The Rays had one of the best bullpen’s in baseball last year, posting the lowest ERA (2.88) and highest K/9 (9.33) in the American League. Joe Maddon’s group wasn’t called on much thanks to the amount of innings the rotation was able to bear. With the loss of workhorse James Shields the ‘pen will likely be tasked with more work in 2013. Luckily for the Rays nearly all of the key components return this season.
The Rays have had a different reliever lead the team in saves each of the past eight seasons. That streak likely comes to an end this season as Rodney has a stranglehold on the position after his amazing 2012. You’ve all read the story by now — Rodney had one of the greatest relief seasons in history. His 0.60 ERA was the lowest all time with a minimum 50 innings pitched and his 48 saves were second most in baseball. How did he achieve such success after not posting an ERA below 4.00 since 2006 and a BB/9 below 4.00 since 2007? There are surely more factors, but a shift on the mound and a decrease in his leg kick helped noticeably. R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus noticed Rodney now stands to the far left of the rubber and Tommy Rancel pointed out he had all but eliminated his leg left, going to more of a stride motion.
It’s impossible to say just how much those two changes helped his command, but they sure seemed to have had an effect. There’s little chance Rodney has the same type of season he did last year, but if he can maintain his low walk rate (1.81 BB/9) he should remain an effective closer.
You’d have been hard pressed to find a better set up duo last year than Joel Peralta and Jake McGee. They each had a K/9 above 11.00 and a BB/9 under 2.50. Peralta was used as the primary setup man to Rodney and will continue that role in 2013. He uses a splitter to neutralize left handed hitters, actually having a noticeable split (2.59 FIP vs LHH, 3.76 vs RHH). The lefty McGee also has a platoon split, holding right handed hitters to a 0.97 average against last season. He used his explosive fastball and sweeping slider to post the best strikeout to walk ratio among American League relievers (6.64).
Kyle Farnsworth, who lead the Rays in saves in 2011, spent most of last season on the disabled list, but came back to finish the year strong. Unless Rodney falters he won’t see the ninth inning, but he’s a huge weapon for Joe Maddon to deploy in any number of situations.
Ramos assumes the role vacated by J.P. Howell — the lefty who can go multiple innings. The 29-year-old former starter was excellent in his 30 innings last season (17 appearances), posting a 2.10 ERA and 3.23 FIP. However, he’s more of a traditional LOOGY, with a career FIP of 3.00 vs LHH and 4.74 vs RHH. Wright, now 38, will be used for little more than inducing ground balls, but that’s something he does very, very well. Last season his GB% of 67.3 was the second to only Brad Ziegler. It’s a useful skill in real life, but doesn’t do much good for the fantasy owner.
The last spot in the bullpen is a mystery for now, but could possibly be reserved for whoever loses the competition for the fifth starter between Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez. The Rays employed a similar strategy last season when Wade Davis moved to the bullpen after losing the last rotation spot to Niemann. Neither pitcher has much experience in relief and the Rays may opt to trade the odd man out. The Rockies have reportedly been interested in Niemann, who makes more money than Hernandez this season, and that’s always on the mind of the budget conscious Rays.
It’s unlikely Archer is called upon for relief work this season, at least until rosters expand in September, but I wanted to include him here regardless. He’s going to be starting games at Triple-A Durham while he works on developing an effective third pitch. He has the stuff to be a dominant reliever right now, but the Rays are grooming him to start. If anyone should falter at the Major League level someone from the combination of Torres, Lueke, and Gomes will be called upon. Torres, 25, has had success in the minors but control issues remain a concern. Last year in 69 innings at Durham the lefty’s BB/9 was 8.22 which is…well, it’s bad.
After being traded for John Jaso last offseason Lueke was a disappointment, posting a 5.59 ERA at Durham though his 3.01 FIP was considerably better. He’s ticketed for Durham once again and will likely be buried there for another season as the Rays bullpen is all but set. Gomes has pitched a total of 55 games for the Rays over the past two seasons. He dominated at Durham (3.09 ERA, 5.21 K/BB) but struggled in his 17 game stint with the big league club. He’s likely to be the first pitcher called upon if the Major League team is in need.
Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.