A Potential Target for the Pen | The Process Report

A Potential Target for the Pen

The current projected 2018 bullpen is a bit light in experience and has also lost two pieces that were very helpful in fixing a soft spot in 2016. There is a free agent out there that can address both issues.

The 2016 Rays pen struggled to meet Kevin Cash‘s stated goal of wanting pitchers to extend themselves from the pen and get 4+ outs. The bullpen also had issues against right-handed batters as it was one of the worst in the league in terms of wOBA. We suggested picking up Tommy Hunter on a minor league deal in an early February 2017, and it happened later that month. Now, we are flexing our prognosticating muscle to see if we can go back to back in predicting this year’s veteran acquisition for the bullpen.

The 2018 pen is still a work in progress. There are still rumors of Alex Colome being dealt away, so for the purpose of this article, let’s assume that happens.  That puts the Rays right back into the issue of lacking pitchers that can get 4+ outs and really leaves them exposed to righties as Colome, free agent Sergio Romo as well as the departed Hunter and Steve Cishek were the team’s four bet relievers against righties.

That brings us to the matter of experience in the pen. Again, assuming Colome is dealt, this is the projected bullpen by RosterResource.com and the 2017 innings pitched by each reliever, regardless of team:

Matt Andriese is projected for the pen, but that could change once Jake Odorizzi is traded so we will leave him out for now. The point stands that the crew above is light on major league experience and even keeping the RDU to TPA shuttle busy shuffling pitchers with options around between the two teams will not be able to cover everything that is needed in 2018. Rebuild or not, the team has needed at least 500 innings from the bullpen in each of the previous four seasons and asked 498.2 of the 2013 squad.

There was also this bit from an interview that Cash did on the MLB Network during the recent winter meetings:

To follow-up, based on the way bullpen or starting pitching is going and the rule, everybody seems to be kind of onboard on this twice-through-the-lineup thing. Is there going to be more of a premium on the guys who you pick for middle relief and want to get two or three innings in that middle part of the order?

KEVIN CASH: Without a doubt. Everybody looks or talks about the 8th and 9th innings, we have said it for a long time now, there are a lot of games that are won in the 5th through the 7th. And I don’t know if you put a higher premium — the last three outs of the game have always been shown to be tough to come by and get. But the three outs are three outs, and we got to find guys that are very capable of consistency of having success in those middle innings.

The club needs experience, it needs someone that can come in and work the middle innings, and it needs to address a gaping hole in the bullpen skillset in terms of being able to neutralize right-handed batters. There is a guy out there that addresses all three of those needs and his name is Craig Stammen.

Stammen returned to the mound in 2017 after missing most of 2015 after completely tearing two nearly completely torn flexor tendons in his right forearm. He signed on with Cleveland in 2016, but worked fewer than 30 innings in the minor leagues while recovering from the surgery. Like Hunter in Tampa Bay, Stammen signed a minor league deal with San Diego last season and resumed his pre-injury workload appearing in 60 games and working in 80.1 innings for the Padres and is now a free agent looking for his next job.

The graph below shows that Stammen got off to a rough start after the neear two-year layoff, but was eventually able to get back into his swimlane and find success again, particularly later in the season before tiring out in the final few weeks.

Overall, Stammen does a good job of staying away fromt the danger zones where launch angle and exit velo pair well together (green zones). More on that in a bit.

Stammen’s strength is how he fares against righties. Notice where the black dots are on the first image below and compare that to the overall one above.

Additionally, both his actual and true wOBA against righties remained below the league average for nearly the entire season. Over his last three full seasons of work. Stammen has had a .278 wOBA against righties out of the pen over a body of work that includes 573 batters faced. For comparison’s sake, Colome has a .273 wOBA over the past three seasons against the 490 righties he has faced.

The problem for Stammen has been he is simply not as effective against lefties. Stammen is mostly a sinker/slider guy that also flashes a knuckle-curve and the only one of those pitches that moves away from lefties is going to be the sinker. His graphs against lefties tell a different story than the earlier graphs.

The American League East maintains an unhealthy balance of righty bats that the Rays must deal with 76 times in 2018. The current projected bullpen threw fewer than 200 innings at the major league level in 2017, and even moving Andriese to a swing role leaves approximately 225 innings of work to project and/or assign to current or potential relievers. Stammen fills a few holes in that he can absorb the work while providing quality skill in the middle to late innings and can help try to neutralize a rather fearsome bunch of righties within the division while working around unfavorable lefty matchups.

Stammen’s high-level water mark for salary in his career has been $2.25M that he made back in 2015 when he was unfortunately injured very early in that season. The current free agent market for relievers has mostly been a collection of two year deals ranging anywhere from $2.25M to 10.5M in average annual value.  The Reds were rumored to be most recently interested in Stammen but instead added Jared Hughes on a two-year deal for $2.25M a season with a third year club option. Yusmeiro Petit, a player at the very high end of the role the Rays need to fill, had a similarly structured deal with $5M average annual value.

Assuming Stammen was offered the same deal Hughes accepted, perhaps a two-year deal at $3.5M average annual value could get Stammen to come to Tampa Bay. It would give him a significant raise over his previous career-high as well as the job security he has lacked the past few seasons after settling for consecutive minor league deals with Cleveland and San Diego. Either way, the club needs to do something to at least address the gaping hole left in the pen by the departure of Romo, Hunter, and Cishek and their abilities to frustrate righties and adding someone capable of that as well as a heavier workload seems like a good move on paper.

(thanks to Jason Hanselman for providing the images as well as some of the thoughts included within the piece)