Mid-Season Progress Report: Pitchers

Now that we have hit the official mid-way point of the baseball season, it is time to look at the progress report for each member of the Rays roster. Some players are exceeding expectations while others are need to get it into gear in the second half in order to receive a passing grade on the season. Click below to view the DockoftheRays.com mid-season progress report for the Rays pitching staff.

Starting Staff

James Shields – A+. You might recall from an earlier blogpost just how little run support Shields has received this year. While Shields only has a .500 record, his other stats are right in line with his solid work from last year. In the past, Shields has been Dr. Jekyll at home and Mr. Hyde on the road but he has made a lot of progress on that this year as both his home and road ERA are under 4.00. If you were to flip the run support that Shields and Jeff Niemann have received this year, Shields could have been starting the all-star game last night. My only concern is that Shields’s K/9 is down for the third straight season but when his walk rate is still below 2.0, there is little room for complaints. Oh yeah, and he has also walked just six batters in his last 54 innings.

Matt Garza – B+. On the plus side, Garza has seen a huge jump in his strikeout rate this year going from 6.2 last year to 8.0 this year. On the down side, Garza’s walk rate has jumped from 2.9 to 3.5 and his home run rate has spiked from 0.9 to 1.2 this season. In a post last week, I noted how the long ball has really hurt Garza of late and it has been particularly noticeable on the road where he has surrendered eight homers in only 47 innings of work. He is 2-4 with a 4.34 ERA on the road compared to 4-3 with a 3.34 ERA at home. Garza needs to get his homers under control in the second half in order to be the pitcher everyone saw on the national stage last season.

Scott Kazmir – F. Although he has shown some signs of life since returning from the disabled list, Kazmir’s first half was a nearly complete failure. His K/9 was down from 9.8 to 7.2, and his walk rate and home run rate are both up on the season. Only 33% of his starts this season have been something to write home about but his other eight have not been pretty. In fact, in half of his starts, he has given up at least six earned runs. Simply put, Kazmir has to get better if the Rays are going to leave him in the rotation. Two of his last three starts have been some of his best work this year, but he must come out strong in the second half.

Jeff Niemann – C+. A C+ grade might seem harsh for the pitcher that leads the entire staff in wins, but wins has never been the best way to evaluate a pitcher. My post a few days back revealed why Niemann has been on a roll of late and how unlikely it will be for him to sustain that success in the second half. It is very rare to see a 3.73 ERA when someone’s strikeout to walk ratio is 1.4. Niemann has been living the high life with a big gap between his FIP and ERA and then getting quite a bit of run support in games this year. As mentioned earlier, if we were to trade Niemann and Shields’s run support, Shields would have been an all-star and Niemann would likely be in the bullpen since he cannot be sent back to AAA without passing through waivers.

David Price – C-. There have been times this season where Price has looked every bit as dominant as he was in his relief role in the playoffs last year. There have also been times where David Price has looked like an A ball pitcher making his first major league start as he has piled up pitch counts as high as 40 in the first inning. Price has been hampered by command of his pitches the walks have hurt, especially when they have been accompanied by one of the seven homers he has given up in 44 innings this year. First pitch strikes and continued development of a third pitch will decide his fate in the second half but his last start before the break where he dominated the Jays certainly gives Rays fans hope.

Andy Sonnanstine – F. The fact he has six wins on the season despite his awful stats tells you what type of run support he received this year. Then again, if he would just intentionally walk Ben Francisco each at bat this year, his ERA could be a full run lower. His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, and his home run rate is way up this year. One of Sonnanstine’s biggest problems this year was his reverse split as right-handers hit him as if he were a little league pitcher. He was sent to AAA to regain his form from last year and is currently on the disabled list with mono in Durham. The next person who brings up Edwin Jackson’s name will be taken off my Christmas card list.

Relief Pitchers

Chad Bradford – INC. He has only been back for a few innings but the early returns are u-g-l-y as he has given up 11 hits in only 3.1 IP.

Randy Choate – A. Choate has filled in admirably since being called up to replace Brian Shouse. Take away the solo shot by Adam Kennedy the other night and Choate has been death on lefties in the midst of a very effective run by the Rays bullpen in the month of June. With Shouse on a rehab assignment now, it is unclear what Choate’s role will be with this team by the end of this month.

Lance Cormier – A. Cormier had to pitch a lot of innings in the first half as the official long reliever on the staff since Price, Kazmir, and Niemann have had many early exits to date. Cormier has done solid work in that role keeping games from getting completely out of hand and has a 2.81 ERA and a 3.27 FIP to date this season. The long relief role is a thankless job because that is typically the worst talented pitcher on the staff as they are not good enough to start nor good enough to pitch as a setup man or a closer. Cormier is on pace to set a career high in workload in 2009 so his stamina bears watching once the Rays hit September.

J.P. Howell – A+. The man should have been on the all-star team but lacked the save totals because he lacked the opportunities for most of the season. To date, he has a higher Wins Above Replacement (WAR) score than Mariano Rivera, Brian Fuentes, Francisco Rodgriguez, and Francisco Cordero. If you remove the saves totals and compare the skills of those relievers, Howell wins nearly every category. When you read anything about the Rays trading for a closer, you can ignore it. They have one of the best ones in the American League on the roster now if they put him in that role full time.

Joe Nelson – C. Nelson has been very inconsistent for the Rays. He had a decent April, a brutal May, and a solid June. He still leaves the ball up too much as he has permitted seven homers in only 34 innings and his 20 walks in that time frame are too high as well. He has become a weapon against left-handed pitching with his vulcan changeup but his roster spot would seem to be in the most danger outside of Choate’s because of his inconsistency.

Dan Wheeler – A-. Wheeler has quietly put up another strong season out of the pen. He will likely never be a closer because he is too much of a flyball pitcher which makes him prone to the long ball but Joe Maddon has finally found a usage pattern for Wheeler and that is as a right-handed specialist. He has not done well against left-handed batters this year as they have hit .388 against him while slugging .610. However, he has been very good against righties with his slider as they are only hitting .193 with a .282 slugging percentage. If the Rays fall out of the playoff race in the next few weeks, Wheeler is almost certainly going to be traded to a contender.

Grant Balfour – C. After Balfour’s amazing 2008 campaign, some regression was to be expected but Balfour had a very rough first two months of the season. His strikeout rate has taken quite a plunge from 12.7 to 9.1 this year. His biggest problem is his own doing – walks. He walked 15 in his first 23 innings this season but has only walked 16 in his last 18.2 innings. He is still hard to take deep as he has only allowed two homers in 41.2 innings pitched this year. If he can retain the improvement on the walks, he will have a stronger second half but the awful April and May are tough to ignore.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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