The season is two months away, Spring Training is around the corner, and the Rays are kicking 2023 off with big decisions. The Rays had seven arbitration-eligible players, and they just solved one in a big way. Jeffrey Springs was signed for a new contract that will last until 2026; meaning he will earn 31M$ in the next 4 years. The Rays just locked in one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball, and they did it the Rays way: affordably, and just at the right time. Let’s get a deeper look at what this means for the rotation and the team in general.
Details of Springs deal with #Rays, per source:— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) January 25, 2023
2027: $15M option or $750K buyout
What does it mean for the starting rotation?
The Rays’ starting rotation is entering one of its best moments since 2020, when they had their three-headed monster in Morton, Snell, and Glasnow. Now in 2023, the Rays have a combination of talent, future, and depth.
First of all, there are five starters that can give length. Glasnow, coming off of Tommy John surgery, will probably see his innings managed. But the other pitchers all have enough quality that they won’t need quick hooks. While none of the starters in this rotation have previously thrown 200 innings in a season, they’ve been building up over the past several years, and it doesn’t seem impossible for one or more of them to approach the 200 IP mark in 2023.
Springs, Glasnow, McClannahan, Rasmussen, and Eflin all are above-average pitchers who can give you quality innings. Fangraphs Depth Charts has them all projected for an ERA below 3.80, with the league average projection at 4.18. However, perhaps the most interesting part of this rotation is the diversity. They all beat the average in a different way.
Shane is a southpaw who will pound the strike zone as hard as he can. Glasnow can overpower any batter in this league from the right side. Eflin’s command is out of this world. Rasmussen’s pitch development and shape is unique. Finally, Springs’ control of the breaking and off-speed pitch is something special. Every pitcher brings something different to the table.
Stats from 2021-2022— Ben Whitelaw (@dogpancake73) January 27, 2023
This is easily the deepest rotation in the game pic.twitter.com/ixA92GD36k
Interestingly, this starting rotation is locked in for the next few years. Look when all of these guys hit free agency.
Rays 2023 starting rotation:— Gary (@gary_rays) January 25, 2023
-Tyler Glasnow: 2 years, 30.4 mil; FA 2025
-Shane McClanahan: FA 2027
-Drew Rasmussen: FA 2027
-Jeffrey Springs: 4 years, 31.4 mil (15 mil team option); FA 2028
-Zach Eflin: 3 years, 40 mil; FA 2026
Outstanding job this off-season by the Rays.
That sets a clear window of contention for this current form of the Rays.
Now, let’s look more closely at the Springs deal.
This new contract bought out the last two years of Springs’s arbitration, and then added two additional years on after that, plus a $15 million team option.
Not including the option, Springs will earn on average around 8 million dollars a year, with his salary reaching just over $10 after the arbitration years are complete. Here are some of the pitchers earning similar amounts in 2023: Drew Smyly ($8 M); Jordan Lyles ($8.5 M); Alex Cobb ($10 M); Yusei Kikuchi ($10 M); Matt Boyd ($10 M); Kyle Freeland ($10.5 M); Steven Matz ($10.5 M); Carlos Carrasco ($14 M).
It’s a surprising turn for a reliever coming off knee surgery just a year previous, but at this point I would rather my team have Springs than any of these pitchers.
Why Springs got the extension
Last year Springs started the season in the bullpen, and after a couple of solid outings, the Rays decided to attempt a transition to the starting rotation. Springs gathered solid numbers all across the board. He pitched 135.1 innings with a 2.46 ERA, a 3.04 FIP, and a wonderful 1.07 WHIP. There is is not a single Springs stat that is significantly below league average. He has a superb strikeout-to-walk ratio; he struck out 26.2% and walked just 5.9% of the batters. As we can see the command was on point all season long, and at the same time, he ranked 95th percent in chase rate. He also was more than consistent in expected results: he posted a 3.27 xERA, and 3.29 xFIP.
His two main pitches, the fastball and the changeup, both have special qualities. The fastball has some unique movement for its speed; while it has strong rise in the absolute, compared to similar velocity fastballs, it really excels at moving away from righties, and in with lefties. Springs normally throws the fastball up and away, and with that late movement the batter cannot get on top of it. In the next couple of graphs, it will be shown where Springs throws his fastball, and where it moves in comparison to all MLB pitchers.
The next pitch that was an absolute weapon is the changeup, this off-speed pitch kept hitters chasing all over the place. What makes this changeup great is that Springs make a fantastic job of tunneling the pitch. The fastball and change look the same, but suddenly one of them drops a couple of inches and it comes way slower. The changeup had a -12 run value, and a 38.1 WHIFF%.
The combination of the fastball and the changeup is greater than 75% of Spring’s pitchers, and when 75% of your pitches are quality ones you will probably have some success.
The Rays’ goal with this signing is to solidify the pitching staff; they might be done with the mixing and matching. They have the depth and the farm system to cover if they have some injuries; however, the goal is to create a staff that will last for years. Springs was one of the better and more consistent pitchers in MLB in 2022. The question is can he repeat what he did in 2022, and keep it going for 2023?