Gammons: Tampa Bay Rays “In” on Jesse Crain | The Process Report

Gammons: Tampa Bay Rays “In” on Jesse Crain

Thus far we’ve heard many of the Rays’ free agents linked to other teams, but we’ve seldom heard about the Rays targeting free agents of their own. While the degree of interest is unknown at this time, Peter Gammons tweets Tampa Bay is one of several teams who are “already in” on free agent reliever Jesse Crain. He is a Type-B free agent meaning the Rays will not have to give up a draft pick if they sign him.

Crain, 29, has spent his entire seven-year big league career with Minnesota Twins.  In those seasons, he has racked up 382 innings while making 376 relief appearances. A relative unknown outside of Minnesota and the American League Central, he owns a very respectable career 3.42 ERA.

Of course, ERA doesn’t tell us the complete story.Defensive independent metrics like FIP and xFIP suggest Crain’s true talent is half a run to a full run higher, but that is still a valuable reliever who can handle a variety of roles.

His career strikeout rate of 6.22 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) is rather pedestrian. That said over the last three seasons, he’s earned a 7.7 K/9 including a career-best 8.21 in 2010. A quick check of pitch f/x says he induced a whiff 9.6% of the time; not surprisingly also a career-best.

Looking at pitch selection, Crain throws a fastball that routinely hits 94-95 mph. He also throws a slider, curveball, and dabbles with a change-up. For the first time in his career, he threw his slider more than any other pitch. This is probably why his strikeout and whiff rates were career highs. When throwing the slider, he got a swing and miss 14.4% of the time.

Although he throws with his right hand, he has been an equal opportunity offender on the mound. Against batters of the same hand, he owns a career OPS against of .658. When facing batters of the opposite handiness, his OPS against rises slightly, but still falls in at a respectable .699. In fact, this past season his OPS against lefties (.614) was actually lower than the number against righties (.635).

In addition to the neutral platoon splits, his batted ball data is rather neutral – especially in recent seasons. He owns a career groundball rate of 45.8%, however, in two of the last three seasons his flyball rate has been greater than that of his groundball.

Health-wise, Crain has been pretty durable in his career. On the other hand, he underwent major shoulder (rotator cuff/labrum) surgery in 2007. Since then, he has spent made just one trip to the DL. He looked healthy last season, but we’ll leave that up to the medical staff to determine.

Crain has never been a closer in his career, but Minnesota (sans 2010) has not had much of a need to use him in that role. This could be something that works in the Rays favor. The uncertainty at the back of the Rays’ bullpen could lead to more save opportunities for any potential target – Crain included.

As is always the case, the level of the Rays’ interest will come down to one thing…cost. If Crain is looking for Joaquin Benoit money, then we wish him the best of luck with his new team. Meanwhile, if the lure of some saves and more high-leverage situations in Tampa Bay are attractive to him on a one-year deal (perhaps with an option), then Crain is exactly the type of reliever the Rays should be “in” on.

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