With Scott Downs down and out on the disabled list, the best reliever in the American League East is…
Nope, not Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon. It’s J.P. Howell of the Rays. A pseudo-relief ace, Howell’s usage is dictated based on the situation. Since closer Troy Percival fell to injury, Howell has been the highest leveraged reliever on staff with an average pLI of 1.88. During that time, Howell has been involved in 15 games, with only three saves coming from it. Howell’s batting line against during the run is a measly .154/.267/.440.
Howell is striking out nearly 11 batters per nine despite possessing a fastball that tops out in the high-80s. An average fastball from him measures at 86 miles per hour. With velocity against Howell, he relies on a slurve and change-up combination to get most of his outs. Howell’s walks and homers allowed have also taken a step in the right direction, and even though it’s unlikely that Howell continues to allow such a low homerun/fly ball ratio, his xFIP is 2.90.
As the trade deadline encroaches, many pundits will place the Rays amongst the suitors for relievers like Huston Street and Jose Valverde. The fact is, they can’t really afford to pay top dollar for a closer. The financial issue may play into Howell’s usage. If Howell is being used in ways other than a traditional closer, his cost could be kept down when he reaches arbitration in the off-season. Using a relief ace makes baseball sense too, and that’s why the Rays are doing it, but the financial aspect is just another perk.
J.P. Howell is one of the best, if not the best, healthy reliever in the American League. He may not rack up the saves, but he deserves to be an all-star.
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