On April 20th the Rays lost to the Minnesota Twins 5-4 and had a record of 7-7 on the season. Although at time the Rays starting pitchers were beginning to come around (2.86 ERA the previous 4 games) and the offense and defense were receiving a boost with the return of B.J. Upton from the disabled list one area of concern remained which was their bullpen. Heading into action on April 21st the bullpen had the highest ERA in MLB of 8.49 and not by a little by a lot. The next closest bullpen to the Rays was the Boston Red Sox who had an ERA over 2 runs less at 6.13.
Since that April 20th loss to the Twins the Rays have won 11 out of 12 games and one of the main reasons why has been the performance of the bullpen. Over the last 11 games the Rays bullpen has worked 34.1 innings and posted a record of 2-0 with 6 saves, allowing only 21 hits while striking out 42 and walking 5. To demonstrate how much of a turnaround this represents the Rays bullpen is still the 2nd worst ERA in the AL at 4.95 trailing only the Red Sox who have an ERA of 5.35.
Bullpen usage and effectiveness are always great discussions (and one of the topics addressed in the new Baseball Prospectus Book Extra Innings). On the day after Mariano Rivera tears his ACL and is out for the year there is a lot of discussion on how the Yankees bullpen will function moving forward. In Chicago there is discussion of replacing their closer Carlos Marmol and in Miami there are worries about Heath Bell.
Tonight the Rays will take on the Oakland A's who have already replaced former Ray Grant Balfour as their closer and have replaced him with Brian Fuentes. So often a game is decided by the bullpen and situational matchups late in a game and over the course of 162 games the bullpens will play a huge role - often well before the team gets to the 9th inning.
For the Rays, is Fernando Rodney the most important member of the bullpen because of his ability to cover the 9th inning and turn leads into victories. Is it Joel Peralta who can work the important late inning match-ups to get the ball to Rodney. With all the powerful LHB in the AL East combined with the number of games the Rays play those teams is the most important reliever Jake McGee or JP Howell?
A look at the Rays Relief Performances in 2012 after the jump.
- Fernando Rodney is by far the most surprising member of the pen this year. He has earned 9 saves but more importantly has worked 12.1 innings with a microscopic ERA of 0.82 giving up only 6 hits to the 48 batters he has faced, striking out 25% while only walking 4.2%.
- J.P. Howell seems to have moved beyond the mental and physical fatigue exhibited last season and has returned to his old form. He has not allowed an earned run in 7 straight appearances and on the season he has only allowed a run in 1 of his 10 appearances. He has worked a total of 8.2 innings with an ERA of 2.02 and has struck out 26.3% of the batters he's faced while walking 10.5%. He has held left handed batters to a .235 average.
- Jake McGee got off to a rough start allowing at least one baserunner in each of his first 6 appearance but has since settled down to only allow 1 baserunner in his last 5 appearances. He has been called upon to face a tough lefty, Justin Morneau, with the bases loaded, he worked a 9th inning through the heart of the Texas lineup, and yesterday he retired 7 batters in just 29 pitches. Overall he has a record of 0-1 with an 2.45 ERA and has struck out 34.4% of the batters he's faced while walking 9.4%.
- Joel Peralta did not pitch winter ball and admitted that he was a bit dull with his command during his early seasons struggles. In his first 4 appearances he worked 2.1 innings giving up 7R/7ER while issuing more walks (4) then strike outs (3). The tide has shifted for Peralta who over his last 10 appearances has not been charged with an earned run (9.2IP), only allowed 3 hits while striking out 11 and walking 1.
- Burke Badenhop has been a different pitcher at Tropicana Field where he has not allowed an earned run in 6.2 IP while giving up 8 ER in 5.1IP on the road. He has already allowed 3 HR this season (2.3 HR/9) after posting HR/9 rates of 0.6 in 2009, 0.7 in 2010, and 0.1 in 2011. Additionally, entering the 2012 season he had been much more effective vs RHB (FIP of 2.87) while struggling against LHB (FIP of 4.75). Thus far in 2012 that trend has been reversed and he has a FIP vs RHB of 7.09 and 3.46 vs LHB.
- Wade Davis is still making the transition from starting pitcher to reliever and seems to be settling in to life in the pen. Prior to giving up a HR to Jesus Montero on Monday night Davis had not allowed an earned run in his prior 6 appearances. Davis has held RHB to a .208 average (5-24) while LHB are having more success .280 (7 for 25).
- Brandon Gomes had offseason back surgery and began the year in AAA Durham. Gomes has been used sparingly by Joe Maddon in 2012 only making 3 appearances and working 2 innings.
As shown in the table below, up to April 20th the Rays relievers including the departed Dane De La Rosa and Josh Lueke had trouble commanding the strike zone and gave up a lot of runs.
After April 20th the Rays bullpen has reversed direction.