Looking Back, Moving Forward: Jake McGee

By Steve Givarz

At one point in time, Jake McGee was a fireballing lefty starting pitching prospect with a fastball even more explosive than that of David Price. But then McGee underwent Tommy John Surgery and his secondary pitches never developed as planned, and McGee was pushed into the bullpen as a result. After how good a starting pitching  prospect he had been, that was a disappointment, but Rays fans quickly embraced his new role in his first full season in the big leagues in 2012. With his already dynamic fastball playing up even more, McGee 012 showed everyone just how could be as he appeared in 69 games with a 1.95 ERA and a 11.9 K/9 as an unhittable setup man in front of Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta. 2013, though, saw McGee’s future even as reliever get pulled into the question.

Yes, McGee’s fastball is an outstanding pitch. However, too much love for the pitch eventually came back to haunt him. After using his fastball 83.30% of the time in 2011 according to Brooks Baseball and 87.68% in 2012, McGee upped his fastball usage to an insane 93.59% of the time in 2013. While his fastball brings some serious heat with it (96.1 MPH according to FanGraphs, the second hardest by a left handed reliever behind Aroldis Chapman), it is also extremely predictable as major league hitters can time up the velocity if they know it’s coming, especially when McGee misses his spots. This was prominently on display in the last game of the season for the Rays. Jake McGee entered the game in the 7th inning against Boston with the game tied 1-1 and proceeded to throw 21 pitches, all fastballs. It didn’t work. He allowed a walk and a bullet single and was charged with the loss as Joel Peralta could not escape the mess McGee created. We were all watching the game and knew that if McGee had any sort of secondary pitch, Boston hitters would not have stood a chance. Instead, he ended the season throwing 87 straight fastballs from 9/29 to 10/8, and when he wasn’t perfect with his location, he got hit hard.

McGee is still pre-arbitration and will most likely be back in the bullpen in some role. McGee has shown no platoon splits (righties are actually worse off him batting .199/.270/.320 compared to .225/.276/.356 against LHB) and if it all could come together, he could be the closer for Tampa Bay in 2014. We all thought after 2012 that he would have the first crack closing duties when Fernando Rodney left town. But that will not be happening until McGee finally learns a secondary pitch that he can use consistently. From David Price’s cutter to Alex Cobb‘s curveball, the Rays have shown the ability to teach their pitchers new offerings and revitalize their careers in the process. With an arm like he has, Jake McGee will be given ample opportunity that he can be next in line.