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Pete Fairbanks injury and what it means for the Rays trade deadline plans

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MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have suffered a potential critical blow to their already immensely decimated contingent of pitchers on the roster as Pete Fairbanks departed from Wednesday’s game against the New York Yankees with what is being diagnosed as ‘right shoulder inflammation.’

Fairbanks has been among the Rays most dependable relievers this season, often being called upon in high leverage situations. He currently holds a 3.48 ERA / 3.16 FIP with a 27.6 K% over 31 innings pitched.

With the trade deadline poised to pass in just over 24 hours, the Rays have already been scouring the market in attempts to make additions to their depleted staff of arms and with the injury to Fairbanks, the Rays need to add depth to their bullpen only increases.

They have been linked to multiple pitchers over the past few days, with Craig Kimbrel of the Chicago Cubs seeming to be the most enticing option.

The Rays were the runner ups to signing Kimbrel, who landed with the Chicago Cubs during the Summer of 2019. Entering the season, Kimbrel’s time with the Cubs has been a disaster, but 2021 has seen a career resurgence for the veteran reliever as he has compiled a 0.49 ERA / 1.08 FIP with a 46.7 K% over 36 23 innings pitched.

Of course, there are myriad relief options available to the Rays with Mark Feinsand of MLB.com noting several options, including Kimbrel.

The Rays aren’t just searching for relievers as they have been connected to several starting pitchers, and even free agent to be, Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs. The Rays have been extremely active this trade deadline, having already acquired slugger Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins and then shipping southpaw Rich Hill to the New York Mets.

If Pete Fairbanks is set to miss a significant amount of time, the Rays may actually be wise to pursue a left handed reliever.

It hasn’t really shown up this year in his limited time, but last season Fairbanks showed a significant reverse split, and in 2019 he showed a huge reverse split. Over his full career, he’s given up a .329 wOBA to righties and a .291 wOBA to lefties. That’s significant enough to show up after regressing even despite the limited number of innings relievers throw (he has 155 PAs against lefties).

There are factors that support this idea in Fairbanks’s stuff, too. He has one of the highest, most over the top release points in baseball, and because of that his four-seam fastball and his slider are both very 12-6, with almost no run — something that’s generally considered to help against opposite handers.

Earlier this week, we debuted a tool for scouting stuff, which provides the following visual illustration for Pete Fairbanks:

This year in particular Fairbanks has shifted to getting extra cut on a hard fastball, more than any other pitcher in baseball, which gives him another tool against lefties, to jam them in on the hands. High cutter use is frequently associated with reverse splits.

After regression, in a neutral park, our expectations have Fairbanks projected to a .267 wOBA against right-handed batters and a .271 wOBA against left-handed batters, which is even better than our projections for Rays lefties like Jeffrey Springs (.285 wOBA vs LHB) and Ryan Sherriff (.311), but is also just a function of Fairbanks being very good. Castillo, the Rays best healthy reliever, has a similar .270 wOBA vLHB in our projections.

So let’s talk about lefties.

One of the names initially rumored to be going to New York in last night’s breaking news Joey Gallo deal was LHP John King (a name EIC Danny has been pounding the table for in the Slack since last winter). He’s a lefty with stuff that would slot well into the Yankees or Rays bullpens, particularly if you were looking for another — or, “the next” — Zack Britton.

King gets more sink at the same velo (Britton velo is significantly down so far this year). King slider and Britton curve are pretty similar pitches. King also has a significantly used cutter which on its own is not a good pitch but might good in context. If his current 3.31 FIP is to be believed, our projections have King at a .230 wOBA vLHB.

Side Note: It’s an open question as to whether Britton is actually good with his velo where it is right now. It definitely works when the sinker is mid-90s, does it give batters enough to think about in low-90s?

Maybe the more salient comparison for thinking about the Rays right now is Ryan Sherriff, and for good measure we’ll add in another rumored LHP Paul Fry:

Baltimore’s Paul Fry is a popular name ahead of the deadline, thanks in part to his impressive 2.15 FIP and 33% strikeout rate, largely owing to the quality of his slider. Among the names tabbed above by Feinsand, only Kimbrel has a better FIP (1.08), and only Kimbrel and Hudson have better strikeout rates (46.7% for Kimbrel, 37.8% for Hudson). In other words, Fry might be expensive.

Using the tool, it can be easy to visualize player comps and understand which names might not have the best ERA but may have the right stuff, or to help understand if a pitcher’s stuff is meaningfully better than what’s already in house. While King makes hisnhay with his hard sinker, Fry features a slider that has more two-plane movement than either King or Sherriff, and at 5 mph higher velocity.

King and Sherriff have similar sinkers, while Fry approaches that movement at a lower overall quality with something different: a change up.

This visual differences help flesh out what is to be gained in acquisitions, as well as what might not be necessary.

Now on the other hand — literally — if we’re talking Texas relievers with big stuff and lots of team control, and without focusing on present results, we can use the visualization tool to unearth a reliever like Josh Sborz, who just so happens to have a neat Rays comparison in recent acquisition and sudden A-bullpen role-player Drew Rasmussen:

(That X without the label showing for some reason is Rasmussen’s fastball, at 97.7 mph.)

We recently wrote up RHP Kyle Gibson as a reasonable Rays acquisition — assuming the team is willing to take on two-years of salary, as opposed to an expiring deal. If the Rays were to execute a trade with Texas, relievers like Ian Kennedy (2.51 ERA, 3.65 FIP) and Joely Rodriguez (5.93 ERA, 3.70 FIP) — who we wrote about in the tool illustration, and who is likely heading to the Yankees in the Gallo deal — stand out as popular names to be moved. Using the visualization tool, we might suggest King and Sborz as better fits for the Rays.

As for the other relievers listed in Feinsand’s tweet, we’d be remiss to not call out former attempted Rays acquisition Daniel Hudson (2.20 ERA, 2.45 FIP), who remains with the Nationals since their World Series run and has valuable post-season experience, and another Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera (2.91 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 30.3 K%), who may be easier to throw into a potential Kris Bryant deal than Kimbrel. Both have the general results the Rays miss by having Fairbanks sidelined, and it may be worth noting Tepera’s change up has had reverse split tendencies over the past two years.

Do you have a reliever you’d like to see the Rays acquire? Drop it below. Bonus points if you can use the tableau tool to identify your trade target!