reliever dropped from .419 to .167.
Why this change? Here is how one scouting report (from a scout suggesting other teams should pry him away from Colorado, as if we don’t need young, cheap bullpen parts here) sums it up:
“He all but abandoned his sinker and change after his first three appearances of the year, which were starts, and predominantly went with his four-seam and slider in his relief outings. In doing so, his velocity increased and his whiff percentage climbed, especially with his slider.
In his relief outings, he notched a swinging strike percentage of 20.7%, which could very well regress with more innings, but to put that in perspective, that number led all relievers with at least 10 IP, ahead of Aroldis Chapman who posted a 20.0% SwStr%. Dominant closers Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland registered SwStr%’s of 16.6% and 15.0% respectively.”
Those are three big names, and I don’t think we will see Friedrich be quite that good over a season (first he has to stay healthy for 162), but if he is close to that good? I think we might well have the beginning of our own shut-down bullpen of hard throwers. We will have to see, but it does make the 2014 season for Friedrich at least have some positive elements to it.
2014 Season Grade:
As a Starter – D-: I am really hard here for two reasons. First, he was not just bad, he was really bad as a starter. But second, they needed Christian to find something of his 2012 self this year, especially as players starting going down in March and April, and he wasn’t able to do it.
As a Reliever – A: I wish we had a larger sample size, but once he was converted to a reliever Friedrich did more than anyone could have hoped for in 2014. What is more is it provided the tem with a real set of data as they plan for 2015, with regards to who they bring in for the pen, who they can trade, or what they might want to ask for in a trade.
Overall Grade – B-: The fact Friedrich only gave them 16 appearances is why the low grade. His actual work as a reliever was so strong that he probably deserved a B at least, but his failure as a starter hurt the team when they needed help the most, and it created a late move date for him to the bullpen. But still, as far as actual work, he better than any other reliever aside from Adam Ottavino and Letroy Hawkins.
Unless a trade is made or an injury, Friedrich will be part of the bullpen that heads north in April. I am guessing the team will start him off in 6th an 7th inning work, where, if he shows the team that high strikeout, filthy stuff we saw last year, he will quickly move into the 8th inning role, sharing time with Hawkins, Ottavino, and Brothers.
|72 Appearances||81 innings||2.95 ERA||1.100 WHIP||9.5K/9|
Who knows, we may have the next Andrew Miller, another #1 who found his career in the pen. Could happen…let us hope we see it. And if it does happen maybe the Rox can finally salvage some value from that bad stretch of draft picks (and Tyler Matzek and Kyler Parker making it would help a lot too).