I would be mistaken if I tried to advertise this as something I saw coming. Heath Bell has shouldered the Rays poor performance from the starting rotation by throwing the most relief pitches in baseball this season as one of two long men in the Rays bullpen -- thanks to Cesar Ramos and Jake Odorizzi filling replacement roles in the rotation -- and battled a .365 in play batting average with a remarkable 66.7% groundball rate.
Most notably, Bell held the Rays to a tie with New York across three innings before the game broke open during the 14th inning in Friday Night's win. Bell was the winning pitcher, and rightfully so!
But he's also an expensive commodity, and having been designated for assignment this morning, he must be traded, sent through waivers (if he consents to the assignment), or released in the next ten days. That $5.5M contact will be the Rays' bitter pill to swallow, should they not work out a deal.
Bell was waived to make room for Nate Karns, a starter in Triple-A the Rays traded for this off-season, and with the absence of Alex Colome due to suspension, also the next starter on the depth chart.
Presumably the Rays are ready to reign one of the three replacement starters struggling in the rotation -- Jake Odorizzi, Cesar Ramos, or most likely Erik Bedard -- back into the bullpen. The choice of Bell over the other long man in the pen who has thrown the third most relief pitches in baseball, the one will all the bad press, is surprising. I am of course talking about Josh Lueke.
Bell racked up a 7.27 ERA and 4.59 FIP, recording 52 outs with 12 strikeouts, over 13 appearances, allowing 14 runs.
By comparison, Lueke has a 4.82 ERA and 4.86 FIP, recording 56 outs with 11 strikeouts, over sixteen appearances, allowing 10 runs. He has an easier .328 in play batting average, and just a 41.4% groundball rate. But he's also underperforming what the Rays think he's capable of. Last season Lueke was striking out twice the numbers he has this far this season, and he's still at the beginning of his career, probably not the end like the 36 year old Bell.
But the reality is this: Bell has stranded only 57.8% of batters this season, and that's just not good enough.
At the time the Rays traded for him, Andrew Friedman had this to say about the former dominant closer:
"His stuff is virtually as good as when he was a dominant closer with the Padres (2009-11)," said Friedman. "He missed a lot of bats last year. He commanded the ball better than he had in previous years. He’s just got a lot of things in place that give him a chance to be really good, and it’s about trying to sync them all up."
Sounds nice, doesn't it. The next Rays reclamation project. That didn't happen. In a small sample size that didn't happen. And whom the Rays deemed the worst of what has been a taxed bullpen is on his way out the door.
Editor's Note: The Rays see more potential in Lueke. They have not waived him for Brad Boxberger or CJ Riefenhauser, and they didn't do so for Heath Bell. If you're upset about this, I would encourage you to base you argument on data, and join us in the comments below.