Who Will Be The ROOGY?
Every bullpen has the LOOGY to bring in and get the opposition’s lefty slugger in a key moment. The Rays do not have to use Xavier Cedeno in that manner because they have several righty relievers that are effective against lefties due to their respective changeups. What the pen lacked last year was the ROOGY who could come in and work against the myriad of righty sluggers within the division.
Last year, despite the plethora of righties in the pen, the team had issues against right-handed batters. The pen finished the season with a .316 wOBA against righties, which was the ninth-worst total in all of baseball and in the bottom third of the American League.
The top three teams each made the postseason while the bottom five all stayed home watching. It is not a perfect measure since the ninth-place team made the postseason, but this is one of those areas the budget-minded Rays have to be better than others and they simply were not.
This is an important feature of the bullpen given the number of impact righty hitters throughout the American League East which includes the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday, Manny Machado, and Troy Tulowitzki among others.
There were some aspects of the pen that did this job rather well last year, but only four of the returning names were better than the league average and two of them – Colome and Cedeno – are rather cemented in their current roles. Romero and Sturdevant are no longer in the fold as they are now with Washington and Oakland. Two of the five relievers that were below the league average – Jepsen and Geltz – are no longer with the organization.
That leaves us with the following names to consider from the 40-man roster: Ryan Garton, Erasmo Ramirez, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar, Shawn Tolleson, Kevin Gadea. The other names in camp to consider include Ryne Stanek, Tommy Hunter, Dana Eveland, and Cory Rasmus.
There are a few names I’d like to focus on that are currently on the 40-man roster. Ramirez is unlikely to be limited to such a capacity given Kevin Cash‘s desire to use him in multiple situations from spot-starting to extended relief outings. Gadea is a complete wildcard as a Rule 5 pick that is unlikely to make the club, but even if he does, would likely be limited to the lowest of leverage situations. Similarly, Stanek’s inexperience likely offsets the fact he has the biggest power arm in the pen.
Farquhar had a lot of success in the second half last season once he scrapped the cutter and started featuring that changeup, but even then still had issues against righties (.354 wOBA). One would expect Boxberger to have similar issues given his repertoire is much like Farquhars, and he has the past two seasons where he has been below league average against righties. However, he was one of the best against that same group in 2014 when he punched out 45% of the righties he faced and had a .294 wOBA against him. Conversely, he walked more righties (18%) than he struck out (13%) last season.
Given that the ROOGY capacity is one typically limited to pitchers that have extreme issues against the other hitters, this role likely comes down to two guys on the roster and one guy who is not.
Garton’s fastball/cutter/curve repertoire that lacks an effective offspeed pitch lends itself to success against righties. He does not have as much swing and miss in his game as other righty power middle relievers, but he performed better than the league average last year against righties and given his lack of an offspeed pitch, a ROOGY role seems well-suited for him as long as he stays in the organization. The fastball up, cutter in on the hands, and the curve to change eye levels is a good mixture as long as his command is working.
Tolleson is coming off a terrible 2016 season but has some hidden upside as Hanselman pointed out last month. Tolleson was quite good against righties in both 2014 and 2015 working as a setup man and eventually closing for the Rangers, but could not get many out last year as he struggled with a back issue in camp, possibly the same issue that resulted in his season ending in early August. Like Garton, Tolleson is all fastball/cutter/slider against righties but unlike Garton, has a changeup that he only uses against lefties. Perhaps Jim Hickey can get Tolleson to use the right-on-right changeup as he has done with other pitchers in the past or get him to use his cutter on the inner half to give him something to keep batters from looking away-away-away.
The other name in camp worth watching is Tommy Hunter. He is a reliever fans know from his days with Baltimore and the fact once he came in, Maddon or Cash would immediately go get a lefty bat off the bench. The one that may immediately come to mind was this instance in late 2013. However, Hunter has had a lot of success against righties in recent years as he has limited them to a .253 wOBA in that time. That ranks him 13th of all relievers that have faced at least 500 right-handed batters over the past four seasons:
Given that the Rays pursued Sergio Romo this offseason, they do appear to be chasing someone with experience who has a track record of success against righties. Hunter has plenty of experience and a track record of success against righties. From 2013 to 2016, he has struck out 21% of the righties he has faced and has gotten them to hit the ball into the ground nearly 50% of the time.
If this type of story sounds familiar, it should. The circumstances and track record of Hunter are nearly identical to those when the Rays added Jamey Wright for the 2013 season. At that time, the Rays were looking to replace Burke Badenhop after trading him away because they needed a righty reliever that had a high likelihood of generating rally-killing groundballs when needed. Hunter’s groundball rate is not quite as high as Wright’s was for his career, but Hunter could fill the same role in 2017 that Wright did in 2013: give the Rays an experienced arm in key situations to come in and hopefully generate more desirable outcomes.