On Saturday, Grant Balfour finally looked like the player the Rays signed in the offseason. Scratch that–as remarked by Joe Maddon, Balfour looked more like the 2008 version of himself. After a legitimate single and a roller that caused a miscommunication got Jeff Beliveau and the Rays into trouble, in came Grant Balfour to escape the inning and toss the next one as well. Overall, he went 1.2 shutout innings allowing just a hit while striking out 1. It was a great outing by Balfour, and while it did not come at the end of the game, he did an excellent job getting the ball to Brad Boxberger in the eighth inning and Jake McGee in the ninth to give the Rays an excellent chance to win. More important than the results in that one game, though, were the abilities that Balfour showed the give him a chance to get back to being an impact reliever for the Rays.
At this point, the money that the Rays are giving Grant Balfour this season is a sunk cost. He is making $6 million this season and next, clearly an overpay, but then again, Boxberger is making the minimum and McGee is making just $1.45 million. The Rays can deal with the financial ramifications of Balfour–the money isn’t all that prohibitive. But that is only the case if Balfour can resume being a serviceable major reliever. The more important concerns have been the two things stopping him from doing that.
This offseason, a big deal was made this offseason of the Baltimore Orioles rejecting Balfour’s physical, allowing the Rays to sign him. Whether the Orioles were right or not to cancel the signing, clearly Balfour’s stuff is not what it was. His fastball velocity is down to 92.75 MPH according to Brooks Baseball after never being below 93.5 MPH in any previous season. The thing about Balfour loss in velocity, though, is that the slip is not so extreme and that it should come with some amount of additional command. Balfour has been faltering not really because of his loss of velocity, but because of pitch-tipping, a problem he discussed with Marc Topkin last Saturday. On the one week anniversary of that conversation, Balfour took the mound without overpowering stuff, but with the command and movement to get Boston Red Sox hitters out. If that problem really is fixed, there is no reason that Balfour can’t resume being effective.
Grant Balfour may never close another game for the Tampa Bay Rays, but that isn’t the worst thing in the world. While the Rays aren’t a team that pays $6 million for their middle relievers, the money is gone and all the Rays are looking for is a usable relief pitcher. Balfour can still be that and then some. The money will be a specter over everyone’s heads and the velocity loss means that Balfour isn’t the same pitcher, but the pitch-tipping issue is gone, and with it should depart Balfour’s struggles. The Rays are expecting plenty more outings like Saturday’s and Balfour has the ability to deliver them.