The Los Angeles Dodgers are already hurting. Despite pricey adds this offseason in the form of Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir, along with the return of Brett Anderson, the Dodgers are currently faced with an ailing rotation and several concerns for the future. To run through the list, Brett Anderson is out for a few months after undergoing back surgery, Hyun-Jin Ryu is expected back in May after shoulder surgery, and Brandon McCarthy won't be returning from Tommy John until around midseason. Not to mention Scott Kazmir is experiencing a steep drop-off in velocity this spring and Alex Wood recently missed a start due to forearm tightness.
Injuries are adding up, and the current Dodgers rotation is projected to be: Clayton Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, and Wood. The fifth starter spot remains undecided, but Carlos Frias' competition comes from the likes of Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy, and Zach Lee. And as much as I love a good comeback story and Bolsinger's curve, I'm writing this article to advocate for Frias.
One of the best indicators of expected strikeout rate is the rate at which opposing batters whiff whenever they swing the bat. As a result, Frias' lowly 13.0 strikeout rate from 2015 (as a starter) betrays the righty's quality repertoire.
Frias' 2015 season as a starter is plotted above as the red dot. He is the largest outlier amongst all 2015 qualified starters. When starting, he caused batters to whiff on 21.0 percent of their swings and induced swings on 47.3 percent of all pitches — good for a 9.9 percent whiff rate. This would make him an above-average starter when it comes to fooling batters given the league average of 9.3 percent.
Once Frias' numbers are regressed back, the data reveals that he should have been fortunate enough to attain a 20.5 percent strikeout rate in 2015. The astounding difference of more than seven percentage points hides Frias' powerful arsenal, which consists of a four-seam and two-seam fastball, cutter, curve, and changeup.
Don't let the five-pitch mix deceive you, though. Frias only drifts to his curveball and changeup a combined 11 percent of the time. Rather, he prefers blowing his 94.7 mph two-seamer past batters and mixing in a dangerous downhill cutter to finish them off. He maintains this impressive velocity during his starts, often throwing 95 mph during his third time through the order, as evidenced by this Brooks Baseball chart. For example, Frias threw a 97.3 mph fastball to Nick Ahmed in the fifth inning of his May 1st start.
He clearly has top notch velocity among starters, though without a consistent off-speed pitch or a breaking pitch with greater movement, he's limited in his arsenal. In fact, among all starters with over 20 innings in 2015, Frias' arsenal rated 236th out of 245 in total movement*. On the other hand, his velocity earned him the 15th-fastest ranking.
*Calculated by summing z-scores of every starters' individual pitches' statistics, excluding pitches thrown at or under a 5.0% frequency.
He's very unique in that regard, but some might question his ability to start for lack of a third pitch. That could be one possible explanation for why his expected strikeout rate didn't materialize last year. Frias simply didn't have an out pitch to finish batters off.
It would be easy to see how he could become a high-caliber reliever if he was solely used in a relief role. And he flashed this potential as a reliever in 2014, but I'm holding steadfast to the belief that he can stick as a starter. It is possible to succeed in this manner, and it's been proven through pitchers like Michael Pineda and Garrett Richards.
Whether or not Frias alters his arsenal to give hitters a different look, he's good enough to survive the rigors of major league baseball as is. A very appealing 54.0% GB%, coupled with a repertoire that gets swinging strikes, makes for a serviceable backend starter or quite possibly more.
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