Jake McGee allowed a run in the ninth and the Tampa Bay Rays lost. Incredibly, yesterday’s game was the first time that the Rays played a game where that was true. The Rays would have loved to win the game. They would have been a game over .500 and tied with the New York Yankees for third place in the AL East. However, the feeling after last night’s game among Rays fans had to be as much surprise as disappointment. Jake McGee has been dominant this season, but for one game, it simply did not work out.
Back in 2011, hard-throwing rookie lefty Jake McGee was believed to have a chance to be the Rays’ closer before long. It took a while, but now he has finally gotten there. On the 2014 season, he is now 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA, striking out 74 while walking only 12 in 56 innings pitched. After entering the season with just 1 career save, McGee has added 13 more to his total. Considering that the Rays signed Grant Balfour this offseason and that McGee was coming off a 4.02 ERA in 2013, this year seemed unlikely to go down as his breakthrough season. As the year has progressed, though, the contrast between Balfour and McGee and between 2013 McGee and 2014 McGee has become increasingly staggering.
Jake McGee seems more comfortable on the mound, and Rays fans have gotten more comfortable seeing him there. Even when McGee was blowing hitters away, we always heard about his fatal flaw- his extreme dependence on his fastball. Truth be told, McGee has actually thrown more fastballs than ever this season, bringing the heat on over 96 percent of his pitches. He certainly hasn’t turned into a “pitcher” on us, as opposed to a “thrower.” Even so, he is using his fastball in a smarter way than ever before.
Although McGee has cut his walk rate from 3.2 per 9 innings in 2013 to 1.9 this season, he has actually thrown a lower proportion of his pitches in the strike zone. McGee is doing a much better job commanding his fastball to every possible place. He uses fastballs up to set up fastballs down and vice versa like the Rays’ starters do with their fastballs up and changeups down. He is still rearing back and trying to blow hitters away, but now he is adding some finesse to the equation as well. Add in the occasional curveball to put the slightest hint of doubt in hitters’ minds, and McGee’s fastball becomes even more dangerous. This new Jake McGee is a more advanced pitcher than ever before, and combining that with his excellent stuff is a recipe for sustained success.
Don’t expect Jake McGee to let too many more games get away from him this season. He has taken the next step as a pitcher and hitters were having a difficult enough time with him beforehand. Few pitchers can match McGee’s velocity, and even less can command their fastballs like he does. One pitch and the rare second offering is all you need when your fastball is as good as Jake McGee’s.