Rays Have Rodney In The Ninth: What About The Eighth Inning?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 06: Pitcher Jake McGee #57 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Texas Rangers during the game at Tropicana Field on September 6, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Finally an off day and a chance to reflect on the season so far before heading to Boston to take on the Red Sox. The question bouncing around my head after Wednesday's Rays game was whether or not it was time to take a look at Jake McGee in a more consistent role as the 8th inning guy. Allow him to be called on to hand the ball to Fernando Rodney and move Joel Peralta into the 6th/7th inning mix with Wade Davis, Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, and Cesar Ramos.

While Joe Maddon does not like the closer label it has not stopped him from putting Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth, and Fernando Rodney into the closers role and building his bullpen from there. He has also preferred over the last few seasons is to have a dedicated eighth inning go to reliever. Joaquin Benoit filled the role in 2010 and Joel Peralta filled the role in 2011 and 2012.

Peralta was magnificent in his role last season appearing in 71 games, 36 of those appearances began in the eighth inning, and worked 67.2 innings striking out 61 and issuing only 15 non-intentional walks. He allowed 7 home runs which translated into a HR/9 rate of 0.90 which was slightly below the AL average for relief pitchers of 0.92. He was a very trusted reliever allowing only 26% (9 of 35) inherited runners to score and after Kyle Farnsworth's elbow put him out of action Maddon turned to him to work the 9th inning as the season rumbled on to a magical finish.

This season he has been called on to work in more games than any other relief pitcher in the AL (24) and 17 of those appearances have been in the 8th inning. He has worked 19.1 innings and has struck out 23 hitters while issuing only 6 walk. His only blemish has been the home run ball which he has served up 5 home runs which translates to a HR/9 rate of 2.3 which is far above the AL average of 0.95 (It should be noted that Peralta's HR/FB% is an unsustainable 21.7%). He has also allowed 44% (8 of 18) of his inherited runners to score. Which brings us to Jake McGee.

With each outing Jake McGee impresses more and more as he has only allowed 1 run over his last 15 appearances (12.1 IP) while striking out 17 and only walking 3. Overall in 2012 he has appeared in 19 games (14.2 innings) and has struck out 20 while issuing only 3 non-intentional walks. He has not allowed a home run and 36% (5 out of 14) inherited runners have scored.

Keep in mind that moving McGee into the 8th inning role does not mean Joe Maddon will go away from using him in the 7th inning for a matchup; It just means that the game doesn't pass him by and that if the Rays have a lead into the eighth inning and need to get the ball to Rodney the opportunity will go to McGee and not Peralta.

A reliever must be able to get hitters out from both sides of the plate in order to be that 8th inning guy. Joel Peralta has a much longer history to examine In his career LHB have a wOBA against of .314 and RHB have a .301. Meanwhile, Jake McGee has held LHB to a .254 wOBA while RHB have hit him around at .360.

Early on this year McGee has been able to deliver strong performance against hitters from both sides of the plate. He has faced 27 RHB and held them to a wOBA of .157 and has faced 32 LHB and has held them to a wOBA of .270. Can this domination from both sides of the plate continue and should Joe Maddon find out by keeping McGee in the role until he has a larger body of successful work against both sides of the plate?

The argument to keep Joel Peralta in the role he has filled can be made based on his past success, his ability to get hitters out from both sides of the plate, and he has been proven reliable through peaks and valleys of a 162 game season. Additionally, other than surrendering the home run ball Peralta is the same pitcher that he was in 2011. Even with all those factors tilting the logic scale towards keeping Joel Peralta as the primary 8th inning guy I still would like to see McGee's role expanded to the 8th inning with Joel Peralta moving to the 6th/7th inning mix.

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