Matt Andriese is coming off a pretty successful sophomore year, all things considered. You might look at his 4.37 ERA for 2016 and think it wasn’t all that great, but his 3.78 FIP, 3.98 xFIP and 3.90 SIERA say otherwise. For that reason, Fangraphs gave Andriese 2.0 fWAR for his 2016 efforts. That’s about as good as you could ask from a 5th or 6th starter or long reliever.
The problem is, he played both of those roles in 2016 and showed potential to excel at both. Which should the Rays go forward with?
If you watched his start when he threw a complete game shut out on May 15th, you might be convinced that the Rays should continue to develop him as a starter.
Or, if you compare his stats as a reliever to starter you may think his future is that of a very good pitcher out of the bullpen that can only mow down a lineup once, but does so with the best of them.
There is also the consideration of what is best for the team right now. Matt Andriese is once again on the bubble for the 5th starter spot. Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell have the top 4 rotation spots locked up. The Rays traded Drew Smyly to Seattle for many reasons. One of those reasons is they are confident in their depth at the position. Will Smyly’s rotation spot go to Matt Andriese?
My hope is that the Rays have identified, or will in Spring Training, another candidate for the 5th rotation spot. Guys like Chase Whitley, Erasmo Ramirez or even Austin Pruitt are definitely in the mix and mold for a similar role. Matt Andriese is too good of a reliever and this Rays team needs help in the bullpen.
Relievers may be volatile from season to season, but every run averaging metric suggests Matt Andriese had a well above average year as a reliever in 2016, with borderline elite production when going through a batting order for the first time. Batters slashed .160/.195/.264 in their first PA of the game against him when he came out of the bullpen. The Rays would maximize his effectiveness by limiting him to one time through the order.
It’s hard to project for another ~2.00 ERA season in that category, but if he sustained anything close to that he would be considered one of the best relievers in the league and probably rival Alex Colome for best reliever on the team. The Rays would be essentially adding another Alex Colome to the bullpen.
Fangraphs’s Depth Charts is projecting Andriese to have a similar role to last season, when he was a starter for much of the season but also came out of the bullpen for multiple inning appearances. They actually think he is a better starter than Odorizzi and Cobb, and also out-produces Snell in the spreadsheets because of what looks like a projected injury for the southpaw. If Andriese can put up numbers like that, he should absolutely be starting. I’m just more confident in his ability to reproduce his dominance in relief than improve to that of an above average starter.
It’s clear by their offseason moves the Rays are focused on shoring up team weaknesses. That said, it appears the last area to address is the bullpen if they truly want to contend. Limiting Andriese to one time through the order could give the Rays that elite-level reliever they need to take the bullpen from a weakness to a strength. We can only hope it all falls into place and works out.