Middle relievers are essentially baseball’s forgotten players. They toil away in relative obscurity, occasionally vulturing a victory, but exist in a generally thankless job without any specific statistics that could get the casual fan to pay attention to their existence. In fact, much like an offensive line in football, they tend to only be noticed if they do anything to cost their team a game.
That is why, when the Rays acquired a raw, but potentially interesting, prospect in Raul Mondesi Jr. for Burke Badenhop, it was seen as quite the steal for Tampa. Middle relievers are generally thought to be interchangeable, and the idea that the Rays were able to get a player with the potential to turn into a solid power/speed outfielder with a plus arm was surprising. After all, the Rays could just find another middle reliever, right?
However, things have not quite gone according to plans. Pitchers such as Kyle Farnsworth, Jamey Wright, Cesar Ramos and Alex Torres have all filled that role, with varying degrees of success. However, the Rays have still yet to find that pitcher who could come in with runners on base and get groundballs for possible double plays. Wright was likely intended to be that player, but has a groundball to flyball ratio of just over 1:1, a year after posting a 2.15:1 rate.
Perhaps the nadir came on Wednesday when, desperate for a pitcher that could get a groundball, the Rays turned to Roberto Hernandez. Instead of that coveted double play, Hernandez went napalm, walking the first batter he faced on four pitches and giving up a grand slam while simultaneously turning ‘Hernandez’ into an antonym for ‘relief.’
That exact situation was what Badenhop was used for with the Rays last year. Not only did he generate groundballs, but the Rays turned nine double plays behind Badenhop in 62.1 innings. Perhaps that is what the Rays have been missing this year – the middle reliever that they sent to the Brewers for an intriguing prospect.
Burke Badenhop, like all middle relievers, was barely thought of by the casual fan. However, like everything else, one never knows what they had until it is gone. In the case of the Rays, they may now realize how valuable Badenhop really was.