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Tampa Bay Rays News and Links: Andy Sonnanstine, our best number 3 hitter

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2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft

Baseball stuff

We still don’t know when, where, or IF baseball will resume, but here’s more from Fangraphs on what a compressed schedule could mean.

The Rays, along with the Lightning, continue to support local relief efforts. The most recent donation is to the Fighting Chance Fund, set up by St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman to provide direct aid to small businesses and their employees.

A shout out to the memorable college career of Brendan McKay.

And get to know Rays first round draft pick Greg Jones ($)

You may recall some months ago MLB proposed dramatic cuts to the number of minor league teams. In theory this would make major league franchises more amenable to higher pay and better working conditions for those who are in their systems, but those systems would be slashed by about two-thirds, with attendant reductions in the size of baseball’s amateur draft. With many minor league teams no doubt in deep financial trouble thanks to our current shutdown, there have been reports today that MiLB will agree to a contraction when they meet (via video conference) with MLB officials today.

However, a statement from MiLB insisted that was not true.

It’s possible that Baseball America’s anonymously sourced story got it wrong. We will continue to follow this story and its implications for the Rays organization and for Florida League teams in our area.

Not baseball but local news

I have tried to resist the “all Tom Brady all the time” coverage that has pervaded our local sports section, but I can’t resist posting this article about what happened when Tom Brady violated our local stay-at-home order. (Tampa and Hillsborough County parks are all closed). Mostly I’m bemused to learn that Brady can’t find space to play in the 30,000 sf St. Jetersburg, which he is renting from Derek Jeter. But then I looked at an areal photo, and what do you know, there really isn’t much of a yard!

Interestingly, the Brady story got picked up by CNN, which said Brady was “cited” (e.g. given a ticket) for trespassing in the park, which caused the city of Tampa, concerned that this was VERY bad press, to fire back:

But that’s a little disingenuous because while he was not “cited” he wasn’t merely “sighted,” he was told to leave by a parks employee (which by the way was the right thing to do. If I can’t work out in a public park then Tom Brady can’t work out in a public park).

Remembering Rays players and seasons.

Andy Sonnanstine was a crucial part of the Rays 2008 rotation; he even started three postseason games (two were wins and one was a loss). But he was never a likely hero. A thirteenth round college pick in 2004 who could not throw 90mph, he made his major league debut in 2007.

His arsenal was a mid-to-high-80s fastball which he threw about one-third of the time, and a cutter that accounted for another third of his pitches. The slider was his third favorite pitch, with a rare changeup or curve in the mix. I well recall hearing Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane explaining how he kept hitters off balance by employing a range of arm angles, so that hitters trying to guess the pitch by observing his motion would be confused.

Let’s take a look at that 2008 season. Starting 32 games and completing just under 200 innings, he played a key role in the rotation. His ERA was a very “how did he get to start on a competitive team” 4.38, but his 3.91 FIP is respectable for an AL mid-rotation pitcher. He seldom struck out a ton of hitters, but he also didn’t walk many and was, at least in 2008, pretty good at keeping the ball in the park. All this, plus his decent fielding and (for what it’s worth) good hitting was good for 3.9 fWAR.

Here’s a (very grainy) recap of a strong Sonnanstine start:

One 2008 game stands out to me. The Rays were making a rare Busch Stadium appearance in May, with Sonnanstine on the mound. He pitched a great game, going 8 innings and giving up just one run on 8 hits and no walks. Always a good hitter, he went 2 for 3 at the plate. And while it is not recorded in the record books, I recall that he made several sterling fielding plays. He seemed so much in command that night, I fully expected that if a fan had choked on a peanut, Andy would have jumped into the stands to perform a flawless Heimlich maneuver.

Also memorable was the 2009 game when Joe Maddon messed up the scorecard and thereby had to forfeit the DH position. No problem, Sonnanstine, hitting third, managed an RBI double and the Rays won the game:

Sonnastine pitched less frequently, and with less success in 2009-2011, before retiring at age 29. Apparently you can only go so far with an 87 mph fastball, and Sonnanstine was clearly not interested in hanging on without a path to the majors.

He did, at some point, play around with a knuckleball with an eye to a comeback, but that doesn’t seem to have gotten too far.

He is clearly a man of multiple talents. In 2011 he co-authored a book on Rays history; here’s a piece he filmed and edited to provide an insider’s glimpse of Tropicana Field:

And you don’t need to throw 98 mph to dominate in table tennis.

He apparently has some continued relationship with the franchise, because he has from time to time represented the Rays at such events as the MLB draft.