The Tampa Bay Rays are blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to starting pitching. At times this year they used a six man rotation. They were one of three American League clubs that had four starters pitch at least 180 innings. Their runs allowed per game of 3.79 was tops in the American League. They also led the league in quality start percentage and complete games.
All of these stats don’t even really account for rookie Matt Moore, called up in late September. All he did was go out and win in the Bronx to stop the Rays three game losing streak at the time and pick up the Rays only win in the divisional series with the Texas Rangers. It’s also hard to factor in the impact that a full season from rookie Alex Cobb might have had. Cobb had his season cut short by injury in July, after he had started the year with a 3.42 ERA and was 3-2.
James Shields was the leader of the Rays staff as he has been for several years now. He finished with 16 wins and 11 complete games. His 2.82 ERA was third in the AL and at times he looked completely dominant on the mound. Not far behind Shields in statistical effectiveness was rookie Jeremy Hellickson, who emerged as a budding superstar as the season progressed. Hellickson was second on the team in wins with 13 and his ERA of 2.95 was eighth best in the AL, just behind CJ Wilson, and just ahead of CC Sabathia. David Price had an ERA under 3.5, but had a losing record at 12-13. It was a disappointing season after going 19-6 last year and finishing second in the Cy Young award voting. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann both had double digit win totals, Davis for the second straight year and Niemann for the third straight season. They were nice compliments to the one, two, three punch of Shields, Price and Hellickson.
Depending on how Cobb returns from injury and whether Moore starts the year in the majors, the Rays could have seven very good options for their starting rotation. Maximizing that talent and getting the most out of those options would be the job of the Rays front office and manager Joe Maddon. In a game of “what if,” I would like to propose moving David Price into the role of the Tampa Bay Rays closer.
Price is coming off a subpar year, where he gave up highs in runs and homers. His ERA in the fifth and eighth innings was over five and in the seventh was over four. He had outings where he just could not locate his off speed pitches and at times looked like he didn’t have anything other than a fastball. That fastball was electric most of the year though, as he was fifth in the AL in strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Think of David Price coming for one inning of work, how he could just cut it loose and blow away hitters, without having to worry about pitching multiple innings and facing batters more than once. You don’t have to have that creative of an imagination, just a memory of 2008 when Price was used out of the bullpen in the Rays World Series run that season. He came in out of the bullpen five times, picking up a win and a save. He also did not allow a run in four of those five appearances.
I think using Price as a closer solves multiple problems for the Rays. It fills their need of a reliable closer, with apologies to Kyle Farnsworth. I would not want to meet him in an alley but I also wouldn’t want him closing games for my major league franchise either. As a reliever, Price would be able to affect twice as many games as if he were starting. The Rays don’t need starting help; they need relieving help. It would also open up a spot in the rotation for one of the Rays young talents. Would the Rays move a guy that nearly won the Cy Young as a starter, just two seasons ago, to the bullpen? Probably not, but from where I sit, it is definitely worth considering.