The Rays starters have struggled mightily this season. Around DRaysBay, we are not proponents of the traditional "win" statistic, but two months into the season the team leader in wins is still a reliever (Erasmo Ramirez - 6). That's not a good sign!
I don't have great answers to why the starters are struggling. I believe every starter on this roster has the potential to be the menacing rotation pieces we saw last year or previously in their career, but things aren't working just yet.
Consequently, each of the Rays starters have begun to vary their pitch selection, and some have even found success by going to an extreme. Others have not. Here's how each starter's pitch selection has shaped up as the team looks to find their sea legs this season:
Chris Archer - 4.75 ERA, 4.58 FIP
Those last three appearances by Archer include a three inning, six run fiasco in Detroit, followed by eight innings of one run ball against New York using a unique approach, and then a poor showing in KC.
Against the Yankees, Archer deployed his most dramatic adjustment of the last two years. Clustering his fastball and slider usage is something we'd seen from Archer in the past, as had been riding the fastball 65% of the time, but the start against the Yankees was the most we've seen of Archer's change (23%). Eight innings of one run ball indeed.
What the above doesn't show is the start in Kansas City. I will replace it when it does finally show on Brooks Baseball.
If you watched last night's game, you know that defense was a major contributing factor to the loss, but it's no less indicative of the Rays trying to find what works, as Archer went back to the FB-SL cluster (46 fastballs, 41 sliders). Archer's stuff abandoned him in the sixth, and he did not return for the seventh.
As for which version of Archer is the right stuff, I couldn't say. Pitch selections can and should very based on opponent -- as the Yankees example showcases -- but I do wonder if Archer is at his best when his fastball usage is closer to 50% and his secondary stuff takes on a more significant role.
Archer has completed seven innings in only one of twelve starts this season, but does have five Quality Starts (6.0 IP, 3 ER or less).
Drew Smyly - 4.77 ERA, 4.13 FIP
Returning from injury, Drew Smyly began playing with a change up, and then fully utilized it until his three most recent starts. His last three outings have seen five home runs and 16 runs allowed.
After a rough first outing of the season, Smyly had allowed only four home runs and averaged only two earned runs per game (4/13-5/16). We are dealing in small sample size, but that return to approach from late last year has not given great success.
Even if it's more comfortable, he may need to go to a more varied approach to really disrupt opposing hitters.
For much and more on what Smyly is up to, friend of the site Jason Collete had a great write up on Smyly's vanishing change up this morning.
Smyly has completed seven innings in only three of eleven starts, and also has five Quality Starts.
Jake Odorizzi - 3.36 ERA, 4.19 FIP
Here's my favorite wild shift in approach: Jake Odorizzi nearly took his no hitter seven innings against the Yankees in his most recent start, and his usage looked like THAT.
Odorizzi mixes things up, but never has he utilized fewer fastballs than secondary pitches, but it was all sinker and split-change against the Yankees.
In his previous three starts he'd only gone four, five, and five innings so a seven inning, two run showing was in and of itself an improvement. In this case, we see another Rays starter going to a new extreme to make something work.
Odorizzi has completed seven innings in only three of eleven starts, and has four Quality Starts.
Matt Moore - 5.31 ERA, 4.52 FIP
After a nice start to the season (32.0 IP, 3.66 ERA, 3.40 FIP), the wheels came off in the month of May for Moore (25.2 IP, 7.36 ERA, 5.92 FIP) including a near 50% increase in walks allowed.
His better outings in May were when his fastball usage was low and his curveball usage was high, relatively speaking. Perhaps he will settle into that usage moving forward, as he tried again in his most recent start. This "extreme" is more his norm from late last year, where he was piecing back together his stuff post-Tommy John.
Moore has only ten starts this season after the Rays skipped one appearance to give him additional rest. He has completed seven innings twice this season, and has four Quality Starts.
Matt Andriese - 2.36 ERA, 3.12 FIP
The breath of fresh air on the roster has been Andriese, a mere five appearances in to his role as the fifth man in the rotation, staving off an early promotion of Blake Snell.
What he lacks in strikeout stuff he makes up for with a deep arsenal of good pitches to deploy. His only "bad" outing of the season is that first instance of high cutter usage. The second try did wonders though, where he allowed only one run to the potent Royals over 7.0 IP. Unfortunately, the Rays would not hold on to that lead.
Andriese has completed seven innings thrice this season, and has tallied a Quality Start in four of his five games.
Erasmo Ramirez* - 3.29 ERA, 4.24 FIP
*As Erasmo Ramirez is no longer a starter in this Rays rotation, let's begin by looking at his pitch selection from 2015:
Last year's second half MVP of the starting rotation, Erasmo is now the fireman in the bullpen and until recently had done remarkably well.
His arsenal is quite flexible, and his bread and butter is now almost primarily his sinker. Ramirez ramped up its usage at the end of last season, and this year has used it almost exclusively:
His fourth outing above is his lone start of the season, one out shy of the Quality Start referenced above for the other Rays starters.
In his most recent appearance, he allowed four runs and recorded only one out. This was startling as he'd allowed more than one run in an appearance just one time previously in 19 relief appearances; 16 of those were for more than three outs.
Hopefully Erasmo can erase that poor outing (which led to the Rays losing Andriese's great performance in KC) from his mind.