The Tampa Bay Rays haven't had a lot of history yet, being a new franchise and all. Maybe this isn't a big deal to other, more venerable teams. But I think that the first time in team history that a pitcher retires 28 batters in a row deserves to be recognized. That bit of Rays trivia now goes in perpetuity to reliever Steve Geltz.
No, they weren't all in one game. Yes, it's easier to do it as a reliever than as a starter. But the storyline for the Rays this season has been about injuries forcing them to shift the workload from starting pitchers to the bullpen, and the excellent work of Geltz is a big reason of why that strategy has been a winning one.
Geltz began his run against the Angels on June 9th, and reached 28 yesterday against Toronto. Included in that span was one two inning "start" against Washington on June 17th. He broke the record of 27 straight batters retired, previously held by Kyle Farnsworth.
Over this span, Geltz has struck out eight batters, or just under 30% of the batters he's faced.
His modus operandi has been very simple over this span. First, he pounds the bottom of the zone with his fastball.
It looks uniform across the board because the chart is both righties and lefties, but he's actually focusing on the outer bottom corner to each. Then, once Geltz get's ahead in the count, he breaks out his secondary pitches. Against righties, that means sliders down and away:
Against lefties, that means splitters down and away:
That sounds pretty simple, and possibly even predictable, right? Why haven't hitters been able to get to him then? Well, the first reason is that despite not being super hard at 93 mph, Geltz's fastball is exceptional. Frequent readers will know this already, but Geltz has just about the most-rising fastball in baseball. Over this span it rose 12.5 inches due to it's spin. That is, according to Brooks Baseball, over two standard deviations more rise than the average fastball.
The other reason is that a closer examination of Geltz's patterns over this span reveals that his usage is not quite as predictable as first seems. For instance, Geltz has thrown only one splitter over this span to left-handed batters in two-strike counts (or roughly 11% of the time). But he's thrown 10 splitters (59% of the time) in one-strike counts.
The lesson here is that the idea of a "put-away pitch" that one goes to after one gets two strikes with the fastball is an outdated one that the Rays and Geltz have moved away from. The nasty splitter doesn't need to be strike three. By expected run values, strike two is a more important pitch than strike three anyway, and when Geltz shows that offspeed or breaking pitch in the middle of the count, that keeps batters from being able to hone in on his plus fastball and makes the heater a real threat for strike three as well.
The proof is in the pudding. Over this short period, batters have whiffed at Geltz's fastball 27.5% of the time they swung, and that too is over two standard deviations above the major league average.
Geltz may not be the greatest reliever in Rays history. He's not even the best reliever on this team. But his "perfect game" and his place in the Rays record books are earned.