The Rays’ Pen

The Rays very well may be in possession of the best bullpen in the American League, as their collective 3.45 FIP ranks third overall and first in the AL, just ahead of the White Sox’ staff. Despite being in mid-July, the Rays have only made one roster move for their pitching staff all season, an early season demotion of Mike Ekstrom and promotion of Joaquin Benoit. Otherwise, the entire unit that opened the season is still intact. But maybe not for too much longer.

Joaquin Benoit has a 1.60 FIP and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10. A minor league signing in the winter, Benoit has exceeded any reasonable projections. Jonah Keri has called him the “embodiment of the Extra 2%,” which just so happens to be the name of his forthcoming book on the Rays. Benoit barely edges Grant Balfour (2.32) and Rafael Soriano (2.88)). LOOGY Randy Choate and ROOGY Dan Wheeler have been similarly good. In fact, only one pitcher in the Rays’ pen has an xFIP over 4.4, that being Lance Cormier, who has seemingly lost his once impeccable control.

So why might this group not be around for much longer? Because each and every one of them can reach the free agency market at season’s end with the exception of Andy Sonnanstine. Soriano and Benoit signed one year deals; Balfour and Choate will qualify for free agency of the non-released variety for the first time in their respective careers; Cormier very well could be a non-tender candidate at this rate; and the Rays hold a club option on Wheeler worth $4 million with a buyout worth $1 million.

With the Rays shedding something like $40 million in payroll, ostensibly a few will return. Benoit could return to the team willing to give him a chance and potentially close, setting himself up for a bigger payday in the near future. Choate has an ERA over 6 despite pitching well for the most part. Wheeler has become something of a mainstay in the Rays’ pen and is the son-in-law of Rays’ announcer Dewayne Staats. And so on. Soriano seems like the least likely to return, but who knows if the Rays can somehow win the World Series.

In their place the Rays could simply keep everything in-house during a down year. With rotation spots hard to come by the Rays have plenty of arms to throw into the relief corps. Something like this, perhaps:

LR: Sonnanstine
MR: Heath Rollins
MR: Aneury Rodriguez
MR: Dale Thayer
SU: Alex Torres
SU: Jake McGee
CP: J.P. Howell

There’s also Ricky Orta and Matt Bush lying around who could find their way onto the scene. That may not be a surefire recipe for success, but in a year in which there will be a ton of roster turnover, the bullpen seems to be no exception.



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guest
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

you must really be into baseball if your thinking this much about the Rays bullpen situation – a year from now

sternfan1
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sternfan1
6 years 1 month ago

RJ is the preeminent baseball writer in America

budman3
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budman3
6 years 1 month ago

What they need is another lefty for this year’s stretch run with the way Maddon loves to mix and match. Wil Ohman may be the best and easiest to obtain considering the Rays financial limitations and deadline history.

Nick
Member
Nick
6 years 1 month ago

I didn’t think I’d ever hear Matt Bush’s name ever again

realitypolice
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realitypolice
6 years 1 month ago

Clearly, you don’t follow the San Diego criminal court system very much! :)

MikeS
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MikeS
6 years 1 month ago

Bullpens have become so important and so difficult to evaluate and build. A bad bullpen loses games late which drives fans nuts and a good bullpen shortens the game. On average, a bullpen probably throws about 3 innings a game . So not counting demotions/promotions, etc 5 starters throw 1000 innings and 7 thow the other 500 in a season. That’s only about 70 innings/reliever. Almost every reliever is a failed starter – either in the majors or earlier. very few are drafted as relievers. So you have 7 spots to fill each year, you are filling them with players who have failed to do what they set out to do (start) and have much less track record so any good or bad performance is more likely to be due to small sample size then when compared to a starter. Furthermore, these same difficulties filling these spots leads to relievers being overpaid compared to their contribution and the contributions of other players. Is it any wonder that a bullpen can go from bad to good or vice versa so quickly?

pft
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pft
6 years 1 month ago

OT, but on the subject of relievers I just noticed that the Red Sox bullpen has given up more HR than any team in baseball (40, twice as many as the Rays). The ability to keep the ball in the park, and avoid walks, has to be the 2 most important attributes for a reliever, especially on a team with good defense like the Rays.

The average team has about 300 innings being thrown by pitchers who would not be pitching in the majors 25 years ago. This may be a key reason for offensive inflation over the last 15 years.

longorious
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longorious
6 years 1 month ago

Informative article RJ – valid points. One of the areas of concern for me is the bullpen depth considering the potential FA’s at the ML level next year. I know Friedman has a plan we’ll just have to see creative he’ll be.

James
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James
6 years 1 month ago

Wow that is a lot of guys leaving one bullpen.

davelrogers
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davelrogers
6 years 1 month ago

Benoit should be a priority over Wheeler.

Fingers crossed that JP can make it back.

I can’t imagine how sick the bullpen would be this year with Howell in place.

Nathaniel Stoltz
Guest
Nathaniel Stoltz
6 years 1 month ago

Winston Abreu and R.J. Swindle can help out in 2011. Both have nothing to prove in AAA.

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