The Tampa Bay Rays had an unorthodox approach to pitching in the 2018 season. With the usage of “openers,” “bulk guys,” and a number of rookies, this bullpen was vastly different from the majority of baseball.
Each pitcher that the Rays relied on in the bullpen had their unique differences. From Diego Castillo’s triple-digit fastball to Sergio Romo’s sweeping slider, each pitcher had at least one pitch that was better than the rest. Among those pitches, every pitcher had one execution of said pitch that is worth looking back on.
Selecting which pitch from each pitcher to highlight was far from an easy task, especially with many guys who have multiple plus pitches. The first objective was narrowing down the bullpen to pitchers who appeared in at least 30 games.
Additionally, I decided to exclude “bulk guys” from this, as they are essentially starting pitchers that were just being used out of the bullpen. Furthermore, Chaz Roe’s best pitch was highlighted in a separate post.
After sorting through almost 6,000 pitches, the seven best pitches from seven Rays bullpen arms were selected. In alphabetical order, let’s look back at the best the 2018 Rays relievers had to offer.
April 28 against Eduardo Nuñez - With an excellent fastball and an improving breaking ball, Jose Alvarado emerged as a dependable reliever in the Rays bullpen. Facing Eduardo Nunez in Fenway Park, Alvarado threw his breaking ball, with six inches of vertical movement, in the perfect spot to strike out Nunez in a pivotal situation.
The decision to choose this pitch as Alvarado’s best pitch was pretty easy. Only one strikeout pitch thrown by Alvarado had better movement and spin, and that was in this same game, but the situation surrounding this pitch made this one the winner for best pitch by Alvarado.
August 24 against Andrew Benintendi - The fastest pitch Castillo threw for a strikeout came during Player’s Weekend, and the victim to said pitch was Boston’s Andrew Benintendi. Castillo scorched this 101.11mph fastball past the Red Sox outfielder to record the second out of the opening frame.
Castillo made hitting triple-digits look too easy, as he hit the mark 75 times in 2018. What made this pitch his best one was the fact that it was only one of four pitches at 101+ mph to induce a swing, and the only one to get that swing with two strikes.
May 4 against Lourdes Gurriel Jr. - Andrew Kittredge’s slider was his go-to pitch when he was looking for a strikeout. Twenty-eight of his 30 strikeouts were recorded with a slider, with six of those punch-outs being on sliders looking. Kittredge’s best was against Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at the Trop, where Kittredge froze Gurriel with a perfectly placed slider.
Choosing the best pitch for Kittredge came down to which one was more visually appealing. His two best pitches in horizontal movement and spin rate were almost exactly identical, with the only difference being how the batters reacted to the pitch. Ultimately, the metrics being so close on the pitches required the video to be the determining factor.
August 16 against Austin Romine - If there’s one pitch on this list that’s an absolute no-brainer, it’s Adam Kolarek’s clutch game-ending strikeout of Austin Romine on August 16.
Kolarek inherited the bases loaded with no outs, being called upon to record his first career save for the Rays, who were in the midst of fighting for a postseason spot, and Kolarek did everything right when he was called upon.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, two strikes, and all of the odds against him, Kolarek struck out Romine to secure the win and record the save.
If there was a GIF in the dictionary for the word clutch, this one would be there. With just over 2,000 rpm on the pitch from Kolarek, he put everything he had into making sure that pitch would be his last. This was a pitch that’ll be hard for any Rays fan to forget anytime soon.
August 3 against Jose Abreu - Sergio Romo’s electric slider was enjoyable to watch when it was on. On this August night against the White Sox, Romo drew up the perfect combination of horizontal movement and spin on the ball, fooling Jose Abreu with the prettiest slider Romo threw all year.
Similar to choosing Kittredge’s best pitch, Romo’s best pitches were so close that video needed to be the determining factor. With eight pitches all having 12.5 inches or more of horizontal movement, the pitch with the highest spin rate (2,205 rpm) ended up also being the most visually appealing one, making the selection as Romo’s best pitch on the season.
May 26 against Adam Jones - Appearing as the opener against the Orioles, Ryne Stanek threw his fastest swing-and-miss-inducing pitch on the season. Buzzing by Adam Jones at 100.6mph, this was one of 20 pitches that Stanek threw which hit triple-digits. Perfect location and high velocity led to this pitch being Stanek’s best from 2018.
Stanek’s best pitch was pretty easy to determine, as this triple-digit heater was in a class of its own among most metrics. It was his fastest fastball with the highest spin rate in this scenario and it was no doubt Stanek’s best pitch on the season.
April 17 against Joey Gallo - With the most spin on any of his strikeout pitches, Hunter Wood unleashed this absolutely filthy curveball against Joey Gallo on April 17. The combination of almost 13 inches of vertical movement and a spin rate of 2,047 rpm married the perfect curveball in this beautiful strikeout to record the first out in the seventh.
Hunter Wood’s best pitch had almost zero competition. There was only one curveball from Wood on the entire season that had as much horizontal movement as this one did, and that one was fouled off. The strike out of a dangerous hitter and the metrics on this pitch made it an almost no-brainer for Wood’s pitch of the year.
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The Rays’ bullpen was an integral part of their quest to win 90 games. The stuff that these relievers brought on an almost nightly basis shines a bright light on what this bullpen is capable of, especially when these pitchers are on.
Although some of these pitchers may not return next season, the best that they brought was worth remembering, because some of these pitches were too good not to remember.
Thanks to BaseballSavant for pitch speeds, movement and spin rates.