The Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Their Projections: Relievers


Part of the fun of the pre-season is projecting just how good or bad each individual team and player could be. This is the sixth and final part of a series in which I will break down the projections for every Tampa Bay Rays player and why each one will play better than their projections or play worse. You can check our projections for middle infielders here, outfielders here, corner infielders here, catchers here, and starting pitchers here. For this series, I am using three of the most popular projection systems: Oliver, Steamer, and ZiPS. Each one features differences on how they calculate a player’s regression, which leads to variation in projected stats. Without further ado, here are the 2014 projections for the Rays’ relief corp.

*Note, this is the bullpen if the season started today, but the Rays might make another move and one or more of these names might not end up making the bullpen.

Grant Balfour2.59 ERA, 10.34 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, 3.49 FIP in 62.2 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.12 ERA, 8.96 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 3.58 FIP in 65 IP
Oliver- 3.17 ERA, 9.09 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 3.74 FIP in 62 IP
ZiPS- 2.98 ERA, 10.05 K/9, 3.46 BB/9, 3.33 FIP in 57 IP

Why he will beat the projections

The last four years, Balfour has been one of the best relievers in baseball. He has put up a 2.47 ERA in those four years, and has never surpassed the 2.60 mark in a season. Yet, all of these projections expected he will significantly regress despite moving to play with one of baseball’s best defenses. How does that make any sense?

Why he won’t beat the projections

Balfour has avoided aging so far, but at 36 years old it is going to be hard for him to hold it off too much longer. Balfour isn’t young anymore, so his age could finally start catching up with him, but the good news is that even if he doesn’t beat the projections he will still lock down the 9th inning for the Rays.

Joel Peralta– 3.41 ERA, 9.34 K/9, 4.29 BB/9, 3.68 FIP in 71.1 IP

Steamer- 3.33 ERA, 8.77 K.9, 3.07 BB/9, 4.01 FIP in 55 IP
Oliver- 3.40 ERA, 9.12 K/9, 3.54 BB/9, 3.82 FIP in 66 IP
ZiPS- 3.19 ERA, 10.32 K/9, 3.49 BB/9, 3.45 FIP in 59 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Peralta is normally touted for his above-average command, but last season his BB/9 slipped to an unsightly 4.29. In his career however, he has walked just 2.62 batters every nine innings, so Peralta will probably see some improvement in this area in 2014. If he does so, his overall production could be much better than last season’s.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Peralta was a lucky pitcher last season, something that his .227 BABIP attests to. On top of that, his last two season’s ERAs (3.63 and 3.41 respectively) are both higher than that of any projections, so it is hard to see how he would do much better as he continues to climb up in age. He will be a solid component of the bullpen, but regression could occur thanks to last season’s luck and his rising age.

Jake McGee– 4.02 ERA, 10.77 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, 3.41 FIP in 62.2 IP in 2013

Steamer- 2.54 ERA, 10.43 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 2.90 FIP
Oliver- 3.09 ERA, 10.03 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 3.19 FIP
ZiPS- 3.10 ERA, 11.07 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 3.11 FIP

Why he will beat the projections

McGee had a tough 2013 season, largely in part due to a poor first couple of months. However, his peripheral stats were still solid, and he should be much better going forward. Him beating these projections depends on where he can be with his command. In 2012 he posted a 1.79 BB/9 but in 2013 it fell to 3.16. But this spring training, he added a curveball that will take the load off his fastball, and his revamped arsenal could lead him to dominance.

Why he won’t beat the projections

It would take one of the best relievers in the game to beat these projections, something that McGee can certainly be. But his command slipped from 2012-2013, and there is a chance that the 2013 season was the true McGee, not the 2012 one. If his command stays around the same level he might not be able to beat the projections, but he should be a good reliever regardless.

