Club Bennett | The Process Report

Club Bennett

By R.J. Anderson //

Back in the halcyon days of 2009, when Jeff Bennett wore the blue and white, I developed a running joke about the parameters in which the game must meet before he could enter the game. The scoreboard must feature the Rays either up or trailing by five runs against a team where a realistic comeback held little plausibility. Bennett eventually flushed out of the system, leaving some questions about who would fill his role. When the Rays acquired Mike Ekstrom, all questions ceased.

As faith would have it, Andy Sonnanstine actually holds the lowest pLI (Average Leverage Index) amongst qualified relievers at 0.35. The scale’s minimum is 0.00 and the average starting pitcher’s leverage is something like 1.00. Since Sonnanstine’s appearances have hold little water, then Ekstrom’s must be completely arid, as his leverage index is 0.15.

Remember back early in the season, when Jeff Niemann exited after an inning due to being hit by a line drive? Ekstrom entered the game in a big spot that day which has skewed his leverage index upwards. As unbelievable as it may sound, Ekstrom’s leverage index since that outing is 0.04. To put that into context, take a look at the margin of lead when Ekstrom has entered: 6, 8, 7, 12, 6, 8, 5, 9, 9, 12, 3, and 7. Where does Ekstrom rank in Rays’ history for reliever with the least important job? I ran a query for single seasons in Rays’ history where a pitcher made at least 10 appearances with 80% of his appearances coming in relief.

My assumption was that the Devil Rays’ years would flood the leaderboards. After all, times were tough and a ton of low leverage situations were created during blowouts, but in retrospect, that doesn’t’ make sense. Bad teams do not have the luxury of carrying a bad reliever whose job is to pitch in big deficits only. That’s because bad teams are usually loaded with bad pitchers to begin with. At some point, through process of elimination or stupidity, those bad pitchers will have their jobs flipped before the team sheared them from the roster.

As it turns out, each of the top three least important relief seasons have occurred over the last three years. Or, more specifically, the last two seasons. Remember that tidbit about Sonnanstine’s 2010 being the lowest in the league this season? Yeah, that ranks as the seventeenth least important relief season. In other words: there have been a ton, ton, ton of unimportant relievers in team history. Here’s a rundown of the fellows who just missed the top 10:

15. Steven Kent (2002) .481, 23-years-old
14. Dan Carlson (1998) .469, 28-years-old
13. Edwin Jackson (2006) .440, 22-years-old
12. Mike Duvall (1999) .429, 24-years-old
11. Bobby Seay (2000) .422, 26-years-old

And now some words on each of the top 10.

10. Jeff Wallace (2001), .409, 25-years-old

Wallace had spent parts of the previous four seasons with the Pirates. A well-built lefty, Wallace’s strikeout rates were impressive. Through 86.2 innings, Wallace fanned 82. See, impressive. One problem: he walked 80 and only three were intentional. It’s one thing for a young pitcher to struggle with walks through his first few appearances, maybe his first few seasons, but 90 appearances over four years should be enough to get the extremity of those issues behind them. Nothing changed with Wallace. In 29 appearances for the Rays, he walked 37 and struck out 38. His ERA was amusingly decent but never appeared in the majors again, despite Boston claiming him off waivers after the 2001 season.

9. Jim Morris (2000), .407, 36-years-old

Morris holds the only name on this list to have a Disney movie dedicated to their essence.

8. Ramon Tatis (1998), .390, 25-years-old

Tatis’ career transactions tickle me. Really, they do. Signed by the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1990, the Cubs selected him in the 1996 Rule 5 draft. About a year later, the Rays selected him in the 42nd round of the expansion draft. You sort of wonder why. Tatis had appeared in 56 games for the Cubs, walking 29 batters (six intentionally) and striking out 33. He made 22 appearances for the Rays, going 11.2 innings and giving up 23 hits. Sometimes pitchers have rough luck on balls in play, other times, they simply aren’t major league pitchers. Guess which Tatis is.

7. Scott Dohmann (2008), .373, 30-years-old

Two things you should know about Dohmann:

1) His nickname is “The Dohbermann”.
2) He took Grant Balfour’s pen spot in spring 2008.

