Our season preview series rolls on, and today we look at two relievers with very different skill sets, but who managed to have oddly similar 2011 seasons. Both Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes have the stuff to become back of the bullpen arms for the Rays, but going into the year, both need to tame platoon split issues if they want to take their game to the next level.
Entering the 2011 season, I don't think I was alone in thinking that Jake McGee could be a gamechanger out of the back end of the Rays bullpen. He had flashed dominant stuff down in Double-A, succeeded in brief stints in Triple-A and the majors, and his stuff was highly rated by almost all prospect gurus. The Rays were rebuilding their bullpen, and in a sea of uncertainty, McGee seemed like a relatively safe bet.
Of course, that's not how it worked out. McGee broke camp with the Rays, but he struggled right out of the gate. His velocity was down on his fastball, and considering that's his main weapon, his initial results were rough. He only lasted 4.2 innings in the majors before being demoted to Triple-A, where he stayed until getting called up in early July.
And after that brief time down in Triple-A, McGee came back a new pitcher. Or, more to the point, he came back as the pitcher we expected to see out of the gate:
|First MLB Stint||34||32%||6%||9%|
|Second MLB Stint||90||21%||28%||10%|
Part of McGee's success was that Joe Maddon started using him in more optimal situations. In somewhat of a surprise, McGee struggled against right-handed hitters last season; he faced around the same number of lefty and righty hitters, but he walked right-handed hitters at a ridiculous rate:
This wide of a platoon split is a touch odd, as McGee doesn't rely on his off-speed pitches for his success. He threw his fastball 84% of the time last season, mixing in a slider and curve ball 8% of the time each. He has weapons to use against both hands, but for some reason, he used his curve ball -- generally best against opposite-handed hitters -- less often against right-handed hitters last year (6%).
McGee will likely start the season in the Rays' bullpen, and if he wants to take the next step in his progression, he'll need to improve against righties. He should improve through mere regression -- he shouldn't have been that bad last year against them -- but he start help himself by using that curve ball more often in the proper situations.
Acquired in the Jason Bartlett trade, Gomes followed a slightly different path to the majors than Jake McGee, although he finished the season in a similar spot. Gomes began the season in the minors, but after thoroughly dominating Triple-A to the tune of a 14.2 K/9 rate, he earned a promotion in early May. While Gomes ended up being demoted again due to roster issues, he had more initial success in the majors than McGee:
|First MLB Stint||50||24%||18%||10%|
|Second MLB Stint||110||20%||21%||10%|
When he was demoted to Triple-A after his stint in the majors, the Rays wanted Gomes to work on his off-speed pitches more, as he had struggled against opposite-handed hitters (lefties) in the majors. His three-quarters release point makes it slightly easier for hitters to pick up on his pitches -- especially lefties -- so the Rays wanted him to work on his slider to give him yet another weapon.
Gomes throws four pitches in total: a four-seam fastball (56% pitch use), a sinker (18%), a curve ball (19%), and a slider (7%). Against left-handed hitters last year, Gomes turned into almost exclusively a fastball pitcher; he threw his fastball and sinker 97% of the time, and rarely mixed in a curve or slider. Against right-handed hitters, Gomes ignored his sinker and instead went very four-seamer and curve ball heavy.
The end result? Somehow, Gomes ended up with a smaller platoon split than McGee:
Gomes could also easily improve this year if he finds a usable off-speed pitch against left-handed hitters, but it seems likely right now that he'll start the season in Triple-A due to the crunch for spots in the bullpen. He'll be among the first players recalled if need be (that battle will likely be between him and Josh Lueke), and hopefully he can use his time down in Triple-A to improve his slider and curve even more.