The Tampa Bay Rays have too many starting pitchers. Don’t we say that every year? Most of the time, however, they are content with it. Last year, they had Chris Archer looking big league-ready and Jake Odorizzi not far behind, but they signed Roberto Hernandez nevertheless. And that was even after they traded James Shields! They also traded Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Wade Davis, and Jason Hammel, but every year they have one or two pitchers who are arguably ready for the major leagues stuck at Triple-A for most of the year. Odorizzi came up in 2013, Archer did the same in 2012, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore rose to prominence in 2011, and there was Jeremy Hellickson in 2010 as well. Why have the Rays kept to that philosophy even when there have been times when they could have used a surplus arm to improve their sputtering offense? The answer: there has never been anything wrong with having depth. In fact, depth is much more of an asset than it appears to be.
Dayn Perry of CBS Sports points out that the Rays needed 31 starts from pitchers who were not among their top five starters, third-most among playoff teams. Price, Cobb, and Moore all spent time on the DL, plus Chris Archer could not be called up to replace Price because of an ankle injury and Alex Colome missed the second half of the year with an elbow issue. That does not even count for Jeremy Hellickson’s issues that culminated with his demotion to the minor leagues to clear his head. Every team faces a similar situation and have to find alternate options to start games. For the Rays, however, that situation suited them just fine. The pitchers beyond the Rays’ top five starters combined for a 2.91 ERA in their 31 starts, and that made all the difference. The Rays were the only playoff team to have their non-top five starting pitchers manage an ERA below 3.50, with the other teams averaging just a 4.47 ERA. Right there we see just how big of an advantage the Rays’ starting depth gives them. Instead of having marginal players come up as replacements, the Rays are able to put out more quality starters out there without making a trade. It is inevitable that injuries will happen to some pitchers and others will see their performance slip. But when those events take place, the Rays are more prepared than anybody else.
The Tampa Bay Rays’ 6th, 7th, and 8th starters are just another way that they find a way to contend season after season. The Rays’ sheer number of starting pitchers may seem crazy at first glance, but do not underestimate just how important all of them are to the Rays’ success.