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Recently acquired Rays reliever Oliver Drake could be a gem

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Or he could be DFA’d in the roster crunch.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Oliver Drake made major league history in 2018, by pitching for five teams over the course of the season. Five teams who gave him a shot to prove himself on the mound, only to quickly move on before giving him a prolonged shot.

Total Batters Faced by Team:

  • 58 - Brewers
  • 22 - Indians
  • 40 - Angels
  • 9 - Blue Jays
  • 80 - Twins

Drake’s most productive and longest stretch came with the Twins over the latter part of the year, as he was tremendous over those 20 innings pitched.

Despite his late season performance, the Twins felt comfortable exposing Drake the waiver wire as they outrighted him off of their 40-man roster, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to swoop in and claim him, where he is not a candidate to be DFA’d again in the Rule-5 roster crunch this evening.

Is he worth keeping around?

Oliver Drake has a unique delivery where he hides the ball from the hitter’s eyes exceptionally well until it leaves his hand, using a trebuchet like mechanic as he hurls the pitch.

Drake is basically a two pitch pitcher, combining his low 90’s fastball with a nasty splitter, which averaged around 84 mph in 2018.

This mix led to him to having a 13.2 swinging strike percentage. To put that into perspective, that would have placed him in the top 10 of qualified pitchers this past season (Max Scherzer led the league with a 16.2%).

To break it down further. In 2018, Oliver Drake threw his splitter roughly 42% of the time 328 counted by Brooks Baseball). Of those 328 splitters, opposing hitters swung at just over half of those offerings. Against Drake in 2018, those hitters whiffed in 18.6% of their attempts to hit the splitter.

Note: Drake did introduce a curveball in 2018, a pitch he used 10% of the time, but hitters were not fooled as they crushed the pitch. For Drake to be successful, he might be better off using his fastball/split combo to attack opposing hitters.

Funky pitcher gets funky results: News at 11

In 2018, Drake’s number were not good. He allowed 29 runs over 47 23 innings pitched, on 52 base hits, and that has much to do with his offspeed stuff.

With Drake primarily throwing a splitter, his groundball rate isn’t where you’d expect it to be. As a consequence, Drake has struggled with the past two seasons is his line drive rate, which has led to an elevated BABIP of .361 in 2017 and .353 in 2018.

This could be due to poor command of the pitch, or with missing up in the zone. Drake never had a consistent catching situation, and as a consequence his stuff was delivered all over the strikezone.

Baseball Savant

The image above, displays where all of Drake’s splitters have ended up in the strikezone.

Far too many have been up in the zone. A splitter up in the zone, is an extremely hittable pitch to the average major league batter.

When he is able to break the pitch down below the hitter’s knees, his whiff rate increases exponentially compared to whenever it stays in the zone. Basically, if the pitch is below the zone, hitters are missing at least 1/4th of the time when they swing, as compared to the less than 5% of the time they make contact when it’s high in the zone.

Brooks Baseball

Drake has the ability to be a dominant reliever in the bullpen, and we know that because he showed an ability to do that with the Twins during his brief time with them to end the season, but it’s all a matter of being able to sustain that success.

Something else to keep in mind: if Drake sticks with the Rays, he’ll be joining a team that has Kyle Snyder as the pitching coach. Snyder helped turned Ryne Stanek into a dominant opening pitcher by developing his splitter while the two were with the Durham Bulls in the 2017 season. There could be more to unlock with Drake in a similar fashion.

We’ll get an early signal of whether the Rays believe there’s more to unlock after the 8:00 PM deadline tonight for the Rays to set their 40-man roster.