Jake McGee: Rays’ Relief Ace in The Making? | The Process Report

Jake McGee: Rays’ Relief Ace in The Making?

By Tommy Rancel //

As a piece of the partnership with Bright House Sports Network, I will be contributing to the Process Report on a semi-regular basis. That said, let’s go.

As the Rays continue to shuffle pieces from Durham to St. Petersburg to the disabled list, some movement has begun at the secondary levels of the minor leagues. The most notable being the promotions of infielder/outfielder Leslie Anderson and left-handed pitcher Jake McGee from Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham.

Anderson is a Cuban National who signed with Tampa Bay earlier this year. Durham marks his third minor league level this season. The Rays started him slowly in Port Chartlotte (Single-A) where he could be close to the team’s home base of St. Petersburg, and where Anderson could get acclimated to living life in America. After posting a .708 OPS in 84 plate appearances he was promoted to Montgomerty.

You may not believe this sentence would appear on this site, but statistics are not the most important part of Anderson’s process. Meanwhile, once promoted to Double-A, his OPS jumped to .862 in 207 PAs. Part of Anderson’s lure to the Rays is plate discipline – which he deplayed by striking out just 27 times in Montgomery. Again, stats aren’t the key for Anderson as many scouts felt he was close to major league ready when signed. There is a decent chance he’ll see big league action in September – especially if injuries continue to nag the club.

The more intriguing move is Jake McGee moving to Durham’s bullpen. A once prized prospect in the organization, McGee’s star has dimmed a bit recently. He had Tommy John surgery in 2008 – wiping out most of his 2009 season. In his absence, names like Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore have passed him on prospect listings. However, McGee’s impact in 2010 may be even greater than that of Hellickson, who impressed us all in his first MLB start.

By now we all know what McGee brings to the table. Even after the surgery, he can still hit the mid-90s with his fastball. The fact that he throws it with his left arm makes it even better. On the other hand, McGee has yet to develop any truly effective secondary offerings. Because of this, many – including some in the organization – have pegged him as a future relief ace. With the Rays rotation already having six qualified starters and just five spots, this is the first official sign of that transition.

More than likely, the Rays will say the move to the pen is one to limit work load; and that is definitely part of it. However, if the transition is successful in 2010, the Rays have plenty of openings in the 2011 bullpen – especially for a fireballing left-hander with the ability to get batters out on both sides of the plate.

As mentioned, the organization is weary of his inning/pitch total in 2010. He has thrown over 90 innings this year after throwing just 33 innings in 2009. When pitching those 90 innings, though, McGee has been very good. Overall, his FIP stands at 2.92 on the season. His strong strikeout rate (9.96 K/9), acceptable walk rate (3.29 BB/9), and near non-existent home run rate (0.30) tell the story there.

Looking further at his splits, McGee has been good against left-handed batters; very good. His 2.19 FIP against lefties in 26 innings is excellent. His K/9 against LHB skyrockets to nearly 12.5, and he has yet to surrender a home run to one this season. Meanwhile, he has done well against righties as well.

In a small, but larger, sample size of 63 innings against right-handed batters, McGee maintains an above-average strikeout rate of 8.91 per nine. His BB/9 of 2.83 against RHB is actually lower than his 4.39 BB/9 vs LHB. His overall FIP vs. righties is a more than respectable 3.19

Many (myself included) have mourned over the loss of J.P. Howell by wishing Matt Thornton could have fallen into the Rays’ lap. With that not happening in 2010, perhaps McGee could be our younger, cheaper, version of Thornton in the future; however, let’s not set the expectation bar too high.

In reality, no one should reasonably expect McGee’s impressive minor league numbers to carry over to the major league level – at least not right away. If McGee could produce a major league FIP near 4.20, and continue his dominance against lefties then we will graciously accept that for a September call-up. A second lefty would be very useful as the Rays shoot for October and beyond. Hopefully, he gets that chance.

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