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Game preview: Chase Whitley

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The Rays will face a relative unknown in game two of their series.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For game two in their series in New York, the Tampa Bay Rays will face Chase Whitley, a 26-year-old making his first start of the season and the 13th start of his major league career. It won't be the first time the Rays have faced Whitley—they failed to score in four innings against him last year—but it's close. What should you expect?

Let's start with the stuff.

This looks like a legitimate big-league starter on the face of it:

  • His four-seam fastball has respectable if not overwhelming vertical rise.
  • His two-seam is distinct form the four-seam, and has meaningful run and sink in relation to it.
  • Whitley's slider lacks two-plane movement, but it does run just a little bit more than the average, and it's slightly harder than the average slider, so it's lack of depth isn't the end of the world for the pitch. I'd guess that it's a slider with a large handedness split (useful against righties, less-so against lefties).
  • What the slider lacks in depth, Whitley makes up for with the depth of his changeup. It sinks 1.2 standard deviations more than the norm. This is the pitch to watch out for.

Really, the one thing holding Whitley back from being a better-known prospect is his lack of velocity. Here are the numbers from Brooks Baseball: fourseam at 91.6 mph; sinker at 91.5 mph; slider at 85.7 mph; changeup at 84.5 mph. That makes Whitley's margin of error small, and the lack of velocity differential keeps his changeup from being an elite-level offering.

Looking at his usage numbers on Brooks, we see that Whitley is willing to throw all of his pitches to both lefties (with more changeups than sliders) and righties (with more sliders than changeups). Against the right-handed batters, he doesn't break out his changeup until he's ahead in the count. That's about the only real pattern he shows.

As expected from the pitch movement, his changeup produces the most whiffs, with a 52% (!) whiff rate against lefties and a 42% whiff rate against righties. He works it down and away exclusively to each.

His slider is a decent whiff pitch against same-handed righties (34%—also used down and away exclusively), but falls off a lot (15%—used both as a back-door pitch and on the back foot) when thrown to opposite-handed lefties.

Whitley has always sported good control numbers in the minors, with walk rates below 8% in 2012  and 2013 in triple-A and around 6% between triple-A and the majors last season, so I think it's safe to assume that he puts the ball where he wants to, but it is interesting that Whitley has never really been a starter in the minors, before serving as one for much of last year.

Here's what the Rays will trot out to face him.

My advice is to look to hit the backdoor slider and the fastball on the outer edge of the plate and to spit on everything low unless Whitley proves he can own the bottom of the zone. Also, don't take advice from bloggers.

Go Rays!