Rays Off-Season Pitching Report

On Monday I gave you all my hitting grade for this off-season and as promised, here’s my pitching assessment for this off-season.  This should provide you with plenty of ammunition for our next Q&A piece.

Pitching:

The Rays have been pulverized in the bullpen this off-season.  They lost Randy Choate, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Rafael Soriano, and Dan Wheeler.  Let’s break this down a bit…

Randy Choate: 3-1 with a 3.04 ERA in the 2nd half of 2010, plus he held lefties to a .202 AVE, which although great, was 61 points higher than what lefties hit off him in 2009.

Grant Balfour: In three full seasons (2008-2010) with TB, Balfour solidified himself as an imposing figure on the mound (not just because he talks to himself), made evident by his 12.4, 9.2, and 9.1 K/9 over that span.

Joaquin Benoit: Turns out all Benoit needed was some time off.  After missing the 2009 campaign while recovering from Rotator Cuff surgery, Benoit went out and had himself a career year in 2010.  His 1.34 ERA and 0.68 WHIP were best among all Rays relievers.  Plus his 6.82 K/BB was astonishing, considering Roy Halladay led the National League with a 7.3 K/BB.  At 33 years of age, when offered a three-year $16.5M contract to go play up in Motown, Benoit didn’t hesitate.

Rafael Soriano: Turns out Soriano was without question the biggest winner this off-season.  After posting a mind-numbing 1.73 ERA along with a 0.80 WHIP, Soriano took his talents to the New York Yankees.  He is now the most expensive set-up man in all of baseball.  $10M in 2011, $11M in 2012, and a whopping $14M in 2013, seems to me the Yankees got a little trigger-happy after Cliff Lee slapped them in the face.  Soriano was without question a shut-down guy for the Rays in 2010 and helped lead the Rays to the AL East title with his league-leading 45 Saves.

Now we look at the loss of Matt Garza in the starting rotation and ask ourselves, “What the heck are the Rays gonna do”?

Before you start to try and answer this question, I need you all to take a deep breath…and relax!  Matt Garza won 15 games last season, threw the first ever no-hitter in Rays franchise history, and of course who can forget the lights-out performance in the 2008 ALCS?!  He’s good.  Fine.  However imposing he may look one day though, he sure has a way of masking his dominance.  In three seasons with the Rays (2008-2010), Garza has never posted an ERA below 3.70, and that was in 2008.  He is definitely a work-horse, displaying an increase in innings pitched over the last three seasons (185, 203, 205), but despite the number of innings, he’s only cracked 150 strikeouts once.

Garza will be missed in the rotation but fans should soon realize that this money-saving trade, guaranteeing Jeremy Hellickson a  spot in the starting rotation, may have been the best move the Rays made all off-season.  How can I say that, you ask?  Well sure Jeremy Hellickson has star-potential written all over him, but many are failing to see who the Rays received in return for Garza.

Chris Archer was the Chicago Cubs’ No.1 rated pitching prospect and the organizations Minor League Player of the Year in 2010.  Posting an absurd 15-3 mark with a 2.34 ERA while at A-Daytona and AA-Tennessee.  The Rays can play it slow with Archer and see how things work out in the minors before deciding on where he may best serve the Rays, long-term.  This season he was #47 on The MLB Networks Top 50 Prospects but don’t be surprised to see him in the Top 25 next season.

It’s hard to say that the Rays will be a more formidable pitching staff in 2010 given the loss of a 15 game winner.  However, my thoughts are that even with Garza gone, the Rays will have a lower ERA amongst their starters.  The combination of James Shields, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis posted a 4.58 ERA last season.  Niemann (4.39) and Davis (4.07) should be able to maintain those numbers.  Shields on the other hand, should be able to lower his ERA to the 4.0 area.  He posted a career worst 5.18 ERA in 2010.  Input Jeremy Hellickson into this rotation, the Rays may have the best starting rotation in the American League.  Now add in the three first round and four compensation round selections the Rays have in this years 2011 MLB Player Draft.  The Rays will select seven times in the first 57 picks.  We could be in for a very eventful season in Tampa Bay folks!

Remembering the scoring system, and that if the Rays were the same now as they were before this off-season, they would receive a “C” grade (providing equal room to improve or regress).

Off-Season Grade:

D+

The loss of arms in the bullpen knocked my grade down to the D/D- range but the opening for Hellickson along with the additions to the farm system and the influx of 2011 draft picks helped raise the grade back up.

Questions, Comments, Concerns?  Just send us your thoughts and who knows, we may end up answering you during our next Q&A.

Tags: Dan Wheeler Grant Balfour James Shields Jeff Niemann Jeremy Hellickson Joaquin Benoit Matt Garza Rafael Soriano Randy Choate Wade Davis

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