The Rays avoided the sweep thanks to some timely hitting and solid pitching in the third game against Texas to bring their record to 4-5. It sounds small and maybe a bit whiny, but if the Rays had been given a chance to come back in game one and win they would be 5-4 coming off their second straight series victory. This is a microcosm of why early season small samples feel so important. It’s all we have. For those with heart watching the Rays lose is a frustrating endeavor while their wins have the power to completely change one’s outlook on humanity. As bad as they have looked at times they’re still a game under .500 and the best part is that everyone else in the division has shown serious flaws. This will be a dogfight all year long so don’t lose sight of our strengths while magnifying the weaknesses. To that end I’d like to point out that the Rays now have three shutouts already on the young year and David Price hasn’t thrown one of them. Keep it up!
On to the numbers from the series. We’ve started with the pitchers each preceding recap so let’s defy the laws of tradition and switch over to the batters:
Batting at the top of the lineup and being willing to work counts means that Zobrist, Jennings, and Longoria are generally going to be the guys seeing the most pitches. So, in a way, as they go so go the Rays. Zobrist saw more righties than lefties with the former going a little more fastball-heavy with the latter eschewing heaters for breakers. Surprisingly, Jennings got a ton of fastballs from lefties, a pitch he generally hits well, while righties fed him a steady diet of junkfood. Longo was given similar treatment seeing 56% breaking balls from righties and only 39% fastballs against lefties. You can get frustrated with his
low no-power start, but this is exactly why smart folks don’t believe in lineup protection. If pitchers want to give him junk then he should be seeing an uptick in his walk rate. They will start giving him more fastballs when a batter behind him isn’t a total stiff (Joyce) and then he can get more aggressive and drive fastballs, again. Right now it’s obvious that managers are taking Longo away from the Rays offense and will continue to do so until someone else steps up. Lastly, do you think lefties fear Shelley Duncan, or what? Only 30% fastballs with more breaking balls than change ups and righties were nearly 50/50 between bendy stuff and straight. Let’s look at the results:
Not good. Lotta red up there with Jennings and Longoria being the only above-average hitters over the entirety of the series. Zobrist finally had a bad one, but the true Goats were Yunel Escobar, Shelley Duncan, Matt Joyce, Ryan Roberts, James Loney, basically everyone else. Kelly Johnson wasn’t quite as bad as many of his teammates, but it stands out just how badly this offense performed over the series. Keep in mind that these numbers are not park adjusted, either, so it’s not a case of the Ballpark in Arlington being a mean old man. Not much else to discuss here so let’s move on to the pitchers:
I want to start with Roberto Hernandez. He was given the unenviable task of sponging innings because the Rays knew that Matt Moore was going to exploit their pen the next day. He pitched solidly enough, but was kept in a bit too long inflating his overall line. Those that watched the game were absolutely in love with his change. He threw it 40% of the time to lefties. The Rangers are pretty notorious for being fastball hitters so a decent to good change can make them look foolish and his did. He was also unafraid to throw it to righties, though he leaned much more on his sinker/slider combo. While this start, and the one preceding, were both relatively low-bar impressive the real exciting thing will be watching these pitches play up in the bullpen. At some point this year Chris Archer will be in the rotation and we’ll likely see Hernandez shuffled to the pen. Some might tell you that he’ll be a long man, low-leverage mop up guy, but if he can continue to throw three pitches like this then he would be better utilized in higher leverage situations where he can go sinker/change to lefties and sinker/slider/change to righties. Really exciting stuff, particularly when pen stalwarts like Kyle Farnsworth are slowly showing that they might not have the stuff to get out both lefties and righties.
That’s a lot on Hernandez, but I’m really excited with what I’ve seen and what he means to this team going forward. Let’s shift our focus over to Matt Moore. I love, love, love his pitch mix against righties. If he’s able to command the fastball then he should be throwing that a lot, not unlike David Price, but still seeing him mix in his other pitches is really exciting. Even if he doesn’t have the feel he needs to throw all three pitches to keep batters honest. You saw this on a cold, delayed day that batters couldn’t touch him. Much like golf or bowling, when Moore is on the mound he’s facing himself, moreso, than the other team.
Hellickson didn’t face a lineup stacked with lefties which is rare with double the amount of pitches to righties as lefties. Something disconcerting that I noticed during the game was the paucity of breaking balls thrown. Hellickson has a good curve ball that easily grades out as his second pitch, but for whatever reason he barely showed it. Now his change is really good and he was able to lean on that, particularly against righties, but just a really odd mix against both types of batters. Helly has to be wily and unpredictable to survive, but 82% fastballs to lefties and 32% fastballs to righties is pretty out there, man. On to the pen:
Brandon Gomes continued to receive copious amounts of work on his staycation with the Rays. In my mind he’s more of a right-handed specialist with how good the breaking balls is, but I’d have no problem running him out there in low-leverage against lefties, either. He’s never had a change, but developing one could really turn him into a dominating set up man. Jake McGee saw a lot of action, though I remember one at bat where there must have been 10 pitches fouled off inflating the overall numbers. Brooks has him throwing a breaking ball which was most likely more of a cutter than a true slider. I’m on the fence about the pitch because his laboratory is high-leverage innings that matter which puts a high price on experiments that fail. Jamey Wright pitched briefly, but I was impressed with what I saw. I’m going to cover him a bit more when I look at season to date numbers instead of just in the series by series looks.
Well that’s better. As poorly as the team collectively hit, they pitched that well. The only poor performances came from Hellickson, Ramos, and Peralta and even Helly was really good against righties. Moore pitched really well against the lefties he saw and was pretty fine against righties too, though the did ding his fastball a bit. The best pitcher per 100 pitches was Wright in a run away. His breaking ball to righties is really, really good and he didn’t appear to have a weakness, at least in this series. It was nice to see Rodney get back on his horse, though he did struggle with lefties for at least the second straight series and the aforementioned Gomes stands out as a real bright spot. The pitchers had about as much success as you could hope for. The Rays are playing in soggy New England tonight. Let’s go take this series from them on our way to running over the division.