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The one stat that defines each Ray, Part III

Starting pitchers today

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We continue on our trek to find the one stat that defines each Rays player this season by moving over to the starting rotation for today’s article. Check out Part I (infielders) and Part II (outfielders) if you haven’t already.

Chris Archer - Strikeout minus walk rate

Archer has once again been the Rays ace in 2017, putting up a season nearly on par with his 2015 campaign when he finished fifth in the Cy Young award voting. He has been worth 3.8 fWAR, good for eighth among all pitchers this season and easily tops among Rays pitchers. He has been worth a little bit more than Zack Greinke and a little bit less than Clayton Kershaw, for comparison. His 3.80 ERA is slightly misleading, as his FIP (3.23) and xFIP (3.39) suggest the elite-level run prevention artist he truly is.

Where Archer has really stood out has been his ability to get strikeouts while staying in the zone. Archer’s strikeout per nine rate ranks fifth among qualified pitchers this season, and he has been pretty solid at avoiding free passes. That adds up to the seventh-best strikeout minus walk rate in baseball, which is a great measure of his effectiveness. Archer may not quite have the top-ten reputation of some of the rest of the names surrounding him on the fWAR and K-BB% leaderboards, but his production proves his name deserves to be in that Bona Fide Ace tier.

Alex Cobb - Swing rate outside the zone

Despite league-wide trends towards higher and higher strikeout rates, Cobb has a paltry 5.88 strikeout per nine rate this season, the lowest of his career. His swinging strike rate of 6.7 percent is tied for last among qualified pitchers this season, so it’s not a fluke that he isn’t getting K’s.

The biggest problem seems to be that Cobb is no longer getting hitters to go out of the zone for swings. His O-Swing% of 28.3 percent is by far the lowest of his career (career 32.5 percent O-Swing%) and ranks among the bottom 20 in baseball.

It should come as no surprise that the biggest factor in that drop is that The Thing is no longer The Thing. Check out the yearly whiff percentages on Cobb’s pitches:

When Cobb was rocking a 2.87 ERA, 8.06 K/9, 36.3 O-Swing%, and 10.6 SwStr% in 2014, his splitter was getting whiffs more than 20 percent of the time. That changeup/splitter/Thing whiff rate is barely above 10 percent this season. There was a lot of talk earlier this season about how Cobb would adjust to not being able to throw his split-change the same way he was before Tommy John surgery. The 3.80 ERA Cobb has this season would suggest he’s been able to adjust decently, but the pitch just isn’t a weapon for whiffs right now.

If Cobb is unable to get hitters to go out of the zone for that split-change, he’s going to have a tough time maintaining his current success. His FIP (4.30) and xFIP (4.47) suggest he’s been getting a bit lucky, and it’s not as if he has been a king of limiting hard contact (his 37.6 Hard% is sixth-highest among qualified pitchers). Cobb is going to have to find a way to start getting hitters to chase out of the zone soon, or he may be due for some regression.

Jake Odorizzi - Home runs per nine

This has been the story all season with Odorizzi, and I have already written about the phenomenon. Among pitchers with as many innings as Odorizzi, no pitcher has allowed more home runs per nine innings than the Rays righty, who has allowed 23 homers in 98.2 innings this season (2.10 HR/9). Odorizzi’s most recent start was the only start in which he has thrown more than an inning and not allowed a home run. The homers have been a borderline epidemic for Odo this season.

When discussing this in my earlier article, I threw out the question of whether a fly ball pitcher like Odo might be suffering more this season than the typical pitcher because of whatever is going on with the baseball/elevation revolution/flyball plague that has struck MLB in the last two years. Odorizzi’s ERA (4.38) is still hovering right around league average (ERA+ of 95), but he would undoubtedly benefit from a few of those long balls staying in the yard. (Thanks, Captain Obvious.)

It doesn’t appear that Odo is backing off his approach of attacking hitters high in the strike zone, as his zone profiles from his career and last ten starts look quite the same:

If anything, he’s attacking hitters up in the zone more than ever.

On the one hand, you have to respect Odo for sticking with what got him there, but at some point the extreme home run rates may demand an adjustment from Odorizzi. We’ll see.

Blake Snell - Wins

That tweet was sent before Snell’s no decision on Thursday. Well, congratulations on making history, Blake!

In all seriousness, Snell has had some brutally bad luck when it comes to run support and even the defense behind him at times this season. Snell has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 15 starts this season, and while we all know that he has trouble getting deep enough into games to even qualify for wins (he didn’t make it the requisite five innings for a win in three of those aforementioned outings), it’s still incredible that he doesn’t have a single win this season.

Over his last four outings, Snell has gone 22.2 innings with 10 runs allowed, 17 strikeouts and just six walks, but he has nothing to show for it, with a 0-1 record.

Worth noting: Snell has received three or fewer runs of support in seven of his 15 outings. Also worth noting: The team has won five of Snell’s starts (last night included) so it’s not as though his pitching has prevented the team from winning. While his performances has certainly been uneven at times this season, he hasn’t been as bad as some of the surface numbers would have you believe.

Jacob Faria - Walk rate

Let’s preface this by saying that there is so much to love about Faria. He is a 24-year-old rookie who has come up and tossed 67.1 incredibly important innings for the Rays, limiting opponents to a .215 batting average against with just six homers in those 67.1 innings. His run prevention has been elite (148 ERA+), and he’s basically striking out a batter an inning (67 K’s).

That being said, Faria’s walk rate has been creeping up in his most recent starts. After walking five total batters in his first five starts, he has 19 walks in his last six starts. As my DRB colleague JT Morgan has been fond of pointing out, this is quite like the Faria we saw in the minor leagues (3.38 BB/9 this season at Triple-A) so it is possible that this is the walk rate we will continue to see from him. Indeed, Faria’s minor league walk rates are actually eerily similar to a certain winless pitcher we just mentioned…

Just in case you needed a cold shower on this lovely Friday.

Austin Pruitt - Starter/reliever splits

Pruitt is staying with the starters section for today, thanks in large part to the fact that he has actually been way better as a starter than reliever this season. While most pitchers do exponentially better in the bullpen than in the starting rotation, Pruitt has seen the exact opposite this season:

Pruitt SP/RP splits

Starter 20.1 2.66 1.08 0.298 15.9
Reliever 28.2 6.91 1.85 0.374 12.1

Now, as is always the case when dealing with partial-season splits, if we dig into the numbers a bit deeper, there are a few cracks in the Pruitt-as-a-God-starter-and-crap-reliever narrative. If we go by xFIP, Pruitt has basically been the same as a starter (3.91) compared to as a reliever (4.08). And if we go by FIP, Pruitt has actually been worse as a starter (4.17) than as a reliever (3.33). All of that is simply to point out how noisy small samples can be, especially among pitchers with less than 50 innings total - and even more so when we’re splitting up less than 50 innings pitched.

Pruitt has looked like two completely different pitchers in the rotation and out of the pen, and maybe some of that is a confidence thing, but a good chunk of it may just be small sample size smoke. The good news for the Rays is that The Real Pruitt appears to be closer to the solid starter version than the terrible reliever one (3.66 FIP overall this season).