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The Rays bullpen has been outstanding. Which relievers would you put on a postseason roster?

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We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but can be fun to imagine how you piece together a Wild Card Game bullpen.

Toronto Blue Jays v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In a crucial series against the New York Yankees the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen held the Yankees scoreless over 12.0 innings on the way to picking up two wins.

This shouldn’t have been a shock. The Rays bullpen has been on the shortlist for best bullpens in the game.

Yesterday Richard Justice at MLB.com ranked the Rays first of the playoff contenders bullpens. Justice stated, “3.25 bullpen ERA since the Trade Deadline is the best in MLB. Also first in FIP (3.59), tied for first in WHIP (1.20) and first in OPS (.651) during that time.”

In addition the Rays bullpen leads the league in strikeout rate (28.8%), and xFIP (3.41). The Twins FIP of 3.55 is slightly better than the Rays’.

Especially since September call-ups, the Rays have taken full advantage of their expanded roster to have a lot of arms available to open, to pitch bulk innings, to close, and to get the team through what seem like almost nightly extra inning extravaganzas.

But the team can’t take twenty pitchers into the post season. So, at the risk of some significant evil-eye-tempting, I’m going to take a look at the Rays bullpen and speculate about who might be suited up for a Wild Card game next week.

The High Leverage Half Dozen

Six players have stepped up in traditional relief roles and separated themselves as the clear options for a playoff roster: Emilio Pagan, Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, and Colin Poche.

This group has combined for 142.2 innings pitched with a 35.9% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. They allowed a 2.71 ERA, 2.94 FIP, and 3.11 xFIP.

Rays Bullpen Since The Trade Deadline

Player G IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP
Player G IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP
Nick Anderson 23 21.1 52.6% 2.6% 2.11 1.63 1.20
Chaz Roe 23 16.2 31.9% 8.3% 3.24 1.72 3.15
Diego Castillo 22 27.1 30.3% 5.5% 2.63 3.11 3.07
Emilio Pagan 23 25.0 37.2% 1.1% 2.88 3.26 2.97
Oliver Drake 23 29.0 34.3% 5.7% 2.17 3.15 2.73
Colin Poche 24 23.1 32.3% 17.2% 3.47 4.21 5.48

Nick Anderson has been a beast since being acquired from the Miami Marlins. His 52.6% strikeout rate leads the majors for pitchers with ten or more innings thrown.

Emilio Pagan strikes out batters and just hasn’t walk anybody. His K-BB rate is tenth in the league.

Diego Castillo has rebounded from a rough patch in the middle of the season. He was expected to be one of the guys the Rays relied on coming into the season, and he’s back to being that guy.

Chaz Roe started the season not being able to find the zone. He’s cleaned up that problem since his injured list stint in July. He’s been used mostly to get high leverage righties in the 5-7th innings. In the playoffs you’d expect similar usage.

Oliver Drake is the Rays high leverage faux-lefty; a right-handed pitcher who has great reverse splits. Much like righty Joel Peralta on the 2011-2014 teams, Drake is used to get high leverage outs against left handed bats.

Colin Poche is the only one of the group without great results. He went through a stretch where he just couldn’t find the strike zone; his meltdown outing in Houston, during which he walked five, was his low point. It’s been better of late (just two walks in his last five innings). He can get a big strikeout and with Jose Alvarado and Hoby Milner injured there really isn’t a better left handed reliever on the roster.

It’s hard to overstate how important these six relievers have been to the Rays late season run. Over the past two months they have a +4.54 Win Percentage Added (WPA — it measures high leverage performance), and +6.30 over the season. For some perspective: The Yankees bullpen WPA for the entire season is +3.87.

Rounding out the pen

In addition to this High Leverage Half Dozen, I’d expect some combination of Yonny Chirinos, Brendan McKay, and Trevor Richards to be in the bullpen. The primary responsibility would be as a long man, but you could see a guy like McKay get used similar to David Price in 2008.

This bullpen has been shoving all season. They don’t have the big names, but they’ve proven they can pitch in high leverage innings throughout the year. Let’s hope that they have a chance to show off their talents in October.