Things have not worked out quite as planned for Christian Friedrich, the Colorado Rockies' first-round pick in the 2008 draft. Friedrich dominated the low minors to begin his professional career before injuries and ineffectiveness began to wreak havoc. Editor's note: Check out the similarities between the early career trajectories of Friedrich and Eddie Butler, and try not to get too depressed.
Friedrich found his way to the big leagues in 2012 and showed flashes of brilliance in an ultimately poor rookie campaign that was cut short by a debilitating back injury. The left-hander showed impressive resiliency fighting through the pain and eventually getting back to the big leagues in June despite not pitching well at all in Triple-A. Friedrich's return to the Rockies was much more out of necessity than anything else, but to his credit, he showed some real promise for the future after struggling through the first four months of the season for Colorado Springs and Colorado.
Friedrich was arguably the worst pitcher in the Triple-A rotation when he was called up to the Rockies to serve as an emergency starter in late June. Friedrich owned a 7.89 ERA through 13 starts for Colorado Springs before his promotion, and he was sent back down two weeks later after three awful starts against the Brewers and Nationals in which he allowed 19 runs in 13⅓ innings.
Upon being demoted back to Triple-A, Friedrich was converted into a reliever and didn't really see much more success in that role. The 27-year-old Illinois native was scored upon in half of his 14 appearances out of the bullpen and gave up two or more runs in five of those games. The Rockies, again mostly out of necessity, recalled Friedrich to the big league bullpen in time for an Aug. 27 appearance against the Giants, and that's about when things started to take a turn for the better.
Friedrich threw strikes -- tons and tons of them, in fact -- as a reliever. That's something he largely failed to do in both of his stints as a starter for the Rockies, and the few times he did consistently get the ball over the plate, he allowed hits and home runs at an alarming rate. You never want to make too much out of an 11-inning, 13-appearance sample size, but Friedrich was flat-out dominant as a reliever. He faced 41 batters while working out of the bullpen and struck out 13 of them against only two walks. Friedrich did not allow a home run in relief and surrendered just four hits. When it was all said and done, his bullpen ERA was just 1.64, and he allowed baserunners at a rate of basically one every two innings.
2014 Grade: C
Yes, Friedrich was almost a full win below replacement, but the way he finished the season combined with the fact that he did it in a more suitable role for him going forward really changes how he should be viewed.
What to expect in 2015
To me, Friedrich did enough to show that he should be considered a full-time reliever going forward, and that he should be given every opportunity to break camp in the Rockies' bullpen next season. Friedrich, unlike fellow left-handers Boone Logan and Rex Brothers, was death on lefties; they hit just .138/.194/.207 with 11 strikeouts and just one walk in 32 plate appearances
Have the Rockies found a new lefty specialist? Quite possibly, and what a story it would be if Friedrich is able to solidify himself in that role next season and beyond.