The Cincinnati Reds have played 54 games, officially one-third of their 2012 schedule. And the Angeles de Anaheim have played a few more games than that. We're at a point in the season when peculiarities morph into real, dependable success. That means we have no choice but to pay attention to Aroldis Chapman and Ernesto Frieri, both of whom are doing totally absurd things at the back ends of their teams' bullpens.
Frieri began the season on the Padres—he pitched well enough there. 11.2 innings, four walks, 18 strikeouts, a 2.31 ERA. But San Diego, bullpen-poor though they were, shipped Frieri up I-5 for utilityman Alexi Amarista and a minor leaguer. And, in Anaheim, the Colombian has astounded: 14.1 innings, one hit (which came only recently), 11 walks, and 30 strikeouts. And no runs. Get that. He's striking out two batters an inning. And he's allowed one hit and no runs. In 14.1 innings. Almost two complete games' worth of work. It's cartoonish. And he does it without the eye-popping velocity we'd expect. He throws about 80 percent fastballs, with an average velocity of 93 miles an hour.
Frieri'd be the defining bullpen story of the 2012 season if not for the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, who, despite some intriguing off-the-field escapades, has shredded the National League this year. In 28 innings, Chapman has given up a few more hits than Frieri—he's allowed seven—but he's walked only nine guys. He has 50 strikeouts. 50! That's nearly two batters an inning. And he, like the Angels' edition of Frieri, hasn't allowed a run, either. (CORRECTION: No earned runs. He did give up one run.)
Sure, Chapman needs his eye-popping velocity to achieve his success—his average fastball is 97.3 miles per hour, with much higher spikes—but he's a refined version of the Chapman of old. He throws more changeups than he used to. (His changeup clocks in around 93 miles an hour, the same speed as Frieri's fastball, but still.) And he no longer walks too many hitters. Last year, he walked 41 men in 50 innings and spent some time in the minors getting things worked out. This year, he's been the best reliever in baseball. And he's only 24.
Perhaps Frieri and Chapman will descend to earth by the fall, ending the season with Mariano Rivera numbers instead of Pedro Martinez in MVP Baseball 2003 numbers. But in the meantime? This is nuts.