Of all the things I figured I would be writing about as a weakness, never, not even in a thousand simulations, would I have expected the rotation to be quite this horrendous. Look at our StatCorner page. That's all five starters with below league average tRAs. Look at our FanGraphs page. We have one starter with a sub-4 FIP, two with a sub-4.5 FIP, one at 5.42, and two near 6. That's simply awful.
Remember those qualms about Jason Hammel being about a quarter of a win worse than Jeff Niemann? Right now, that would be the least of our worries. With the exception of Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir, the rotation has yet to get multiple good starts from any of the pitchers.
James Shields had a decent enough start in Baltimore, but gave up multiple homeruns against the White Sox - and for whatever reason got a standing ovation because of it. Andrew Sonnanstine was decent last night, barring the questionable pitch location on back-to-back hitters that resulted in consecutive triples, and a misplayed ball in the first that lead to a run. Jeff Niemann fared well enough against the White Sox, although you would hope to see a few more strikeouts.
Shields has been missing less bats and allowing more homeruns. The most concerning thing - outside of an increase in walks and a decrease in strikeouts - is that Shields BABIP is a miniscule .244. His career BABIP is .299. That suggests Shields is going to allow quite a few more hits as the season goes on, and those will be of the non-homerun variety. The interesting usage adjustment Shields has made this season; less change-ups, more curveballs. So far, it's not working out.
Kazmir got squeezed in his last outing. Although I suppose that's simply the cosmos correcting the expanded strikezone he saw to open the season. I'm more encouraged by Kazmir than any other starter because the groundballs and breaking pitches are there.
Garza is like Kazmir. Two solid starts, then one disastrous one.
We talked about the issues with Sonnanstine earlier on. Each of the incumbent four are missing less bats than previously. That's not a good problem to have, and honestly I don't know what the problem really is.
Niemann's batted ball splits look about what you would expect from him. His .334 BABIP against is on the high side. The strikeouts haven't been there while the walks and homeruns have. That's not the formula for success we were hopeful he could mix.
If any of these problems are severe and persistent, at least the Rays have options a few hundred miles away. David Price is probably close, Wade Davis isn't too far behind, and even if the Rays don't want to start Davis' clock quite yet, Mitch Talbot is still around. I'm hardly suggesting replacing any of them at the moment or anytime soon, but if things absolutely take a turn for the worst, the team does have options.
Hitters are swinging out of zone on the Rays starters the second last in the majors, only to the New York Mets. Last year the Rays were closer to the middle of the pack. The Rays were also middle of the pack in contact percentage against, this year second to last, near 85%. Less balls are being thrown in the strike zone, but the team is still getting about the same amount of first pitch strikes. That means it's not as much about control or command, and more about stuff.
The lineup and bullpen have been easy targets for ridicule thus far, but don't just assume the rotation has been clean-handed through all of this. A rough start, yes, and one that the entire team has contributed to.