Getting to Know Shawn Tolleson | The Process Report

Getting to Know Shawn Tolleson


This is kind of a big deal, because it means the Rays could start him in Durham at the beginning of the year as the next man up once one of the bullpen inevitably plays his way off the team. It also gives the team the chance to tighten up some of the things they undoubtedly would like to improve without it having a bearing on meaningful games.


It sounds like the Rays are getting close to coming to agreement with right-handed reliever Shawn Tolleson. Tolleson declined his assignment to the minors after he was not tendered a contract by the Rangers this past December. That means that he passed through waivers, as well. Possibly due to the nearly $3.3M he made in his first pass through arbitration the year prior. Any team that would have traded little to get him would have likely had to pay upwards of $3M or more for a guy coming off a pretty lousy season. For that reason I think it likely that the Rays will pay a good bit less than that figure.

(Yellow highlights indicate categories where the author thinks lower raw values are preferable)

Starting with how he has ranked against the other 337 relievers that threw at least 30 innings over the last two years combined we can start to get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses. You can see he has been rode pretty heavily, which should imply a fair bit of confidence from his manager. He pairs an average strikeout rate for this peer group with a borderline elite abhorrence of the walk. Combining this knowledge with his very poor batting average against and BABIP figures should tell us that he’s throwing a ton of strikes, but some of them are a little too meaty for the batter.

You can also get the sense that he has a bit of a homer issue as his xFIP- and SIERA grade much better than his FIP(-) or ERA(-). Continuing down this road you can see that despite a fairly normal outfield flyball rate he has a near league worst home run per flyball rate. He also has a just below average line drive rate so even when it’s not leaving the yard he’s still getting squared up.

Switching to the right-side and starting with the plate discipline stuff you can see that he rarely induces chases out of the zone with high rates of swings within the zone. He throws a lot of strikes, especially on first pitch, but his lack of chases or whiffs within the zone leads to a pretty low swing strike rate. Batters rarely take him opposite field, which you might find weird in a bit, and that leads to a ton of hard contact. Here’s why I think that’s a little weird:

Fastball vs Right-Handed Batters

Fastball vs Left-Handed Batters

What I like is that he can throw the fastball to both sides of the plate. The issue is that he’s catching way too much of the plate to have a lot of success. All those pitches leaking back over lead to thirsty batters getting quenched. Being able to locate those pitches just a little bit more on the edge with fewer catching so much meat could lead to better results. Of course, if it were that easy he would have already done it. Mr. Jim Hickey has some stuff for them to work on, but he also has some reasons to smile.

Change Up vs Left-Handed Batters

It is no secret that the Rays love the change up. Their bullpen is littered with good cambio tossers with Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar and Erasmo Ramirez just three of the ready present options. Tolleson has a good pitch to keep lefties honest, but you still see some leakage back over, but also up. That’s not a good place to leave your change so often, and you can see the resultant power yielded. Get that pitch a little more consistent and it looks like it could be a good offering.

Breaking Ball vs Right-Handed Batters

The breaking ball looks like his third pitch by usage, but it also shows a little to like as he’s able to keep it down and even out of the zone. This is a guy that just wants to stay away, away, away all day from both types of batters. When the fastball isn’t getting poked it is going to set up the other pitches regardless of handedness. That’s something the Rays might not have a whole lot, and would leave him as a good option in the 9th inning when you’re more likely to see pinch hitters regain the platoon advantage.

He is not without his warts, but I’m expecting him to sign the kind of contract that doesn’t restrict the team from signing another right-handed bat. I had hoped for a high upside reliever to add to the competition, and it looks like the Rays delivers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays started having him lean on his better secondary pitches more often in an effort to pitch backwards. The command of all pitches will need to firm up, though he does have some room to dial back the strike rate some. The Rays bought some clay on the cheap now let’s see if they can turn it into a sweet ashtray.

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