On Monday we handed out grades for the Rays starting pitchers this season.
Today we give out grades for the bullpen arms, ten different grades for ten different pitchers. The Rays’ bullpen has gotten a lot of use this season, eighth-most in all of baseball after their weekend series with Toronto. The results have been pretty impressive with that heavy workload considered, as they have a top-ten ERA in all of baseball. The advanced numbers are quite as friendly, but we’ll dive more into that in the individual performances.
With small sample sizes we can’t aim for great precision, but we think our Bolton Academy grading system can easily handle these uncertainties. Let’s get to it.
The closest bullpen arm to a starter, Ramirez has been excellent in long relief all season. He has allowed just five runs over 18.2 innings, good for a 2.41 ERA. In his last two relief appearances, he has gone four innings each, allowing just one run combined. In his one spot start, he gave up just one run in five innings, providing a much-needed win.
Ramirez has 13 strikeouts to just two walks this season, and he is inducing more groundouts than ever before in his career. Ramirez is an excellent luxury to have in the bullpen, the perfect remedy for a starting rotation that hasn’t gone far into games this season, and arguably the Rays’ most valuable reliever this season. His grade: lounge singer Louis Prima.
Pruitt is living proof that fans (and the author of this piece) have the ability to take 180 degree hairpin turns on even their firmest opinions. He gave up 20 hits and 12 runs (10 earned) in his first five and two-thirds innings this season, but he has given up just five hits and one run in his last 11 and two-thirds innings. After the Red Sox series, Pruitt was the object of Rays fans frustration and maybe just a few of us couldn’t wait to see him optioned down to Durham. Well, credit Kevin Cash and the rest of the Rays’ staff for whatever they saw in Pruitt to keep him at the big-league level, because he has been hugely effective in his last four outings. He’s gone at least two innings in each, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 11:1. By the end of April, Pruitt had a 27.5 whiff rate on his changeup and was throwing five pitches at least ten percent of the time. That’s a filthy mix for a reliever, and it means his grade for the first month is: DJ Khaled’s Snapchat account.
Colome picked up his sixth save in eight tries on Monday evening, lowering his ERA to 2.77 in the process. Seventy-five percent isn’t a great save percentage for a closer, but both of those blown saves came when Colome was asked to come in before his preferred ninth inning. While an elite closer should certainly be able to get more than just three outs to end a game, Colome is indeed being asked a lot right now, as the pen continues to be worked hard and without a ton of lockdown arms in whom the Rays fully trust. It’s telling that when the Rays needed four outs to close out Monday’s win over the Marlins, Cash went to Chase Whitley for the final out of the eighth rather than bring in Colome for four outs. If the Rays can limit Colome’s outings to the ninth, it should help him quite a bit. Since he doesn’t quite have the elite tools to be an Andrew Miller-type dominant arm for the Rays, but he is solid in his role, his grade is: KFC Double Down.
For me personally, Diaz has jumped to the top of the list as my favorite Rays’ relief pitcher, and I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. His numbers aren’t overwhelming; a 3.54 ERA and 5.64 xFIP don’t say “dominant.” Yet he somehow feels like a safer bet than a lot of other arms the Rays have trotted out there this season. He has appeared in 13 games for the Rays already this season, trailing only the next man on this list, and he has allowed a run in just three of those outings. It has been said many times already this season, and will be said many times more, but it is still amazing that the Rays were able to get this 96 mph flamethrower off the scrap heap from the Cincinnati Reds of all teams. His grade: the equally beloved Wylie Burp from Fievel Goes West.
And in the role of LOOGY, we have the right-handed Farquhar. With Xavier Cedeño hitting the disabled list, the Rays have no left-handed relievers, so Farquhar’s reverse splits have thrust him into this role. Considering the circumstances, he has done quite well. He hasn’t always felt the most secure, but he has given up runs in “just” four of his 14 outings. Honestly, it will be exciting to see what becomes of his season once the Rays get a couple lefties to take the pressure off him as their go-to guy against left-handed batters. It seems like he may well improve. Grade: Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory.
If Diaz if my favorite Rays’ reliever, Whitley is a close second. The 27-year-old righty has integrated himself smoothly into the backend of the Rays’ bullpen and is still sporting a nifty 0.00 ERA. In fact, Whitely has given up just three hits in his 10 and two-thirds innings this season. As noted above, Cash clearly trusts him late in games, as he came on for a big out in the eighth on Monday. Unfortunately, the good vibes might not last forever with Whitley and the Rays, as the ex-Yankee has some of the reddest of red flags in the Rays’ bullpen. Whitley has four walks and just seven strikeouts on the season, and his 29.6 percent ground ball rate won’t help much if it stays at that level. Whitley is relying on a .111 opponent BABIP and 100 percent left on base rate to keep his ERA in a palatable zone; his xFIP is 5.32. Let’s enjoy this while it lasts. Grade: Nathan Fielder's Dumb Starbucks experiment.
Outside of Ramirez, Hunter has been the best arm out of the pen for the Rays in 2017. He has allowed just one run in eight and a third innings, and his peripherals (2.30 FIP, 2.90 xFIP) even suggest continued success in the future, something not many Rays’ relievers can say. We’re talking about quite small samples, but he has three times as many strikeouts as walks and four times as many ground outs as fly outs. He’s been excellent. Grade: Flowing water, raging buffalo.
Garton made a VERY brief stint in the majors this year in which he gave up three runs in just two and a third innings over three outings, looking outmatched pretty much always. This is a pitcher who had pretty solid numbers in 37 outings for the Rays last season, however, and who has been dominating the minors the last few years. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him in 2017. Grade: The worst children’s song of all time.
(Sorry, Xavier Cedeño’s family if you’re reading this, it’s an indictment of injuries more than of your son/cousin/nephew/grandson.)
Hu has pitched one major-league inning this season. Instead of making stupid “Hu-who” jokes for the next 200 words I’m simply going to say I’m happy for the young man making his MLB debut. Best of luck to Hu-mever it concerns.