Jake McGee Takes Command of Ninth Inning | The Process Report

Jake McGee Takes Command of Ninth Inning

Jake McGee has been the Rays’ best relief pitcher for the better part of the last three seasons. Despite that claim, he is only now getting a chance to close games because of Grant Balfour’s ineffectiveness.

How long McGee remains in the ninth inning is to be determined. He is still arbitration eligible, and under the current system, saves still pay. Because he is taking over mid-season on a team that is under .500 perhaps the club feels comfortable that even in a temp-to-permanent role for 2014 his save total will not equate to a huge pay day as he goes through the arbitration for a second time.

Regardless of his future title, McGee is a bonafide relief ace and has been for some time. He has one of the premier fastballs in the game and tosses the occasional curveball that can make hitters look ridiculous. Even with the plus stuff, McGee’s best attribute may be fastball command.

When McGee converted from the rotation to a reliever, he has a hard thrower without a secondary option to stand on and control that sometimes waned. Even in his first true taste of big-league action he walked nearly four batters per nine innings (2011) as a reliever. Though the legitimate second pitch has yet to manifest, McGee graduated from control issues since his debut and is working on a master’s degree in command.

Commander McGee was on the mound Tuesday night seeking a four-out save. After closing out the eighth inning and retiring the first batter in the ninth, the left-hander allowed two Royals’ runs on three consecutive hits. The last two on fastballs to Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez.

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“They were just looking away on the fastball” McGee said after the game. “Hosmer threw the bat out there and got a single. Perez hit it up the middle, the fastball away.”

It was a well-thought process since McGee goes away with nearly half of his pitches. However, he is no longer the thrower. He is a pitcher; a surgical one at that. After figuring out the Royals’ strategy, he adjusted thanks to fastball command. He busted Alex Gordon and Omar Infante – each representing the go-ahead run – with fastballs on the hands. Gordon grounded out to first base. Infante swung and missed on a 99-mph fastball to end the game.

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McGee acknowledged the change in location saying “I started to go in more, had more success with Gordon and then with Infante at the end.”

In the age of overanalytics, people are always searching for the perfect player. In McGee’s case that would be an above-average fastball and go-to secondary option wrapped in a well-controlled package. Even without a true number two, McGee comes pretty close to perfection because his fastball command allows for a variety of different upper-90s pitches because he can hit all four (or forty-two) quadrants of the zone.

Data and images courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info.



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