The 2015 season probably ought not be remembered fondly by Christian Friedrich. The former first-round draft pick entered the year as a converted reliever, with exactly 13 Major League relief appearances to his name. He had thrown well in those 13 appearances (all at the end of 2014), so while optimism entering 2015 may not have been high around Friedrich, most Rockies observers were... intrigued about him coming out of the 'pen.
One year later, and things happened exactly how you probably thought they were going to happen. In 68 games (58.1 innings pitched), Friedrich put up some ugly numbers: a 1.714 WHIP, 5.25 ERA (but only a 4.04 FIP!), 11.6 hits per nine innings, and a .321 opponents' batting average. Yikes.
But this is something: Friedrich was the only pitcher on the staff to spend the entire year in the Major Leagues on the active roster. (I'm not sure if that's a tip of the cap to Friedrich for fighting through a difficult season, or a face palm at the Rockies for putting together a brutal 'pen. Probably a bit of both.)
If there's one good thing that came out of Friedrich's 2015, it's that he was (kind of) better against lefties than righties. Lefties slashed .268/.320/.339 against him in 127 plate appearances, and he struck out 23 of them versus nine walks. Those numbers aren't dominant, but considering righties brutalized Friedrich to the tune of a .369/.433/.533 slash line in 143 plate appearances, with nine doubles, two triples, three homers, and 16 walks... thank goodness for the soft bigotry of low expectations.
At least Friedrich finished relatively well compared to the rest of the year; after taking his fourth (and final) loss of the season on August 21 against the Mets, Friedrich's final 17 games: 9.1 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 9K, three holds, and an ERA that sunk from 5.69 to his final 5.25. Silver linings?
Friedrich's 2016 outlook
How much would you guys laugh at me if I admitted I'm actually kind of bullish on Friedrich in 2016? I know it's insane, because he got hit hard all year by everybody in the league. But he's now about 14 months into his career as a reliever, and he learned a lot on the job in 2015. I'm not bullish on him being any kind of shutdown reliever on a winning team; I mean bullish more in the sense that I think he'll take a big step forward in whatever relief role he holds down next summer.
He doesn't have the stuff to become a dominant late-inning option, since he just doesn't throw hard enough to cast the odds in his favor, but he is a five (!) pitch pitcher who Walt Weiss ought to use more intelligently against left-handed batters to better put Friedrich in a position to succeed.
Friedrich is cheap, still pre-arbitration (not 'til 2017) and obviously pre-free agency (2020), but he's also out of minor league options. If he doesn't make the club in Spring Training, he'll be exposed to the league and very well may be on his way out of Denver.
Nevertheless, call me crazy -- just understand I'm buying low on Friedrich relative to his performance, not a dominant reliever -- but he's due for an improvement in 2016. Finding a role as a traditional left-handed specialist, whether in Denver or elsewhere, would fulfill this buy-low strategy; perhaps more pessimistically, it'd be kind of difficult for him to do significantly worse in 2016 than 2015, so... yeah.