The Rays ended a three-game losing streak on Saturday, taking a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers. It was nice to stanch what was turning into one of the Rays longer losing streaks this season (they have lost four in a row only once this season). Credit goes to a nice start from Chris Archer (6 IP, 2 ER), but it was also the result of some strong work from the backend of the Rays bullpen.
Earlier this season it was in vogue to quote a stat that referenced how many losses the Rays had taken in games in which they had the lead. At one point in May, the observation that the Rays had been in the lead in 14 of their 19 losses on the season was striking enough to make it to the front of the Reddit Baseball forum. The implication here was obvious: the Rays bullpen sucks at keeping leads.
Of course that statistic was more skewed than many people realized (having a lead in a baseball game and then losing is far from a rarity). It also distracted us from appreciating what is turning into another strong season from the final boss of the Tampa Bay bullpen - Alex Colome.
The 28-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is fresh off a season in which he posted a 1.91 ERA and made the All-Star Game, and he hasn’t slipped one bit in 2017. Colome has a nearly-matching ERA (1.95), and he is already more than halfway to his 2017 saves total (37) with his 19 saves so far this season (the Rays are still 10 games away from being halfway through the 2017 calendar).
Colome isn’t getting as many strikeouts as last season, but he’s making it downright impossible for opposing batters to get a good bat on the ball, as he has allowed just one home run in his 32.1 innings this season. This hasn’t just been a fluke either. Of pitchers with as many balls in play as Colome, he ranks 13th in xwOBA allowed, MLB Statcast’s metric which measures the type of contact a pitcher is allowing.
Colome has blown three saves this season, two of which came when he was asked to complete more than just the typical three-out, ninth-inning save (the other came in a recent game against the Oakland A’s in a game that the Rays still ended up winning). That’s part of why seeing Colome come in, successfully, for the final five outs of Saturday’s game was such a great sight. It was the fifth successful save of the 2017 season for Colome in which he had to go more than an inning, but the first in which he was able to get five outs and successfully lock down the win for Tampa Bay.
The Rays bullpen has been right around average this season: their 4.17 ERA ranks 15th in baseball, and their 1.5 fWAR ranks 14th, but Colome has been doing a lot of the best work. His 1.0 fWAR easily leads the Rays bullpen and ranks in the top ten among all relievers in baseball this season. Of that top ten, only Craig Kimbrel can match his 19 saves, meaning Colome is having another great season by just about any metric you look at.
Saturday’s five-out save was just another example of how effective Colome has been in since moving to the bullpen. To have a high leverage arm of this caliber at league minimum (Colome enters his first arb eligible year in 2018) puts the Rays in a very advantaged position.