Tampa Bay Rays: Grading Each Player's First Half
Starting Rotation: A-
Shane McClanahan: A+
Drew Rasmussen: A
Jeffrey Springs: A
Corey Kluber: B+
Ryan Yarborough: D
In a season largely marred by inconsistency and a shorthanded roster, the rotation has been even more dependable than advertised, but not in the way many people expected. Its pride and joy is Shane McClanahan, who would be the rightful Cy Young Award winner if the season ended today without question. He leads the entire sport in just about every category possible, with an exemplary 1.71 ERA, 2.11 RA/9, 0.80 WHIP, and 147 strikeouts in 110.2 innings. He has pitched at least 6 innings in 14 of his 18 starts this season, and he has walked more than 2 batters in a start just once. The 25-year-old has blossomed into a surefire ace, and he was deservedly picked to be the starting pitcher for the AL at the All-Star game.
With injuries to Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz, the Rays have had to transform many of their relievers into starters, and it's a project that has worked beautifully with Drew Rasmussen.
That transition started last year, and this year, he has been exclusively part of the rotation. He has averaged just under 5 innings per start, which is a pretty impressive swing for someone who was a mid-leverage reliever just over a year ago. He had a brilliant stretch in May, going at least 5 innings and allowing no more than 1 run for 4 consecutive starts.
He missed the second half of June with a hamstring strain, but has since returned to the rotation, and he has a 3.22 ERA and a 3.75 FIP in his 15 starts so far. One red flag is that his Statcast xERA sits at 4.22, nearly 60 points higher than last year's and a full run over his actual ERA, which indicates that he's giving up too much quality contact. Hopefully he can fight the regression that some of the numbers would argue is coming his way.
The team embarked on a similar change with Jeffrey Springs. He was just placed on the IL with right leg tightness but he was having quite a season before then. He transitioned to a starter's role over the course of May after beginning in the bullpen, and he has put up a 2.53 ERA in 19 appearances (11 of those were starts). He allowed just 7 earned runs in his first 8 starts of the season despite being less effective lately. The Rays hope to get Springs back right after the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, Corey Kluber has held up quite well for his age. He has provided some much-needed durability, leading the team in starts alongside McClanahan with 18. With an ERA of 3.73 and a FIP of 3.45, as well as a walk rate of 3.9% (97th percentile), he has been the epitome of "very slightly above average" this year. His glory days in Cleveland are long gone, but at age 36, it's impressive that his stuff is still as effective as it is, and he has been on the mound every 5 days when the Rays have needed him.
Unfortunately for Ryan Yarborough, he has been the one letdown in this rotation. He has bounced back and forth between AAA and MLB, and the recent injuries to Springs and Baz (the latter of whom was around for just a month before getting sent right back to the 60-day IL with an elbow sprain) have necessitated that he fill a roster spot on the big-league club for the foreseeable future. He made encouraging strides when the Rays started to get competitive in the late 2010s and peaked in 2020, but fell out of favor last season and he has slipped up even further since.
He simply does not have the swing-and-miss in his arsenal to get by (his 5.5 K/9 would be a career-low), and his ERA has ballooned to 5.49 in 39 innings this season. It's a tough and competitive business to stay in the big leagues as a pitcher, but if the pitching staff was healthy, he probably wouldn't be there.