The past several years, the Rays have become renowned throughout baseball for their pitching depth. Most of the time, though, that haven’t needed to use much of it. Their starting pitchers and relievers seem to almost always stay healthy and effective, leaving the Rays with one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and also leaving some major league-quality players stuck at Triple-A. This season, however, has been an exception. From 2008 to 2012, the Rays averaged 19.6 pitchers used per season, including a low of 17 in 2010 and 18 last season. So far in 2013, they have already used 17. In that same timespan, they averaged just 7.8 starters used per year, including 8 each the last two seasons, and never using more than 9. They have already used 8 this season. Suddenly the Rays are using pitchers at a rate unseen since the Devil Rays years. Is this a serious concern and something that could come back to bite the Rays by the team the season ends?
There’s a pretty simple reason why the Rays have used so many pitchers: injuries. Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer have been used as spot starters in place of David Price, Josh Lueke has replaced Brandon Gomes, and Alex Colome filled in for Alex Cobb when he missed a start. The Rays have gotten less lucky on the injury front than they have in recent years, and that has caused them to use more pitchers. Using more pitchers than usual isn’t the issue but a symptom of the injuries the Rays have been facing. In the Devil Rays years, pitchers were getting pounded left and right and had to be sent down in favor of someone from Triple-A who the D-Rays hoped might be better. That’s not what has transpired here. The Rays’ starters have not done as well as usual, but no one has been replaced except for because of an injury (Odorizzi was only sent down after Cobb had to skip a start). The Rays’ bullpen has been very up-and-down, but it has been much better of late and it’s really only using more pitchers because of a string of some shorter starts that has necessitated fresh arms to be called up. This isn’t the ideal, but using more pitchers certainly isn’t an issue as long as the pitchers who they use do well. That hasn’t been the case all the time–Odorizzi and Archer have struggled–but once the Rays find the pitchers that can help them win the most games, the entire situation should smooth itself out.
People always ask why the Rays keep so many extra starting pitchers at Triple-A or in the bullpen when they could be traded to improve the offense. This season has been the perfect demonstration in favor of the Rays’ philosophy. They have enough starting depth to withstand Price going down and Cobb missing a start, and not only that, they have been able to keep fresh arms in their bullpen because they have multiple spot-start options in the minors who they can go to whenever necessary. If there is one thing wrong, it’s that none of the players that has come up has pitched so well as to force the Rays to keep them in the major leagues for the rest of the season (although maybe Alex Torres is in the process of doing that). There’s nothing like when Alex Cobb came up to replace Jeff Niemann in 2011 and pitched so well that the Rays had a six-man rotation for a time after Niemann returned. At the time, though, the Rays’ utilization of so many pitchers by their standards is just as much a statement to the strength of their pitching depth as it is to the frustration they have faced all year. There is no problem with the Rays calling up so many pitchers, and it’s actually incredible how the Rays have so many pitchers they trust to resort to at any given time.