Bobblegate and the Rays Rotation

David Banks

For reasons that have not been identified, the two oldest parks in baseball appear to have unique rules regarding double headers, which led to the Rays being strong armed into a double header today, despite protest by the players to the union:

In short, the Rays were told by MLB that the Red Sox (and Cubs) have exceptions to the standard rules in the Basic Agreement "to basically exercise their own right to do what they want to do."

And since the Red Sox wanted to play a split doubleheader - and had already issued a press release with details and put tickets on sale online hours before the Rays were told by MLB it was official - that's what will happen. [tampabay.com]

Standard rules already favor the home team in rain-out rescheduling, but the goal is for it to still be a cooperative process. When the Rays were rained out in Baltimore earlier in April, the Orioles preferred a double header the following day, but the team made a plea based on travel constraints and the O's conceded.

However, the Red Sox faced a unique situation, 30,000 bobbleheads of Dustin Pedroia maybe catching a baseball. With no where to put them until May's presumed rescheduled game, Boston trudged forward by selling more tickets to the afternoon game before the players union had agreed it would be so. For those who bought tickets and can't make the day game, they can still pick up the bobble head, so the passionate fanbase could presumably buy some $10 bleacher seats and still get their prize.

Key takeaway: The Rays aren't the only ones who take their promotions seriously. Their power to do so came from this clause:

There it is, the Red Sox can do whatever they want.

Why not? It makes sense for any team to want to face the Rays in present conditions. It is both cold and rainy, conditions not ideal for Florida boys, and the Rays pitching situation has never been in more dire straights.

In consulting, a common question to ask a client's management is, "What keeps you up at night?" The goal is to identify the areas where the most risk is involved, or the biggest needs for improvement. If you were to ask Andrew Friedman this question, at any given point in his tenure, most assuredly the answer would be in the rotation.

2011: Starting pitching depth is very fleeting," Friedman said. "While we have it right now, we can't wake up one day with [only] three or four starters... We're absolutely doomed if that happens." [CBS Sports]

2012: "The one thing that we're very wary of is waking up one day and not being able to fill out a rotation in the American League East." [mlbtr.com]

2014: "We're going to need depth. We don't know when, how, what's going to happen, who, but we're going to need it. For us to have any chance winning 90-plus games we have to have quality arms down below who can come up and help us win games, and so instead of us making excuses ... we try to get out in front of it as much as we can." [tbo.com]

The Rays hoard pitching depth. This off-season, the Rays did not trade David Price, extended Chris Archer on a long term deal, and acquired Nate Karns and Matt Andriese for the Durham rotation. If you were to map out the Rays starting rotation depth at the beginning of the year, it would have looked strong:

1. David Price
2. Alex Cobb
3. Matt Moore
4. Chris Archer
5. Jeremy Hellickson
6. Jake Odorizzi
7. Cesar Ramos
8. Erik Bedard
9. Nate Karns
10. Alex Colome

Not to mention the electric arm of Enny Romero, the groundball workings of Matt Andriese, and the renaissance of Mike Montgomery in Triple-A.

Unfortunately, the rotation has not been stable, and the worst fears are being realized, leading the Rays to a record high 16 losses in April.

Instead of starting the season in order, Jeremy Hellickson needed bodies removed from his elbow days after signing his arbitration settlement, he's now delayed until June. Shortly thereafter, Alex Colome tested positive for a horse-therapy steroid, presumably arising from his rehab from an elbow injury last season.

Alex Cobb then strained his oblique while batting in a national league game (out 'til June), Matt Moore tore his UCL and succumbed to Tommy John surgery, and Nate Karns has been ineffective to start the season with his new organization.

Consequentially, the rotation depth is now as follows:

1. David Price
2. Alex Cobb
3. Matt Moore
4. Chris Archer
5. Jeremy Hellickson
6. Jake Odorizzi
7. Cesar Ramos
8. Erik Bedard
9. Nate Karns 
10. Alex Colome

The Rays are no longer putting their best foot forward, and won't be able to until Alex Cobb's oblique is healed. And by all accounts, the Rays are taking his recovery slow. Consequentially, only two of the Rays' active starters have been able to average 5.0 IP this season...

Name GS IP IP/GS ERA FIP WAR
David Price 5 34.1 7.0 5.24 3.45 0.6
Chris Archer 5 30.2 6.0 4.11 2.41 1.1
Jake Odorizzi 5 23.2 4.2 6.85 4.44 0.2
Alex Cobb 3 19.0 6.1 1.89 3.29 0.3
Erik Bedard 3 12.2 4.1 6.39 3.68 0.2
Cesar Ramos 3 12.0 4.0 3.75 5.05 0.0
Matt Moore 2 10.0 5.0 2.70 4.73 0.0

... and the Rays bullpen has had to carry a heavy load in rainy conditions.

The median innings pitched for a bullpen is currently 83 innings, and the Rays are near a full deviation above the norm with 91 IP in the month of April. According to Fangraphs, the 'pen has also performed slightly below replacement , the second worst mark for as many innings pitched.

And we would be remiss to forget the Rays have lost six of the last seven games. So of course the Red Sox will do whatever they can to face this team. Wouldn't you?

The good news is that we've had a dramatic shift in forecast today. The high is now in the 60's with only a 20% chance of rain around four o'clock.

Cesar Ramos takes the hill at 1:05, and Chris Archer at 7:05, and the double header will allow the Rays to call up an extra arm for the 'pen. Here's to hoping the starters can pitch at least 10 of the 18 innings to come.

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