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Keys to the game: What each Ray needs to do to succeed in 2018, Part II The Rotation

Here are the starting pitcher stats you should be watching

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Last week we covered the statistical keys to the success of each hitter in the Rays lineup. Today we’ll be doing the same exercise, but for the Rays 2018 rotation (bullpen to come later this week).

Chris Archer: ERA-FIP

This isn’t going to shock any Rays fans, but it does legitimately surprise me whenever I take a look at the differences between Archer’s “value” according to Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs:

Archer ERA vs. FIP 2015-2017

Year ERA FIP rWAR fWAR
Year ERA FIP rWAR fWAR
2017 4.07 3.40 1.2 4.6
2016 4.02 3.81 1.8 3.2
2015 3.23 2.90 4.3 5.2

The difference is both dramatic and persistent. In the past two seasons alone, the difference has been nearly five wins.

This is troubling, especially since ERA is what actually happened in terms of run prevention. The process is great, but it’s the results that end up mattering most of the time.

Plus, three seasons is typically right around the amount of time it takes to crown a pitcher as a FIP over- or under-performer.

The good news is if I hadn’t conveniently cut off the above graph in 2015, there would have been two seasons in which Archer actually out-performed his FIP. There’s a very good chance the last few seasons have simply been a bit of bad luck, and the FIP that Archer has run the past three seasons (3.36) will be closer to his output in 2018 than the ERA he has had over that same stretch (3.77).

However, there are certainly slight worries about Archer’s performance after the sixth inning, as well as the batted ball contact he has allowed the past few seasons that could help to explain this recent ERA-FIP phenomenon.

A fourth straight season under-performing his FIP, and it may be time to start referring to him as the anti-Johnny Cueto.

Blake Snell: K-BB%

Here’s another one that seems rather straightforward. As our own JT Morgan laid out last fall, the massive leap forward that Snell was able to make in the second half of last season came in large part from walking fewer batters (BB% down from 14.5% to 8.0% after the All-Star Game) and striking out more batters (K% up from 19.2% to 23.7% after the ASG).

All of that combined to see Snell go from the sixth-worst pitcher (min. 50 IP) in terms of K-BB% before the break, to the 44th-best (out of 129) after the break.

Snell is always going to have a bit of wildness, his stuff is just too filthy to fully tame, but if he can make sure he’s getting swings on pitches outside the zone, while not giving in to hitters and handing out free passes, he should every bit the number two starter the Rays are hoping for from him this season.

Jacob Faria: Walk rate

Like Snell, Faria has had control issues. In fact, while Snell often gets the rap of a guy who can’t control his stuff, it’s Faria who carried the higher walk rate, with 3.8 walks per nine innings at the Triple-A level, in contrast to Snell’s 3.3.

This weakness began to appear toward the end of 2017, as Faria (rather quietly) walked two or more batters in each of his nine final starts of the season. Faria walked four or more in three of those starts, making it rather impressive (we’ll say impressive and hope it wasn’t lucky) that he maintained such a shining 3.43 ERA for the rookie pitcher.

Faria’s FIP (4.12) paints a slightly less flattering picture of the rookie, but as a 24-year-old just starting his first full season in the bigs, it also wouldn’t be a terrible result for 2018.

Still, Rays fans have high hopes for Faria, hopes higher (or maybe more appropriately, lower) than a 4.12 ERA this upcoming season. In order to achieve that goal, Faria will have to watch out for the free passes.

Nathan Eovaldi: Innings pitched

Eovaldi will be working his way back from a second Tommy John surgery, a monumental task. While the overall return success rate for second Tommy John-ers is rather impressive (well above 50 percent), even those who make it back may see limited use.

Given the likely limits to Eovaldi’s endurance, there are some in the Rays fan ranks who would prefer to see him used out of the bullpen. Even before the two TJ’s, Eovaldi wasn’t exactly Iron Man Joe McGinnity, as he has never once reached 200 innings in any of his six professional seasons. It appears as though Cash and the Rays Front Office prefer to start him in the rotation, at least to begin the season.

When DRB ran a poll asking the fans what option would be best for Eovaldi in 2018, it was a split decision, with “begin him as a starter and move him to the pen,” as the winner by a slight margin.

In all honesty, given the inexpensive contract they signed him too, and the multiple TJ’s that he is returning from, if the Rays get 120 innings out of Eovaldi this season, they will likely be quite happy.

Matt Andriese: Games started

The number of games that Andriese starts in 2018 will be a large indicator of just how fully in swing the youth movement is in Tampa (or an indication that the Eovaldi-as-a-starter experiment failed). If the Rays are truly turning this team over to the next generation, it may not be long before we get to see names like Anthony Banda, Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, and Jose De Leon making starts at the MLB level. (Gahhhhhh, it’s annoying that Brent Honeywell isn’t on that list for this season.)

Andriese is a very solid back-end of the rotation piece, but he’s even more tempting as a swingman out of the bullpen, especially if he is filling that role because the Rays Youth Movement is well under way.

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We’ll be back to finalize this series later this week with a Statcast-heavy look at the bullpen.