Keeping Depth Pays Off for Rays | The Process Report

Keeping Depth Pays Off for Rays

Spring arguments are always fun to revisit during the summer.

This spring featured perhaps the two most boring roster-spot controversies in a long time. Although the final decisions were never in doubt, the Rays had to choose between Jamey Wright and Brandon Gomes in the bullpen and Jose Lobaton and Chris Gimenez at backup catcher. As unfair as it may seem to make decisions because of roster mechanisms like options and opt-out clauses, the Rays’ compliance with those governing rules allowed them to keep all four in the organization. Had they went the other route—keeping Gomes and Gimenez—they would’ve lost Wright and possibly Lobaton. While keeping the depth in tact may not have been a surprise, the results are.

The Gomes-over-Wright contingency inked their quills with spring stats. Gomes’ strong performance meant he—having missed time in 2012 due to back surgery—was healthy. Contrariwise, Wright’s poor effort was proof that he—suffering from the world’s worst ailment: old age—could no longer pitch effectively. Gomes went on to make the roster anyway, because of Jeff Niemann’s injury. He posted strong peripherals over 14 appearances, though hit the disabled list in early May due to a strained shoulder. Wright has remained healthy, and leads the team in relief innings thrown. He’s in the midst of posting career-bests almost across the board, including in ERA+, hits, walks, and strikeouts per nine, and, obviously, strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While Wright has allowed as many home runs as he did all of last season (two) his stuff remains difficult for batters to lift. His .275 slugging percentage-against is the 14th-best in the league among relievers with 30-plus innings. That’s lower than the likes of Aroldis Chapman and Mariano Rivera, and is the best on the team (though Joel Peralta is close). Heading forward keep an eye on Wright’s changeup usage. Previously a sinker-cutter-curveball pitcher, he’s taken to throwing a low-80s changeup more as the season progresses.

As jarring as the difference in production from Wright and Gomes is, it pales in comparison to the split between Lobaton and Gimenez, albeit in a battle of small samples. Gimenez’s purposed improvements revolved around changed mechanics. Indeed, he did alter his stance. Yet the results were never as conductive to long-term success as they appeared. The same likely applies to Lobaton’s numbers this season. He too made adjustments to his mechanics and has benefited from increased power production. But while Lobaton is hitting well as of late in the majors, Gimenez has struggled to get on the field in Durham,and struggled to hit when he does play. His .234/.363/.291 line bears some resemblance to Lobaton’s .222/.323/.317 effort last season—except that came in the majors.

None of this is to bash Gomes or Gimenez, both of whom are useful in their own ways. It does go to show that keeping depth in tact provides benefits beyond the obvious, including better-than-expected performances.

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