The Blame Game
Earlier today, Joe Sheehan used his daily newsletter (subscription required) to respond to a Rays fan (not any of the staff here) that was on the cliff ready to jump off the bandwagon. Sheehan hit on run differential, strength of schedule, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and the roster machinations Joe Maddon has used when facing left-handed pitching. However, the one issue he considers the biggest problem for the Rays this season is one we disagree with.
Sheehan’s biggest issue with the Rays this season is the right-handed relief in the bullpen:
Last year, the Rays had Fernando Rodney’s historic season, Wade Davis’ strong relief work, Burke Badenhop posting a 42/7 K/UIBB in 62 innings. Only Joel Peralta has provided good work across both seasons. The Rays’ pen last year had a 2.88 ERA; this year it’s 3.68, not that much better than what the rotation (3.88) is doing.
Rodney’s regression was an expected outcome and had Davis not been traded, he too would have likely had a bit of a bounceback as he had stranded a career-high percentage of baserunners while posting a career-low home run to flyball ratio. Badenhop was replaced on the roster by Jamey Wright whose current OPS is 50 points lower than Badenhop’s last season and has been trusted in more high-leverage work than Badenhop was last season.
On the right side, last year’s crew has a 3.05 mark; this year, it’s 3.84. Rodney has gone back to being the 12% walk rate disappointment he was for most of his career prior to arriving in Florida, but Maddon has kept him in the closer role.
Rodney has received the same treatment that Troy Percival, J.P. Howell, and Kyle Farnsworth saw in the seasons where they had a majority of the team saves. Maddon gave each plenty of leash and it was injuries that eventually forced Maddon’s hand. He has, to a fault some would say, has always shown his late inning reliever this kind of loyalty.
The team has desperately missed Davis, arguably more than it misses James Shields.
Davis faced 284 batters last season, 180 of which came in low leverage situations. He was very good in those situations, but it cannot be overlooked how much low-leverage work he actually did last season. Davis was fourth in total plate appearances in high leverage situations last season behind Rodney, Peralta, and Jake McGee. Davis was also in that same slot in medium leverage situations behind Rodney, Peralta, and Badenhop while leading all relievers in low-leverage work.
This season, the same trio leads the team in high leverage plate appearances while Jamey Wright comes in fourth place while Alex Torres replaces Wright in medium leverage plate appearance totals.
With the trade for Jesse Crain apparently producing nothing — he has yet to pitch for the Rays — and a number of right-handers like Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke and Kyle Farnsworth (now in Pittsburgh) pitching poorly, the Rays have patched by going to a heavily left-handed pen. At one point last week they had four lefties in the bullpen, a highly unusual arrangement.
Gomes has been out most of the season with an oblique strain which has forced the team’s hand in what it could do with roster management. Lueke has been very ineffective when he has had his chances and Farnsworth’s return did not work out. That said, that trio was viewed as low-to-medium leverage workers to round out the back end of the bullpen. The Rays have indeed had three lefties since adding Wesley Wright, which is not unusual considering the left-handed hitting talent in the American League East (every other team in the division entered Monday night with three or four left-handed relievers). The addition of a fourth lefty was a procedural move while the Rays waited until the day of Jake Odorizzi’s most recent start to add him to the 25-man roster.
The biggest problem of the Rays has not been its bullpen. The larger problem, it seems, has been the rotation. Every projected starting pitcher has missed at least one start this season, while the trio of David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb have missed a combined 25 starts. Add to that the 25 starts that rookies have had to make this season, and the fact the two pitchers that lead the team in starts are also its two least effective, and what should be a strength has been tempered by circumstance.