ST. PETERSBURG FL - SEPTEMBER 14: Pitcher Jake McGee #57 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 14 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Last week I decided to take a look at a few of the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and try and find a pattern in the way they pitch and find some rhyme and reasoning in their approach. I took a look at Alex Cobb's approach and came away a bigger fan of his and really want him to be the Rays 5th starter in 2012.
Another pitcher that I have always liked and decided to take a look at was left-handed flame thrower Jake McGee. I've been a fan of McGee since he debuted in Rookie Ball at the age of 17 and he has had a fantastic minor league track record with nearly a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
He was simply overpowering hitters in the minors but due to a lack of a third pitch and Tommy John surgery he has been relegated to the bullpen where he has been lights out in his minor league career.
McGee has absolutely nothing to prove at the minor league level and will be in the Rays bullpen for all of 2012. McGee only has 33 innings under his belt in the Major Leagues and 28 of them came in 2011. He has maintained the high strikeout rate in his small sample of innings in the Majors with a strikeout per inning but he also has a newfound trait that the Rays would love to get rid of and it's his proneness to the long ball.
Prior to 2011 McGee never had a HR/9 higher than 0.8 and that was in his first professional season when he posted a 0.8 HR/9. Last year in Triple-A Durham McGee allowed 1.1 HR/9 and 1.6 HR/9 in the Major Leagues. Why, all of a sudden, was McGee giving up homeruns at such a higher rate? I think it was due to a lack of approach. Take a look at his pitch chart from 2011 (h/t to Texas Leaguers Pitchf/X):
As you can see, he seems to always be near the middle of the strike zone and a good amount of his pitches are in the middle and up. There is simply way too much blank space on the outer quadrants for my liking. It's almost as if he is simply trying to get the pitch over.
Even when McGee gets to an 0-2 count he leaves a lot of fastballs in the middle of the zone:
It's as if he has zero command of his fastball. Sure, it sits 94-96 and he can dial it up to 98 but that will not fool a lot of Big League hitters, especially when the pitch is right down the pipe. It's like a 95 mph batting practice pitch to Big League hitters.
One other thing I noticed about McGee was the inconsistency of his slider in both velocity and spin angle. Take a look:
The one pitch that he could actually seem to keep down he could not give any consistentcy to.
I am playing with small sample sizes here but as a reliever we don't get a whole lot to work with. On most nights he gets one inning to hold a lead or to keep a game with in a run or two. This type of approach is not fitting of a reliever who belongs in high-leverage situations no matter how good his stuff can be. If his approach, or lack thereof, remains he may not be much help in close games.
The good news, though, is that these are potentially fixable problems. With a little tinkering from Jim Hickey and company I think McGee could turn his lack of approach around and we could see a very good weapon in Jake McGee out of the pen.