In game one of their playoff series, the Rays will face veteran righty, Matt Shoemaker.
My two year old loves baseball, and he especially loves Matt Shoemaker, whose name has caused him to invent the concept of heckling.
It’s not certain how far into the game Shoemaker will pitch. He hasn’t reached the fifth inning in three of his six starts this season, hooks are generally faster in the postseason, and the Blue Jays do have fellow starter Robbie Ray ready and available to take over.
He hears the announcers say “Shoemaker,” and he realizes that it’s a compound word, and that one can swap out the first half to make similar but different compound words.
Over his career, Shoemaker has bounced between being an above average pitcher and a below average pitcher, with the short 2020 probably ranking as his worst season. His career ERA- is 96, and his career FIP- is 98. I think it’s safe to consider the crafty 33 year old as being a somewhat below average starter at this point — which is totally a player able to shut down a major league lineup for a handful of innings.
So while Shoemaker pitches, my two year old shouts out other versions of the name: “Coffeemaker!”
In 2020, Shoemaker has struck out 22.6% of the batters he’s faced (in line with his career rate) while walking out 7.8% (up from his better, earlier years). He keeps himself in games, despite those pedestrian numbers, with a healthy groundball rate near 50%.
There’s no single above average pitch in Shoemaker’s five-pitch repertoire, but the thing that makes him tick is an 85 mph splitter.
His fastball and sinker both sit at 92 mph, and together with that splitter give him three workable pitches on the armside movement portion of the graph, with good separation from each other. It’s a trio of pitches strikingly similar to one the Rays will know well, from Jake Odorizzi.
But moving to the gloveside, Odorizzi’s cutter, slider, and curve are better than the slider and curve Shoemaker throws. Instead, his 81 mph slider, and 75 mph curve more closely resemble the versions thrown by Trevor Richards — which is not a happy comparison for a pitcher.
The splitter is the pitch Shoemaker will throw to both handedness of batters, in almost any count, although he ramps up his usage once he’s going for the strikeout. When he gets it down, it can look like a nasty strikeout pitch.
When it’s not dropping below the zone, it’s only a good splitter, not a great one, but it has enough deception on it that batters tend to pound the ball into the ground, at least first or second time through the order.
The pitch caries a healthy 59% groundball rate, closely approached by Shoemaker’s sinker (57% groundball rate).
Unlike Odorizzi, Shoemaker doesn’t really chase strikeouts with his four-seamer up in the zone, especially against righties, and instead uses the rising fastball as a show-me pitch early in the count, moving to the bottom of the zone once he’s trying to put hitters away.
The biggest difference in his approaches against batters of different handedness is in the use of his slider, which is a major pitch for him against righties. While he likes to pound righties inside with his sinker, and down with his splitter, that slider is the main tool he uses to force them to also account for the outside of the zone.
It’s good enough when he locates it well, getting batters to reach down and away.
But not when he doesn’t.
Over his career, likely due to the lack of quality in his breaking pitches, Shoemaker caries an even wOBA split, a small reverse FIP split, and a small normal xFIP split. He’s not someone a team should stack its lineup against, either with righties or lefties, especially given the high likelihood that the Rays will see lefty Robbie Ray or other bullpen pitchers later in the game.
All these consideration back up the Kevin Cash’s decision to alternate hands tonight:
#Rays lineup for Game 1. No Choi or Diaz, which is interesting. pic.twitter.com/VjH0Qz8JEB— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) September 29, 2020
The way to succeed against Shoemaker is pretty simple, although that’s not the same as being easy. He’s going to mix his pitches, work the edges, and try to get ahead in the count where he can get batters to chase his pitch. He’ll also give some hittable pitches, and the Rays have to hit them.
Simple as that.
Also, maybe some of the fans at the home game should heckle a little bit, see if they can get into his head.