The Rays 2018 success came on the heels of a number of breakout performances. While many of them came from the influx of younger players, perhaps one of the more intriguing and lesser discussed standout seasons was had by 31-year-old slider virtuoso and GIF machine Chaz Roe.
You might say it was an unexpected ‘twist.’ Hmmm... Swing and a miss.
When Roe was acquired by the Rays in 2017 from the Atlanta Braves, it was his sixth organization in his five-year major league career. Additionally, he was traded mid-season for the second consecutive year. While that’s not quite Oliver Drake status, He has moved around quite a bit. In a small sample with the team, he allowed just one run in 8.2 innings over 9 relief appearances. The Rays saw enough to like in his short stint, deciding to carry him through the offseason and into the spring.
Here is the first of many viral slider GIFs from 2018.
You might say it ‘swept’ the nation. Better.
In his first full year of major league action, Roe recorded 50.1 innings in 61 appearances for the Rays, striking out 26.1% of hitters he faced while limiting walks to a career best 7.9% clip. Among pitchers with at least 120 batted ball events, Roe ranked 5th best in exit velocity allowed (84.0 MPH) and 19th in hard hit rate allowed (27.0%).
He also led Rays relievers in Win Probability Added, a statistic that attempts to measure how much a player’s contribution positively (or negatively) altered the outcome of a given game, as well as CLUTCH, a stat which isolates a player’s performance in high leverage situations.
Here is one of them early on, when he caught J.D. Martinez looking in the 6th inning of a tie game with runners on first and third.
You might say that’s when things ‘turned the corner.’ Now I’m on a roll (Or should I say, Roe-ll? No? Fine.) [Editor’s note: booooooo]
The first nasty Chaz Roe slider of the season to punch out J.D. Martinez.— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 31, 2018
It may not have been a strike, but the movement is still oh-so-good. pic.twitter.com/mzcwA5ooxI
But in order to fully understand and appreciate Roe’s 2018 success, we must take some time to truly understand his slider, which was as good a weapon as any in baseball. It even earned him honorable mention on the list of nastiest pitches in baseball — a list voted on by the players.
He loved it so much, in fact, that he threw it over 52% of the time, a trend that dated back to the tail end of ‘17. But it wasn’t just his usage that made him more effective. Lets take a look at the pitch itself.
Of pitchers who threw at least 500 sliders last year, Roe ranked 9th best in baseball with an average spin rate of 2843. Ironically, being 9th in baseball was only good for 3rd on his own team, behind Sergio Romo and Tyler Glasnow.
You might say that’s an unexpected ‘twi—dang it I used that one already. Would’ve been better here.
What sets Roe apart, though, was not just his elite spin, but his elite movement.
That’s over a foot of horizontal movement — on average. Better yet, he continues on an upward trend. As far as how the hitters fared, they just could not get the barrel on it, putting up a feeble .240 xSLG and a .215 xWOBA.
You might say they couldn’t catch a ‘break.’ And we’re back!
Chaz Roe, Crazy 82mph Slider movement. pic.twitter.com/WUDD2PKlg1— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 17, 2018
Projections are modest for Roe, as one might expect for a middle reliever. Based on his ‘18 performance, though, I imagine the Rays will continue to use him to get high leverage outs, unless he gives them a reason not to.
In 8 appearances so far this spring, he’s struck out 8 batters, while allowing only one run in 7 innings of work.
You might say continued success is just around the ‘bend.’