Jake McGee Feels It

By Robbie Knopf

There was talk at the beginning of 2011 that Jake McGee might be the Rays’ closer. Instead, he struggled mightily almost the entire year. He went 5-2 but with a 4.50 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and a horrific 1.6 HR/9 in 37 appearances and 28 IP, also appearing in 24 games at Triple-A. The question was obvious: why was a player with such a filthy arsenal getting hit so hard?

In April of 2011, Jake McGee struggled, posting a 5.14 ERA in 11 appearances before the Rays sent him down to the minors. In April of 2012, McGee was not all that dominant, posting a 3.38 ERA with 8 strikeouts but 3 walks in 5.1 innings pitches across 10 appearances. But this time, he didn’t get sent down. And his confidence began to soar. That confidence wasn’t just a mental thing- it led to an uptick in velocity as well.

You’re not hitting McGee when he has the fire in the eyes. (Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE)

In 2011, McGee averaged 95.57 MPH on his fastball and 84.47 MPH on his slider according to Brooks Baseball. In April of 2012, he was not too far from that, averaging 95.82 MPH on his fastball although he added a couple MPH on his slider, going up to 86.56 MPH. But after surviving April to pitch in May for the first time in his career, McGee was exhilarated. In May, his fastball velocity jumped to 96.61 MPH and his slider velocity spiked to 87.92 MPH. His fastball has averaged over 96 MPH and his slider has averaged 87 or more MPH every month since. The extra fastball velocity compared to 2011 doesn’t seem like the biggest difference, but McGee was hard enough to hit to between with. And it isn’t just the velocity- McGee’s fastball has shown late life at higher velocities. Between the velocity and movement increases, McGee has upped his whiff rate on his fastball from 10.4% in 2011 to 14.4% in 2012. For his slider, the extra velocity has made it exponentially more effective, costing him a little downward movement but allowing him to command it well after struggling with that all of 2011. It has gone from inconsistent to dominant as he has nearly tripled its swing-and-miss rate from 5.7% to to 15.0%. McGee’s stuff was electric even as he struggled in 2011. But as his confidence has continued to rise this season, he has gone from inconsistent  to unhittable.

When Jake McGee came in, he used to be nervous. Now he knows just how good he is. He’s going to attack hitters with his fastball and slider, and good luck to them trying to make contact. McGee isn’t putting in any more effort. He’s just relaxing and the best his left arm can deliver is coming out. And when McGee is pitching like this, hitters don’t have a chance.