The first wave of Rays reinforcements arrives tonight, as starting pitcher Drew Smyly will face off against R.A. Dickey, and James Loney will almost certainly play first base, where he will be an upgrade against right-handed pitchers and in the field. Allan Dykstra and Mike Mahtook were optioned to Durham to make room.
Last season, the Rays made some adjustments to Smyly's approach, including the much-discussed use of the high fastball, and he responded with a strong second half of the season that featured a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP (xFIP was a bit over 3.00). This has lead to an occasionally-voiced perception that his success was all about the high fastball, and that it's a gimmick that the league will soon adjust to.
I think that sells Smyly short. Yes, the Rays targeted him because they thought he had a unique set of stuff that they could work with, but he was a perfectly decent pitcher before he got to Hickey. He pitched 76 innings out of the bullpen in 2013, and as you should expect when a legitimate starter slides over to relief, he was dominant, with a 26.7% strikeout rate and a 5.6% walk rate backing up his 2.37 ERA. In his rookie season before that, he was an average starting pitcher.
My point here is that we don't need to overthink this one. It's good to have Smyly back, especially as it makes it that much easier to hide Matt Andriese and Erasmo Ramirez. Steamer, which does not place undue emphasis on the his recent success with the Rays projected Smyly for a 3.53 ERA before the season, which made him the number-two starter behind Alex Cobb.
The walkoff hit by Rivera yesterday, has sparked some conversation about pinch hitting. Brandon Guyer was a better option than Rivera, but historically, pinch hitters perform worse than they would had they started the game. This "pinch-hit penalty" was first discussed in The Book, and it equals about 10% of a player's wOBA. With the penalty, Guyer was a worse option. Right on cue, though, The Hardball Times published an article about notable pinch hitters. In it, Shane Tourtellotte does note that the guys who pinch hit all the time were in fact better at it (had a smaller penalty).
ICYMI, Owen Watson at FanGraphs discussed Kevin Cash's bad record at challenges.
Very pretty pictures from Jeff Long at Baseball Prospectus.
Here's a Smyly on his upcoming return courtesy of Sports Talk Florida: