I have in my hand a list of twenty-five people. To my knowledge, the secretary of state does not know them to be communists, but they do have something in common. Drew Smyly is number three, Grant Balfour five, Joel Peralta seven, Jake Odorizzi eight, and Jake McGee 17. Can you guess what the list is?
It's pitchers who threw at least thirty innings last season sorted by the rise on their four-seam fastballs (as categorized by the MLBAM algorithm). The Rays had five players clustered near the top. No other team had more than three.
My point is that the Rays seem to have a special interest with guys with extreme rise on their fastball. For the past five years (maybe more), making the fastball sink or making it cut has been all the rage, and it's true that guys can be very successful that way. But there's more than one way to pitch, and if the Rays think they know how to work with the rising four-seam, that can open up a whole range of trade and free agency targets, since other teams may not value some of these guys as highly.
Let's look at one of those guys: Tigers reliever Blaine Hardy.
Play along, please.
As we already knew, Hardy's fastball has very good life to it. There's more to his repertoire, though. Note the separation between fastball and cutter. Some cutters are just straight, slow fastballs that too often get hit a long way (Jeremy Hellickson 2012, anyone?). Hardy's cutter is not. Sure, it's a bit over three mph slower, but it dives away from the path of his fastball, and even has strong movement in the other direction.
Hardy's changeup has similarly good separation, running down and away from a right-handed pitcher. Spotted on the outside edge, this is a platoon-equalizer.
The real jewel, though, is a very big 12-6 curve. The vertical difference between fastball and curve here is one of the larger ones in the game, and the result was a ground ball a whopping 84% (Brooks Baseball) of the time that it was put into play. Frankly, it's surprising this guy is a reliever, right? This is the repertoire of a front-line starter!
Well, no. Play your favorite sad sound effect and let's look at the velocities (MLBAM algorithm):
- Fastball: 89.1 mph
- Cutter: 85.1 mph
- Change up: 79.5 mph
- Curve: 77.8 mph
So yeah, Hardy is not going to replace David Price in the Detroit rotation any time soon, and there's a reason he was released by Kansas City and then signed a minor league deal with the Tigers in 2013.
Hardy posted a solid 2.54 ERA (belied by a 4.17 xFIP) over 39 innings for Detroit last year, and I really don't know if they undervalue him or not, but he sort of strikes me as Drew Smyly lite, and Smyly was someone who the Rays pried out of Detroit because they thought their pitching philosophy could make him better. I think they could do the same for Hardy. He has the potential to miss more bats than he has so far.
I don't expect the Rays to make a big move to help their bullpen before the 2015 season, but I wouldn't be surprised if they made a few more small ones. If they do, it will probably not be for Blaine Hardy, but it will be for someone like Blaine Hardy, preferably on a minor league deal.
We'll have to look him up, but when we do we'll find something intriguing, because there are plenty of Blaine Hardy's in this world waiting to be made into BLAINE HARDY.
This is the life of the small market, Rays fan.