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Sliders the Rays should target in Free Agency

Some practical application of our previous analysis.

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MLB: JUN 03 Cubs at Giants
Dillon Maples
Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In an earlier article, I looked at the specific slider shapes the Rays have been looking for in their pitchers. I recommend reading that piece before this one, as it will provide a lot of good context.

Now that the specific slider shape the Rays value has been identified, the logical next question is: who is out there that Tampa Bay may target this offseason?

Using the same scatter plot from the earlier article, we can identify more pitchers with the unique combination of horizontal break and velocity on their sliders. This time, instead of highlighting the 3 Rays pitchers (Armstrong, Phillips, and Poppen), I’ve highlighted free agent pitchers whose sliders fall in the same area as them:

All six of those names listed are free agents as of today. Of the group, Jimmy Nelson had the best 2021 season and may be in line to receive a multi-year deal this winter. The rest of the group however is probably looking at one-year guarantees, which might make Tampa Bay — a team well regarded for its ability to help pitchers reach their full potential — an attractive landing spot for them.

It is also worth nothing that although Michael Lorenzen only pitched in relief last season, he is drawing interest as a starting pitcher this offseason.

Here is a quick comparison of each of these six pitcher’s 2021 seasons:

2021 Reliever Stats

Name Team IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Name Team IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Jimmy Nelson LAD 29 37.9% 11.2% 1.86 1.89
Dillon Maples CHC 31.1 28.8% 18.8% 2.59 4.61
Bryan Shaw CLE 77.1 21.3% 11.4% 3.49 4.53
Brooks Raley HOU 49 31.7% 7.8% 4.78 3.27
Heath Hembree CIN/NYM 58 34.2% 9.9% 5.59 4.34
Michael Lorenzen CIN 29 16.8% 11.2% 5.59 4.17
Rays Free Agent Reliever Targets

For visuals, here are video clips of the sliders for each of the guys listed above:

Jimmy Nelson

Michael Lorenzen

Brooks Raley

Dillon Maples

Heath Hembree

Bryan Shaw

There are also more free agent pitchers who throw big sweeping sliders but don’t quite get the good velocity (the Collin McHugh and Rich Hill style breaking ball) as the names mentioned above. Free agents Adam Ottavino, Brad Hand, and Kyle Crick are some of the names that fall into that category. And if you’re looking for some deep sleepers, Kyle Barraclough and Patrick Wiegel are two free agent relievers who’s sliders fit this mold as well.

If you are interested in hunting for more potential Rays targets that have this slider shape, the easiest way to browse is looking through the Baseball Savant slider movement leader board. If you sort by ‘Horizontal Movement vs. Average” you will see a lot of the names mentioned in this article. Joe Musgrove is another guy who appears at the top of this list, a player that the Rays made a trade offer for last winter.

It is safe to say that the Rays care quite a bit about the specific shapes of sliders. Might the Rays be interested in any of the free agents mentioned above? We will find out soon in what figures to be a very active offseason for the Tampa Bay Rays following Friday’s deadline to set the 40-man roster.