clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How the Rays bullpen could transform throughout the season

A Slack discussion about bullpens led to some interesting ideas for the 2016 Rays

Drew Smyly throws longtoss along side Jhan Martinez
Drew Smyly throws longtoss along side Jhan Martinez
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Here at DRaysBay, we use Slack to communicate ideas and have discussions. Slack, for those unfamiliar, is a platform where teams of people can communicate and work more efficiently.

Earlier this week, there was a great discussion on the state of the Rays bullpen. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion. It all started with a link...

Adam Sanford:Bleacher Report is fun:

The All-Hype Team Left Fielder: Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay Rays
There's no way to put this kindly—Corey Dickerson is a Coors Field mirage.
Sure, the 26-year-old owned a nifty .299/.345/.534 slash line (.879 OPS) in parts of three seasons with the Colorado Rockies. But let's take a gander at his home/road splits:
Home: 1.085 OPS
Away: .695 OPS
Yikes. That's just staggering. And it's puzzling that the Tampa Bay Rays would part company with Jake McGee (2.41 ERA in 2015) in this four-player trade. Unless Dickerson drastically outperforms his career numbers, this move is going to look ugly for the Rays.

Jared Ward: I hate these arguments. And the only stat they ever use is OPS

Mat Germain: They need to do more reading. Coors effect has been proven to be overdone because of the road stats taking a beating due to different ball movement. If anything, most people are expecting a better performance. Especially when he's going to hit in 4 outstanding HR stadiums in the AL east

AS: They also ranked the Rays as the 23rd best team as of now

MG: Anything can happen in the AL. There are no easy teams. Health-health-health. Rotation stays intact and Rays figure the pen out, great! On paper, they have one of the 5 worst pens in the AL, so Rays have some things to prove.

Bradley Neveu: Wait, the Rays have a bottom 5 pen?

MG: In the AL, yes. They're the only team without at least 1 x setup guy. This shouldn't be a surprise.

JT Morgan: Sure if you believe all the bullpen pieces will perform to their worst. The bullpen definitely isn't a strength without McGee, but it's within reach of most teams.

MG: It's still a bottom 5 in the AL pen. Until they make the changes they need to make it better, and find out who can actually setup well enough - and I do believe they can, but it's going to cost them some SP from AA/AAA - they're not expected to have an above average pen at all.

Average, maybe, but above-average, not likely. They're the only team in the AL east that subtracted their best RP while all others added top 10 relievers.

JTM: I agree it's the weakest part of the team, but I'd still it rather be the weakness than other portions. They have potential answers. Every year there are relievers that come out of nowhere to lead pens (even if it's not as the closer).

MG: I just hope they're willing to take a guy like Guerrieri and make him this year's Osuna. Rays had the 25th team in terms of WAR last year. If they don't fix that, even with great pitching and improved hitting it could be another 80 to 85 win season.

Major League team stats for 2015 relievers with dashboard

As much as I like to pick on Bleacher Report, the 23rd ranking for the pen may be bang on.

JTM: I don't think the Rays can afford to go get the guy that would make people happy. It would be really unwise to use trade chips and overpay for 2nd tier relievers (because they're not getting the top end by either price or acquisition cost). If they wanted to make that move they should just have kept McGee.

MG: There are moves the team made that I did like. Dana Eveland could be lights out based on his performance since he's turned reliever. Sturdevant is another guy I like, but Jhan Marinez could be a real difference maker.

I agree they can't go out and sign big boys, and Webb was a good add both for price and value, but they're going to need to keep the SP they have - instead of the usual trades - and send some in the pen if they want to win a championship this year. With innings limits being what they look like on paper,

Smyly and Guerrieri make the most sense to send back there. Make them - and possibly Colome - the set up guys, and voila, the pen could be great. But if they decide to keep everyone as starters and shut guys down early instead, this could get ugly.

I'd also like to see them strengthen it with affordable pieces at the deadline if they have to, like the Jays did with Mark Lowe, for example.

JTM: In terms of ranking across baseball, I think somewhere around 20 sounds right and honestly anything in the 10-30 range will heavily depend on who breaks out where. The middle to bottom end of bullpens end up being pretty tight.

MG: True enough. What I like in a pen is guys with different looks, that keep hitters off balance.

JTM: I think it's really unlikely they end up top 10 just because there are teams that have good pens, but if they finish somewhere in the 10-20 that should be good enough, and completely within reason.

MG: What I'm hoping for, with what you said in mind, is that first half and second half performances are different - and much improved over time

JTM: What really sank the bullpen last year was the -3 WAR from guys no longer with the team now. If they were anywhere near average the pen would have been decent with Colome, McGee and the rest.

MG: Well, Farquhar isn't going to help out much, to be honest. I've seen him pitch enough to know he has a really hard time being consistent.

JTM: I think Farquhar is going to at least be useful against lefties, but I at least think there's hope that Hickey could fix something.

MG: Could happen, but I'm not holding out for it. I've followed him closely for 7 years. What I'm hoping for is this for 2nd half of the year: Box returns to good closer status, Colome finds setup form, with Guerrieri and Smyly helping, Snell takes Smyly's spot in rotation. The rest can sort itself out, but if I'm Cash, I want to find a shut down 7-8-9 by mid-season.

JTM: Last year's pen performed badly overall (outside of really McGee, Colome, and Cedeno), but if the Elmore, Franklin, Beliveau, Balfour, Riefehauser, Bellatti, Gomes, Frieri, and Yates didn't put up a combined -2.9 WAR but were just average that would have put the overall bullpen at #10 or #16 if they only cost the team 1 win.

They don't need to be great. They just need to not be bad.

MG: For Farquhar I will mention this one tidbit that I did notice at the end of last year: he stopped relying so much on his cutter and worked much more often with his changeup, and it really seemed to cut down on his walks.

Hitters were sitting so much on the Cutter that anything else they swung at they wound up being early for. IF he can replicate that approach and use his cutter more effectively as a result, with a change up, I'll believe.

Look at it here:

He didn't walk one hitter in his last 52 batters faced and struck out 17, all the while using the change up a ton more than usual If he does that for the Rays pen, and they get Webb's groundball machine going, could make a difference.

JW: Oh man Smyly in the Pen would be so good.

MG: I think so, and it may save his shoulder.

I also have more faith in 150+ IP from Moore than Smyly, but still want Snell in the rotation. Easiest way to do that is to put Smyly in the pen. He threw 88 innings last year combined, so with ten or so starts, he could allow a short period between that and Cobb's arrival, making the move to the pen to get him to 110-130 IP total on the year.