Heath Bell– 4.11 ERA, 9.87 K/9, 2.19 BB/9, 4.10 FIP

Steamer- 3.38 ERA, 7.79 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 3.69 FIP in 55 IP
Oliver- 3.96 ERA, 8.21 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 3.99 FIP in 64 IP
ZiPS- 3.81 ERA, 8.54 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, 3.76 FIP in 59 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Bell’s .337 BABIP and 18.5% HR/FB both show that he was an unlucky pitcher in 2013. Also, Bell managed a 9.87 K/9 and a 2.19 BB/9, both indications he was a much better pitcher than his 4.11 ERA showed. Combine those peripheral stats with moving to a team with one of the best defenses in baseball, and Bell could remind us of his days as the San Diego Padres’ dominant closer.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Bell has struggled the past two years, posting a 5.09 ERA and 4.11 ERA respectively. His BABIP indicates he was unlucky both years, but maybe he is just getting hit harder because of diminished stuff. At 36 years old he might continue to lose his stuff rather than gain it back, and this would likely mean that he would not beat the projections.

Cesar Ramos– 4.14 ERA, 7.08 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 3.70 FIP in 67.1 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.63 ERA, 7.04 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 3.89 FIP in 40 IP
Oliver- 3.77 ERA, 6.62 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 4.20 FIP in  69 IP
ZiPS- 4.41 ERA, 6.89 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, 4.44 FIP in 65 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Ramos has had a great spring training, as he has put up a 3.07 ERA while striking out 12 batters and walking just 1 in his 14.2 spring innings. He has been sharp all spring with his command, and his stuff has looked better than ever. The Rays are great at getting pitchers to turn a corner in their careers, and Ramos could become their next success story by continuing to build off of his spring improvements.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Ramos was an average pitcher last season, and that was with him only pitching in extremely low-leverage situations. But now, he is not on the bottom of the totem pole in the bullpen anymore, and he will be required to pitch in higher-leverage situations going forward. Joe Maddon hasn’t trusted him in the past, so if he starts to let Ramos off the leash, there is a chance Ramos can’t handle the increased pressure.

Josh Lueke– 5.06 ERA, 10.55 K/9, 5.06 BB/9, 4.36 FIP in 21.1 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.36 ERA, 8.55 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 3.73 FIP in 35 IP
Oliver- 3.83 ERA, 8.27 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, 3.43 FIP in 73 IP
ZiPS- 4.00 ERA, 7.63 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 3.81 FIP in 72 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Lueke has tantalized with his potential so far in his minor league career, but he has not found a way to translate this to the big leagues. Last season in Triple-A, he posted a Rodney-esque 0.63 ERA to go along with a 12.72 K/9 and 2.35 BB/9. If he can finally get his stuff to play even to a fraction of its potential in the big leagues, then Lueke could quickly become one of the Rays’ best relievers.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Lueke is 29 years old and is running out of time to show he can be a big league reliever. Yes he has the stuff, but at this point, there is a real chance that this stuff is never going to play in the big leagues. If that is the case, he will not beat the projections and might not have a bullpen job for too long.

Brandon Gomes–  6.52 ERA, 13.50 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 3.82 FIP in 19.1 IP in 2013

Steamer- 3.12 ERA, 8.62 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 3.80 FIP in 30 IP
Oliver- 3.98 ERA, 9.00 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 4.20 FIP in 52 IP
ZiPS- 4.13 ERA, 9.12 K/9, 3.44 BB/9, 4.08 FIP in 19.1 IP

Why he will beat the projections

Gomes has also been great this spring, giving up no runs with 14 strikeouts and 3 walks in his 11 innings pitched. The reason for his success is a cutter that he added to his arsenal. The pitch has developed nicely, and gives him a much needed pitch to get lefties out (lefties have a .936 OPS against him in his career). With the upgraded stuff, Gomes is in the best form of his career, and he could very well use that to come out of nowhere as a player in 2014.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Each projection thinks that his command will be much improved over his career mark, but there is no guarantee it will be. Generally with an added pitch, it takes a pitcher more than just a few spring training appearances to learn how to command it. The added cutter could prevent his command from being any better than his career 4.26 BB/9. If he walks batters around the same rate in 2014, his breakthrough may not happen.

Overall, this is just one more area of the roster that the Rays have done a great job putting together. It is exciting to see such a strong group of pitchers, and that doesn’t even take into account any players they are going to acquire to even further upgrade the bullpen. Juan Carlos Oviedo won’t start the season on the roster, but he should contribute sooner rather than later to add yet another upgrade. This great relief corps is just one more reason to commend Andrew Friedman and the Rays’ front office.