The Rays will have an interesting decision to make following the 2011 season. While most teams will be looking at how to fill out a five man rotation, the Rays will be trying to answer which five will fill the 2012 rotation. The Rays have David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Jeremy Hellickson as their starting five and also have Alex Cobb, Alexander Torres, and Matt Moore to consider for 2012.
The Rays have historically relied on strong starting pitching and team defense as a base but another strength has been the ability to know when to move a pitcher to give a younger, less expensive, and more talented pitcher an opportunity (detailed after the jump). The Rays have done this with Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza to make room for Jeff Niemann, David Price, Wade Davis, and Jeremy Hellickson. The three candidates for promotion in 2012 are Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Matt Moore.
Alex Cobb has made 9 starts for the Rays this year posting a 3-2 record with a 3.42 ERA and in 12 starts in AAA he went 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA. His 2011 season has been cut short due to a blockage in the area of his right rib requiring surgery. The good news is that Cobb is expected to be able to resume his normal throwing program over the winter and be ready by the start of spring training.
Alex Torres has made 23 starts for AAA Durahm posting a record of 8-6 with a 3.23 ERA. The one area that Torres has not been able to master is his command of the strikezone as he has walked nearly 5 batters per nine innings (4.9) but has a struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings.
Matt Moore is without doubt not only the most impressive young pitcher in the Rays system, but in the major leagues. After making 18 starts for AA Montgomery and posting an 8-3 record with an ERA of 2.20 (11.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9) he was promoted to AAA Durham. He hasn't slowed down in Durham where he has made 6 starts and posted a record of 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA, striking out 57 batters in 34.2 innings while only walking 10 (14.8 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9).
I would hedge on Alex Cobb getting the nod to start the 2012 season with Matt Moore close behind him. Alexander Torres is going to have to show command of the strikezone before he gets his shot as a starting pitcher in the majors. The question is which of the current five starters won't be on the Rays in 2012? Will the Rays deal their biggest trade chip in James Shields? Will they shock the baseball world and deal David Price? Will Jeff Niemann's post injury performance make him extremely attractive? Will the Rays sour on Wade Davis (and sell low?) after a down 2011 season and try to move him? I doubt there is any chance that Jeremy Hellickson gets moved but maybe somebody has a different opinion. Are the Rays confident enough in Cobb, Moore, and Torres to move one of their starting pitchers?
2007 Rays: 45-62 5.20 ERA/4.38 FIP 14.0 fWAR (Defensive Efficiency 65.6% worst in MLB)
The 2007 rotation included Scott Kazmir (34 starts), James Shields (31 starts), Edwin Jackson (31 starts), Andy Sonnanstine (22 starts), Jason Hammel (14 starts), Casey Fossum (10 starts), Jae Weong Seo (10 starts), and J.P. Howell (10 starts). The 2007 Rays pitching staff is discussed in Jonah Keri's book The Extra 2%. In his book Keri points out that the 2007 Rays staff wasn't helped by the defense behind them. He points to a defensive efficiency (number of balls put in to play that are converted to outs) of 65.6% (lowest of any team since 1954) and a opponents batting average .344 when putting the ball in play. The 2007 Rays finished the 2007 season in last place in the AL East with a record of 66-96.
2008 Rays: 66-48 3.95 ERA/4.24 FIP 14.3 fWAR (Defensive Efficiency 73.3% #1 in MLB)
The 2008 rotation included Scott Kazmir (33 starts), Andy Sonnanstine (32 starts), Edwin Jackson (31 starts), Matt Garza (30 starts), and Scott Kazmir (30 starts). Others making starts for the Rays in 2008 included Jason Hammel (4 starts), Jeff Niemann (2 starts), David Price (1 start), and Mitch Talbot (1 start). The Rays knew the defense in 2007 wrecked a season and if it could wreck a season what would happen if the Rays trotted out a lineup of good, even great defenders? The Rays improved their defense and pitching by acquiring Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, and Eduardo Morlan for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. Removing Delmon Young and Brendan Harris combined with finding a home for B.J. Upton in centerfield, installing Evan Longoria at third base, and Aki Iwamura at second base resulted in the Rays leading the majors in Defensive Efficiency at 72.3%. The 2008 Rays went on to win the AL East and later the AL Pennant with a record of 97-65.
2009 Rays: 58-55 4.54 ERA/4.31 FIP 14.1 fWAR (Defensive Efficiency 71.0% 7th in MLB)
The 2009 rotation included James Shields (33 starts), Matt Garza (32 starts), Jeff Niemann (30 starts), David Price 23 starts), Scott Kazmir (20 starts), and Andy Sonnanstine (18 starts). The Rays had a very good rotation at the end of the 2008 season which included Shields, Kazmir, Garza, Jackson, and Sonnanstine, but the Rays also had two pitchers ready to be added to the big league rotation. The Rays drafted Jeff Niemann with their first round pick (#4 overall) in the 2004 draft. He had battled injuries throughout his time in the minors but had made 49 starts in AAA Durham between 2007 and 2008 and the Rays deemed Niemann as major league ready. Additionally, the Rays felt that David Price (2007 #1 overall pick) would be available to join the rotation during the season. So, with Niemann and Price both ready to join the rotation, the Rays felt that it was time to move one of their starters and traded Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce. On August 29, 2009, the Rays traded Scott Kazmir, who had become very inconsistent over the year and was guaranteed 20 million for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, in exchange for Sean Rodriguez, Matt Sweeney, and Alexander Torres. The Rays finished the 2009 season in third place in the AL East with a record of 84-78.
2010 Rays: 73-50 3.99 ERA/4.24 FIP 11.0 fWAR (Defensive Efficiency 72.2% 2nd in MLB)
The 2010 rotation included James Shields (33 starts), Matt Garza (32 starts), David Price (31 starts), Jeff Niemann (29 starts), and Wade Davis (29 starts). Others making starts for the 2010 Rays included Andy Sonnanstine (4 starts) and Jeremy Hellickson (4 starts). The Scott Kazmir trade was made possible because the Rays felt that Wade Davis, who had made 37 starts in AAA in 2008 and 2009, was ready for the majors. The Rays went on to win the AL East with a record of 96-66 before losing to Texas in the ALDS.
2011 Rays: 51-43 3.56 ERA/3.96 FIP 10.5 fWAR (Defensive Efficiency 73.3% 1st in MLB)
The 2011 rotation includes David Price (26 starts), James Shields (25 starts), Jeremy Hellickson (21 starts), Wade Davis (21 starts), Jeff Niemann (16 starts), Alex Cobb (9 starts). Additionally, Andy Sonnanstine has made 4 starts. Similar to Jeff Niemann and David Price in 2009 and Wade Davis in 2010, the Rays had Jeremy Hellickson ready to step into the rotation after making 4 starts for the Rays in 2010 and had made 30 AAA starts in 2009 and 2010. So, with Hellickson ready to step into the rotation the Rays dealt Matt Garza along with Fernando Perez and Zach Rosscup to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer. Currently, the 2011 Rays are in third place in the AL East with a record of 66-56.