6. Bobby Seay (2001), .362, 23-years-old

Seay has since turned into a decent LOOGY for the Detroit Tigers. Let’s pretend the front office knew that his future would be a situational reliever at beset when they traded him for Reggie Taylor in 2005. It’s still stupid. Taylor was 28 and had 524 plate appearances on various National League teams. His slash line was an unremarkable .233/.275/.386. He had speed and no way to prove it unless he came in as a pinch runner. Not only did the Rays trade Seay for him, they then designated Josh Phelps for assignment to clear roster room for Taylor. Oh, and then they discarded Taylor after 11 games.

5. Tim Corcoran (2005), .304, 27-years-old

I think most associated Corcoran with the 2006 and maybe the 2007 seasons. I know I do and for good reason. Corcoran debuted in 2005 and pitched decently in 22.2 innings pitched. He opened 2006 in Durham before making his season debut against the Detroit Tigers on June 14. Corcoran made three appearances before starting against the Atlanta Braves on June 24. I remember this game vividly as the Rays wore their Tampa Tarpon uniforms this night and faced Lance Cormier.

Corcoran made three starts before the All-Star break. He completed 18.2 innings with a 3-0 record and a 1.45 ERA. I was ignorant of sample sizes, sustainability, and sabermetrics, so imagine my befuddlement when Corcoran went 0-7 in his next 10 starts with a 4.85 ERA while allowing as many runs as walks (28) in 52 innings pitched. In September, Corcoran made a start against the New York Yankees that completely capsized his seasonal numbers. He allowed five hits, seven earned runs, walked two, allowed a homer, and struck nobody out in a start that he recorded one out before exiting. His ERA that day jumped from 3.96 to 4.75 and while he made an okay start against the Red Sox to close the season, he never enjoyed that kind of success again.

Corcoran lacked any resemblance of command when called upon in 2007 to bandage the bullpen from hell. He never had great stuff. A low-90s fastball and a curveball primarily, although he dabbled with a slider, changeup, and cutter too, which meant strikeouts were a rarity. So too, then, must be walks. Yet, his strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2007 sat at 0.50 after nine appearances.

A sad end to Corcoran’s career. He might be the clubhouse leader in guys who look drastically difference with and without facial hair. As at various points he altered between clean-shaven and goateed. He’s bounced around since and appeared in 25 games for the Dodgers Triple-A team this year.

4. Dan Wheeler (2001), .287, 23-years-old

Wheeler has appeared in 253 games for the Rays over his career. That ranks second only to Esteban Yan and just ahead of names like Travis Harper and Roberto Hernandez. Unlike Hernandez or even Harper, the Rays drafted Wheeler and raised him. For all intents and purposes, he’s the Rays’ most accomplished homegrown reliever. Yet the instant gratification and short-sightedness of some in the crowd led some to boo him during a recent rough stretch.

It’s not like Wheeler has been poor – he hasn’t, not for his recent Rays’ career – nor is he vastly overpaid. Wheeler has been a worthwhile member of the winning Rays. Perhaps even an important one. Yet a bad week during a meaningless stretch apparently erases history in some minds and hearts. Everyone says the Rays need more fans, and true, they do. The unfortunate part about that is with a larger population the likelihood of stupidity increases. Sure, giving standing ovations over mediocre starts is a bit corny, but treating three outing as a representation of an entire body of work is far worse because it reeks of hatred.

Wheeler is a low profile member of the team. This was not a wakeup call to try harder, but one to scorn an otherwise fine performer for a week that he probably feels worse about than anyone in the stands.

3. Mike Ekstrom (2010), .185, 26-years-old

2. Jeff Bennett (2009), .132, 29-years-old

1. Dale Thayer (2009), .061, 28-years-old

Owner of the second most famous mustache in Rays’ history (behind Josh Paul), Thayer is a cult hero of sorts. His roof is probably a middle reliever, but he’s no longer on the Rays’ 40-man roster, so his time with the organization could be running low. Nevertheless, he’ll always be able to tell his grandkids that he had some of the least important relief appearances in team history.

One Comment

  1. […] Perhaps the Rays stay true to their MO and overlook performance in the name of depth—see: future Club Bennett member Josh Lueke—but Gomes has disappointed the past three seasons, to the tune of a 5.49 ERA […]

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