Barring any injuries, the Rays pitching staff seems to be in good shape. We all agree that Chris Archer is going to be the Rays ace again. Following the former All-Star are Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, and Blake Snell (in no particular order). If you are counting with me that is only four rotation spots. So who is going to take control of the fifth rotation spot?
The Rays have a good problem here in having too many capable pitchers. From youth to experience the Rays have a few options. We will review the competition for this spot, and I’ll discuss who I’d choose to send out on the fifth day.
Jose De Leon: For those interested here is the link to De Leon’s full stats (both from AAA and his short major league appearances.
Let us start out with the young guy. Jose De Leon is a 24 year-old pitcher obtained in the Logan Forsythe trade. It is safe to say that the Rays are very high on De Leon considering they traded a good player like Forsythe for him. Looking at his statistics from the minors, he appears he is ready for the big leagues. His ERA and FIP decreased with more innings from 2015 in AA to 2016 in AAA. In 2016, he dominated AAA hitters with a high strikeout per nine innings (11.57) and a very good BB% (5.9%). De Leon also had an excellent K% at 32.5%. To continue, he allowed an opponent batting average of .190 and had an impeccable WHIP of .94. He did this all with more innings. Thus, he is clearly ready for the majors.
There are not too many negatives for De Leon. He has been exceptional in the high minors. He really hasn’t struggled since his first minor league appearance in 2013, and then in a brief stint in the majors last year. Hopefully, he will be able to come back to his AAA form at the major league level. The only question is whether he has the maturity and seasoning at this point to take on the high-scoring teams of the AL East. There is always going to be a learning curve for rookies, but the Rays need someone who can be somewhat consistent at the back end of the rotation.
I feel like De Leon is almost ready to get his chance. I believe there could be two options for him this season. 1. He could be a bullpen pitcher because he has been dominant in the minor leagues or 2. He could continue to get his starts at Durham. He seems ready for the majors, so I am going to go with the first option.
Matt Andriese: For those interested, here is the link for Andriese’s full stats.
Based on past performance Andriese is probably one of the strongest candidates for this role. The Rays may prefer to have him in long relief, however, where he has also been successful. Last year, he started 19 of the 29 games and pitched 127.2 innings. This is a positive because he knows the division, and has major league experience (very important). He strikes out a good portion of batters with a K% of 20.7%, while having very good command over his pitches, walking just 4.7% of the batters he faces. Finally, Andriese is a ground ball pitcher, which is a plus, especially in the AL East. I understand that more ground balls go for hits, but in this division being a ground ball pitcher might be better.
Andriese is an average pitcher. Even if we don’t emphasize his 4.37 2016 ERA, his 3.78 was average with a league average defense. I am not sure how long he will be able to fend off younger prospects. The Rays have to be thinking that unless he takes off, they are going to want some return on their investment of Jose De Leon. A couple other statistics that struck me: 1. He is allowing an opponent batting average of .261, which is a little higher than we would like to see. 2. His hard hit ball % is a little higher than we would like at 34.3%. Andriese would greatly benefit from generating softer contact, as his soft% is 16.6%.
We have established he is an average pitcher up to this point in his career. Andriese does not have many glaring negatives, but he isn’t a clear-cut starter. To this point, Andriese is good enough to get that spot but is he more of an asset in the bullpen?
Chase Whitley: For those interested, here are Whitley’s full stats.
Whitley has pitched for the division rival Yankees previously. I value major league experience, and I value experience in the division even more highly. From the very small sample size presented, Whitley has been decent. I will use his career numbers here because he did not pitch much in 2016. He has a good strikeout % (19.2%), while having a solid BB% (5.5%). Another big positive for Whitley is the fact he is more of a ground ball pitcher. As I stated with Andriese, I feel like in the AL East more ground balls will be a good thing.
Whitley has a few big negatives. Let’s start with his high pull% at 45.5%. In a division where pull hitters can thrive (due to the smaller dimension stadiums and short porches) this is concerning. Second, Whitley has never pitched a heavy load. The most he has pitched in a single season is 75.2 innings. Looking over his total innings pitched in the major leagues, it is not impressive. He has pitched a total of 109.1 innings. Whitley does have a legitimate reason. He had Tommy John Surgery, so he never really had the chance to pitch a heavy load. Although surgery is a good reason to miss, how can we know if he is ready to start and pitch even 100 innings? There are always questions about how a pitcher will respond after having Tommy John Surgery. This is a very small sample size, so we do have to take his statistics with a grain of salt. Last, his hard hit ball % is a little higher than we would like to see at 30.2% (like Andriese). This is an area where both him and Andriese could improve. Whitley needs to start creating softer contact because 30% of hard contact is average, but he needs to improve this.
Whitley has too small of a sample of major league work to draw definitive conclusions, but there are some real assets here. He is not going to blow anyone away with his velocity, but he has good command. I do not believe he has what it takes to be a starter in the AL East.
If I were the Kevin Cash, I would select Matt Andriese. He has both experience and has pitched in the division. The Rays bullpen is going to be okay (my opinion) with Jumbo Diaz, Xavier Cedeno, and Alex Colome while Brad Boxberger is out. Andriese also has the biggest sample of data to choose from. Although I think Andriese will open the season in the rotation, I feel like he is a bridge to get to Jose De Leon. De Leon is the next big prospect that will get his turn sooner than later. The Rays should keep De Leon in the bullpen to get extra major league experience. Once the Rays believe he is ready, Andriese will go back to the bullpen to give the new kid a shot.
Which Pitcher Should be the Fifth Starter?
This poll is closed
Jose De Leon