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Tampa Bay Rays free agent target: RHP Nick Vincent

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The Rays bullpen lacks veterans; here’s one a year removed from greatness.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have lived off the free agent bargain bin. It’s no secret. There are plenty of relievers out there this winter, but as usual, none of the top names are realistic options for the Rays. There are some names that seem like ideal Rays targets, however; I’d like to focus on one.

He’s not flashy. In fact, he’s quite boring. Apologies in advance.

Nick Vincent has pitched for both San Diego and Seattle; the latter recently offered an outright assignment to Triple-A, which he refused, becoming a free agent.

Vincent brings a solid track record and a surprisingly consistent arm to a role that’s marked by volatility across baseball. His career 3.12 ERA and 3.09 FIP more accurately portray his early years.

When comparing to league average, however, Vincent has performed well of late, with a 93 ERA- in 2016, 77 ERA- in 2017, and 98 ERA- in 2018 across his three seasons with Seattle (where he also had a 100, 65, and 90 FIP, respectively).

In search of a veteran reliever for the Rays bullpen, Vincent deserves a longer look.

Vincent’s Palette

Vincent mainly lives off his fastball and cutter that sit around 91 and 88, respectively. He’ll sprinkle in a change-up once in a blue moon; his usage of the pitch dropped from around 6% to 4% this past season so it’s not exactly a part of his game-plan.

Nick Vincent’s fastball is secondary to his cutter, as he’s used it 40% of the time compared to around 55% for his cutter, but I think it’s his best pitch.

The game has changed today and it’s hard to find a bullpen that doesn’t have guys that throw 130 mph. Vincent, in contrast, struggles to hit 90-91. However, he fits the profile of someone who can survive with that type of velocity, so he could well earn a place in a major league bullpen.

Vincent lives high up in the zone with his fastball and that’s likely the best spot he can work it. One might expect to see a home run problem with a fastball on the lower end of the velocity spectrum, but interestingly, that’s not evident with Vincent. Baseball Savant allows you to highlight certain quadrants of a strikezone. I focused on the top 3 quadrants of the zone, and Vincent has allowed a measly .310 slugging%.

One calling card for Vincent is that he has some deception to his delivery, which allows him to hide the ball well. You’d think the deception would lead to a higher perceived velocity for Vincent, but it actually doesn’t. I think that can be attributed to his relatively average height (6’0”); taller pitchers tend to have much more extension.

One striking example is the Rays own Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow averages a cool 96.5 MPH on his fastball. When you look at perceived velocity, that same fastball comes in at 99.14 MPH on average; Glasnow is 6’8”. He is a huge human with a lot of arms and legs that he throws toward a hitter every fifth day. Jacob DeGrom (6’4”) is another one, as his extension helps him manage to pick up an extra MPH on his fastball, a third of what Glasnow adds.

Here’s that average height, high deception delivery in action:

2017 vs 2018

Normally a veteran reliever with a 3.99 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, but Vincent still showed very good numbers against RHB last season. He flashed a 10.1 K/9 (26.7%), and held hitters a .275 wOBA. His 3.32 FIP vs RHB was closer to reality due to seious LOB% If he can be isolated for situational use (which doesn’t sound very Rays but could be planned for), then he could be even more effective.

Broadly, though, we don’t think you should look too deeply into the struggles Vincent went through in 2018.

The stand out season in recent history is 2017, when Vincent traded strikeouts for more contact, dipping to 19% K’s despite a career high in innings pitched (64.2). He returned to form in 2018 with a 23.4% strikeout rate, but his run prevention numbers took a step back toward league average due to problems keeping inherited runners on base. There was no loss of velocity, so it’s worth investigating further if he can be his 2017 self again.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Vincent’s FIP clocked in at 2.82 in 2017 and gives you reason to believe that there might be a chance he could repeat those numbers, however, a deflated home run rate is also a reason to err on the side of caution. Vincent’s xFIP for 2017 was 4.75, which understandably might concern some. xFIP tries to estimate how many home runs a pitcher should have given up over the year. It also takes into account how many fly balls a pitcher gave up all year in conjunction with the league average HR/FB rate.

Nick Vincent posted an abnormally low HR/FB% that came in at 3.3% in 2017, way below his career average of 7.2%. Vincent had a FB% of 47.9% in 2017 which was exactly the same FB% he had in 2016, yet his home run rate dropped by 11%, so there was obviously some stroke of luck that he experienced.

Conclusion

There should still be plenty in the tank for the veteran Vincent, who could slot right into the bullpen and find himself pitching quite often. The Rays shouldn’t have any trouble trying to sign the soft-tosser if there is interest.

Overall, Vincent represents an intriguing option who could help the Rays staff a competitive and unique bullpen. If the Rays approach Vincent with cautious optimism and limit his exposure in hitter-friendly stadiums, we could see a return to 2017 form — but if not, he should still mow down RHB.