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Ernesto Frieri energetic, hopeful as he trusts in Jim Hickey to be his saviour

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In Today's Tank: Ernesto Frieri, Baseball Writers, Billy Hamilton, Playoffs odds, 2015 free agents, Fantasy Baseball and 3,000 hits candidates.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Training is now in full mode with the first games broadcasted on television and on MLB.tv. With live baseball action every day, early reports are showing a global increase in baseball fans' lives and nothing should stop this improvement until a few more weeks and the first deceptions of the regular season.

Speaking of excitement, Ernesto Frieri enters Spring Training hoping for a rebound season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015. Nothing too surprising here, considering his poor performance last year where he posted a career-worst 5.41 FIP in 41.2 innings pitched with the Angels and the Pirates bullpens.

As Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times reports, Frieri reckoned that "everything went wrong" in 2014 and that he was pretty sure he made a good decision coming to the Rays, especially due to pitching coach Jim Hickey.

"When you need to improve some things like I do, you always look to get the right information, you always look for the right person, the right pitching coach in my case, to get better," Frieri said. "And I feel like I made a really good decision coming over here because Hickey has done a really good job in the past."

Pitching coach for Tampa Bay since 2006, Jim Hickey benefits from a history of good pitchers who emerged and starred with the Rays such as Fernando Rodney, and Joaquin Benoit. Hickey will now have to face another challenge in the bullpen as Frieri absolutely needs to get back on track if he wants a bullpen job with Tampa Bay. The Chicago-native coach also talked to Topkin yesterday and expressed his optimism towards Frieri:

"I can't tell you yet where he is in terms of regaining his form simply because we've been throwing bullpens and batting practices," Hickey said. "The stuff looks good, and he looks good. He looks like he's in a good place, which really is a big thing."

Promising statement from Hickey to which we can add that the relief pitcher didn't have a catastrophic 2014 season on every account. Indeed, if we take a look at his strikeout percentage, even though it was his career-worst, it only fell from 5% compared to his career average: 26.1% v. 31.4%. As for his walk percentage, Frieri actually recorded his best performance in his six seasons in the majors as he walked 7.6% of the batters he faced, compared to 10.3%, 11.2% and 12.3% in the past three seasons before 2014.

What stands out the most about Frieri recently is his home run conceded. In 2014, he allowed 2.38 home runs per nine innings with a home run per fly ball ratio as high as 19.3%. Such high metrics may be explained by the lack of movement on his fastball during the last season as Frieri noticed:

"People that didn't have a chance hitting the fastball were putting good contact on it," Frieri said. "They were doing it, and I was like, 'Something's wrong.' I feel good. My fastball had the same velocity. But it wasn't moving."

Spring Training games will certainly be a good indicator on Frieri current shape and mind, but considering how bad 2014 was, we should expect more than a simple improvement from his part, especially considering that the Rays bullpen have a lot of contenders this year.

You can here more on all of this from Frieri himself on the excellent This Week in Rays Baseball Podcast, including how he built up the strength to pitch by grinding corn with his grandmother as a child!

Links

- Baseball is here and before the regular season starts, you are probably thinking about fantasy baseball strategies or whether or not this should be the year for you to finally enter a league and see what the fuss is all about. Thankfully, Baseball Prospectus offers you nine advices to improve your league. First one? Play with friends or relatives! Although there is a chance that this might end terribly...

- Being a baseball fan and having an internet connection automatically suggests that you probably read a lot of stuff about your team and the sport in general. But what are you reading exactly? Repeating a link from yesterday, Jack Moore from the Hardball Times chips in and try to establish the State of Baseball writing. A very interesting read especially if you want to make it as a blogger/analyst or beat writer.

- A little bit of fun and predictions here as Jeff Sullivan from Fangraphs takes a look back at the 2014 playoffs projections and compares them with this year's odds. Although the article isn't really nice the Rays as the change in percentage from 2014 to 2015 is as high as -23% in terms of playoffs odds. Surely Tampa Bay will find another way to thwart pessimistic forecasts once again.

Jeff Todd from MLB Trade Rumors made a nice recap of the 2014-2015 Free Agent Spending by Team, breaking it down by totals and annual averages too. The Rays stand at the 22nd place, while the Nationals, the Red Sox and the Cubs form this year's top three.

- SB Nation fellow fantasy blog Fake Teams currently is in its "Outfielder week" as Nick Doran analyses the average draft position of Reds' wonder Billy Hamilton. Is he drafted too early? How much are you willing to spend on him? Feel free to react in the comments section.

- In case you missed it, Beyond the Box Score looked at the 3,000 hits candidates not named Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki or Johnny Damon. Using a formula called "Favorite Toy", Scott Lindholm ranked players such as Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout or Robinson Cano by the odds of making it to the 3K bar.