The Rays have traded from their pitching depth in the minors to see what they can unlock in the bullpen, sending Double-A LHP Michael Plassmeyer to the Giants for RHP Matt Wisler.
Wisler is notable for one thing — literally. All he throws is a slider (90%+), and against either handed hitter it’s not an easy pitch to pick up, particularly when he’s flirting with the lower portion of the zone.
Here he is striking out Luis Robert (2020):
Former Rays first baseman C.J. Cron (2021):
And familiar face Aaron Judge (2019):
That pitch plays in that location, but the question is whether it can play anywhere else.
Again, Wisler throws his slider an astonishing 90% of the time, and it’s a slow breaking ball too at 81 MPH. He can mix in a fastball, but if he doesn’t keep that elevated it seems likely to get walloped. Unlike other relievers on the Rays that need to bring pitches into the zone to truly do his damage, Wisler can likely thrive at the extremes.
As for locating in the zone, it is possible. Here is Wisler striking out a left handed hitter Nomar Mazara (2020):
I’m just getting into the tape, but I’d imagine Wisler has a lot more breathing room with location against the opposite hand, given how hard it is to see the ball coming out.
As for results, Wisler has pitched for the Braves, Reds, Padres, Mariners, Twins, and Giants with varying degrees of success.
His 2020 season with Minnesota was masterful, with a 1.07 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 32.7 K% over 25.1 innings. The difference maker for him was trading off longballs — 5.7% HR/FB in 2020, down from 18.2% in 2019 — for walks — 13.1% in 2020 vs 7.7% career.
This season the longballs are back to bite, with a 16.7% HR/FB through 21 appearances for the Giants, leading to a 6.05 ERA on a 3.63 FIP; however, there has been no trade off in strikeouts (31.7%) as the walks came back to his career norm (7.3%). That ERA breaks down to 13 earned runs in 21 appearances, but it’s worth noting six of those runs came across his first four appearances; as of April 12, Wisler has a 3.57 ERA over 17 appearances.
You might look at Wisler and think the Rays are acquiring another Roe, but the similarity does not extend far beyond being a slider-first situational reliever.
Where Roe is more of a ROOGY, Wisler’s game is buoyed by hiding the ball well (or as BA might say, “pitching out of your armpit”), so he’s not as at-risk for a platoon split. And where Roe’s breaking ball is more flat in it’s sweeping action, Wisler’s slider drives down, with spin rates that closer correlate to true gravity, despite its late break.
Then there’s the fastball. Where Chaz Roe is reliant upon a two-seam fastball, Matt Wisler has the patented 10” of vertical break Tampa Bay Rays fastball that can play up in the zone.
Matt Wisler vs Chaz Roe pic.twitter.com/A7auGHpHU9— Danny Russell (@d_russ) June 11, 2021
See, they’re different!
Overall, Wisler is less likely to become part of the A-bullpen than J.P. Feyereisen was when he was acquired, so I’d set expectations between JPF and Roe in terms of what he can bring in 2021.
The Rays will also receive some cash alongside Wisler, who has two years of control remaining, to pry away Michael Plassmeyer, a 2018 fourth rounder that the Rays acquired alongside Mike Zunino.
A pitcher heavily dependent on command, Plassmeyer has only walked 4.6% of batters thus far in his career but has yet to reach Durham, making him a surplus pitcher likely to get taken in the Rule 5 draft next year if he were still in the Rays system.
To make room on the 40-man roster, Tampa Bay has designated catcher Deivy Grullon for assignment (again).