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Tampa Bay Rays News and Links: Trevor Plouffe and Scott Boras think it’s time for baseball

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Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees

Rays Stuff

They played tons of practical jokes and poured alcohol in water bottles so they could immediately start partying after a game.

Also, apparently Carl Crawford was funny?

  • The careers of the Upton brothers, reviewed.
  • Blake Snell recalls his first time pitching in his home town.

Baseball stuff

  • I believe that MLB leadership is furiously creating about 20 different scenarios for starting baseball, but because this Coronavirus is a new and confounding foe they can’t possibly know which of these scenarios will prove to be feasible. Which is why when I saw this:

my reaction was “Yeah, right. Baseball folks have been able to predict the course of the virus, KNOW they can start up in June, and only Trevor Plouffe has this key information!”

Then came this:

Trevor Plouffe seems like a great guy but I don’t think investigative journalism is necessarily his forte. I have no idea when and how baseball will be played in 2020 but I am confident that if there is finally a plan to move ahead we will not hear it first from Mr. Plouffe.

Other nations and leagues can provide helpful models for how to accomplish a return to action and keep players safe. Professional baseball is being played today in Taiwan and South Korea, and players have reported that they feel safe and protected in their environment.

neglects the fact that those countries are in a slightly better position to do this. Yesterday, South Korea had three new confirmed COVID-19 cases. Taiwan had two. The US? Over 22,000.

  • Speaking of South Korea, for those of you who are following the KBO to get your baseball fix, ZiPS has you covered.

Memorable players and seasons from the past: JP Howell

When I think of great Rays relievers, I think about that one good year of Fernando Rodney, or that great year of Rafael Soriano. I don’t always think about JP Howell. Maybe that’s because his excellent 2008-9 was followed by an injury-dominated 2010 and a poor showing in 2011. Maybe because a guy who throws 87 just doesn’t seem like a stopper.

But I was thinking about Howell because he was recently on Neil Solodz’s podcast. (Side note: in addition to his regular podcasts that include interviews with current Rays players and staff, Solondz has been catching up with former Rays. Dan Johnson and James Shields have been interviewed as well as Howell. These are great listens! The former players have the benefit of perspective, and in many cases they are more candid, when talking about teams from 10 years back, than current players would be talking about their current teams.)

And I think he deserves more credit than my memory wants to give him.

Howell came to the Rays in a midseason 2006 trade with the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Joey Gaithright. He was considered a starter at the time, although not a very successful one. The Rays eventually converted him to a reliever, which seemed to suit him well. He could get a bit more velocity on his fastball, and in an interview he said he liked being involved, or potentially being involved in every game. He also saw his trade to the Rays as an important turning point in his career, as he felt accepted in the laid back Rays clubhouse.

Howell is one of those pitchers who can’t get by on stuff. His repertoire was about 50% fastball and 50% offspeed (both curves and changeups) but that fastball....generally he threw in the 86-87 mph range. I recall reading an interview with him from his Rays days where he talked about working diligently in high school and college to try to at least scrape 90 on a good day. He wanted scouts to be able to write him up as a guy who “touches 90” thinking that it would help him get drafted. For JP Howell, it was all about deception. He also noted, in his recent interview with Solondz, that since he wasn’t a “stuff” guy he needed to become an expert on every hitter’s tendencies. He was constantly watching opposing batters from the dugout.

He was a key part of the Rays 2008 - 2009 bullpens, often given the closer role in 2009. Baseball Reference puts him at 4.2 WAR for those years combined, which is impressive for a reliever. Both years he managed to strike out more than one batter per inning. Surprisingly he also had a pretty high walk rate, which is usually hard to sustain when you don’t have velocity. But he managed to fool batters just enough, and also induce a lot of weak contact. All of his best years — including those with the Dodgers — included ERAs well below his FIP, suggesting either several seasons worth of dumb luck, or the ability to induce weak hits, or a bit of both.

Here are some former DRB writers praising his 2008 and 2009 seasons.

And while we all remember David Price getting the last four outs of the 2008 ACLS, Price was not the only young lefty to get a key out that night. Getting a weak ground ball from an off-balance David Ortiz is vintage Howell:

Howell always came off as very much a free spirit, and not one who was afraid to show emotions. This Rob Neyer article captures his strong feelings after a few important losses.

JP went on to have several good years with the Dodgers, a pretty bad year with the Blue Jays, and finally a difficult year in independent ball. He says he guess he’s retired, although he isn’t sure quite how to make that official (like do you send someone an email?)