Rays 9/14/14 Lineup:
Rays 9/14/14 Lineup:
After facing RA Dickey 10 times over the last three seasons, while averaging just 2.4 runs per game in each of those starts, one thing has become certain: if you’re lucky enough to take a lead against the knuckleballer, then you’d better try your damnedest to hold it. The Rays did both Saturday. They were able to take a lead against Dickey, yet they gave it up in one fateful — error filled — inning. Despite a game tying sixth inning solo shot to left off the bat of Evan Longoria (his 21st homer of the year), the typically dependable Brad Boxberger gave up three runs an inning later, giving Toronto a 6-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. We in the blogosphere have deemed this the stereotypical (and clichéd) Rays loss.
A couple of thoughts/peripherals:
The New What Next
The Blue Jays chose to go with Mark Buehrle instead of the previously scheduled Marcus Stroman this afternoon. I’d imagine that speaks volumes for how they see today’s game. Buehrle will be opposed by Chris Archer, who’s coming off an improved 6-1/3 inning outing against the Yankees. I hate to even bring it up, though someone has to: while the Rays have touched up Buehrle the last three times they’ve faced him, they fell to the Blue Jays in extra innings in each of those games. You can read about Archer in our series preview.
Rays 9/14/14 Starting Lineup
— Bob Sutton (@tnBobSutton) September 14, 2014
Since we’re nearing the end of the season, I have started to shift my focus toward the future. As bloggers and baseball writers begin to evaluate any major moves (trades, acquisitions, etc) that were made over the course of the season, one thing became obvious when discussing the Rays moving forward: Drew Smyly promises to play a major role in next season’s starting rotation. Smyly’s improvement as a starter became the talk of many a blogger and baseball writer alike, and because of it, I felt the need to repost an article (below) on that very subject. In short, if Smyly’s early returns speak to anything, it’s that he promises to be an exciting piece on the roster. If he’s done this well in only seven starts with Tampa Bay, just think about how well he’ll perform after a little more work with the Rays’ coaching staff.
Written by: Jeff Sullivan/Fangraphs
One of the tricky parts of this job can be finding information people might not know about. Statistical insight these days can be a challenge. One of the easier parts can be building off of somebody else’s idea, putting together a deeper dive on another person’s insight. So full credit to Ken Rosenthal, who wrote up a little section about Drew Smyly a day or so after talking about him on a TV game broadcast. Smyly’s been shut down by the Rays because of his innings total, but prior to that he looked like a much-improved pitcher in Tampa Bay, and here’s some stuff passed along by Rosenthal:
The Rays told Smyly to elevate his fastball more — sort of a counter-intuitive move for a pitcher — and they also emphasized that while he was successful getting to two strikes against right-handed hitters, he needed to find better ways to finish those hitters off.
The Rays and Rosenthal have provided the insight. I’m just here to show you some actual numbers. That’s a very informative paragraph, telling you something about Smyly and telling you something about the Rays. And as we look forward to 2015, might Smyly be a better part of the David Price return than he’s been given credit for?
This season, as a Tiger, Smyly struck out one out of every five batters he faced. This season, as a Ray, he struck out one out of every four. This season, as a Tiger, Smyly posted an adjusted FIP that was 4% worse than average. This season, as a Ray, he posted an adjusted FIP that was 15% better than average. Clearly, there are hints of improvement. Whenever we observe potential improvement, we wonder, what could be the cause? And this takes us back to the blockquoted paragraph.
The two points, it turns out, are linked. The Rays wanted Smyly to get better about putting righties away. The Rays also wanted Smyly to more frequently elevate his fastball. One way to put more righties away? Elevate the fastball. Smyly’s never had an issue with lefties. He’ll go as far as his success against righties can take him, and the Rays might’ve helped him achieve a new level.
So let’s talk real quick about that getting-to-two-strikes-against-righties thing. The Rays identified that as one of Smyly’s strengths. On average, about half of plate appearances between lefty pitchers and righty hitters end in two-strike counts. Smyly’s career at the time of the trade:
2013: 61% (reliever)
So, yeah, that was a good thing. But — starters and relievers combined — about 40% of two-strike counts between lefties and righties have turned into strikeouts. When the Rays traded for Smyly, he was at 29% on the year. Since the Rays traded for Smyly, he’s come in at 39%. That’s a big improvement, and this is where we get to talking about the fastball.
Smyly didn’t dramatically change his pitch mix. He just started using it differently, at the Rays’ suggestion. Smyly doesn’t blow anybody away with his velocity, and pitchers are always told to try to keep the ball down, especially if they don’t throw very hard. Low pitches, in theory, go for grounders. And the zone has gotten friendlier down low, too. But hitters are adjusting to this. Hitters are increasingly looking low. Hitters are increasingly selected for their abilities to hit low. Hitting low generally requires a swing path that makes it more difficult to hit high. So there could be a vulnerability around the top of the zone, where hitters aren’t prepared like they used to be. Probably 10 or 15 years ago, a guy like Smyly would try to stay away from elevation. But the Rays think he can succeed up there.
And so far, the Rays haven’t been wrong. Let’s first establish the pattern: This year, as a Tiger, Smyly threw 50% of his fastballs at least 2.5 feet off the ground. As a Ray, he threw 66% of his fastballs at least 2.5 feet off the ground. This year, as a Tiger, Smyly threw 25% of his fastballs at least 3 feet off the ground. As a Ray, he threw 45% of his fastballs at least 3 feet off the ground.
Smyly’s rate as a Tiger was basically exactly league average. His rate with the Rays is among the league leaders. The top of the list:
Suffice to say, that’s extreme. To put it a different way, Smyly’s average fastball with the Rays was more than five inches higher than his average fastball with the Tigers. His average two-strike fastball was more than seven inches higher than his average two-strike fastball with the Tigers. It took little time for Smyly to buy in, and the Rays, presumably, were pleased with his execution.
You can see how the high fastball connects with the desire to put more righties away. Via Baseball Savant, here are Smyly’s 2014 two-strike pitches to righties as a Tiger:
And here are his 2014 two-strike pitches to righties as a Ray:
The separation between the fastball and the breaking ball is evident. As a Tiger, Smyly threw 39% of his two-strike fastballs to righties up. As a Ray, he came in at 64%. It follows that, as a Tiger, 25% of Smyly’s strikeouts of righties came with his fastball. As a Ray, he came in at 41%. In four months with the Tigers this season, Smyly picked up 12 strikeouts on high fastballs. In barely more than one month with the Rays, Smyly picked up another 14.
This article is Smyly-specific, but the Rays’ advice might not be. You might’ve noticed Odorizzi’s name earlier. The average pitching staff throws about a quarter of fastballs at 3-plus feet. The Diamondbacks are lowest, at 19%. The Rays are highest, at 34%. Relatively speaking, the Rays love the high fastball While we can’t determine how much that contributes to the pitching staff’s success, this could well be something organizational. If the team immediately told Smyly to throw his fastball up more often, who else have they told that to? Who’s next, given how successful Smyly has been?
You knew you weren’t getting out of this without .gifs, so let’s watch a couple at bats from Smyly’s last start against the Orioles. First, a three-pitch sequence between Smyly and Adam Jones:
Not long ago, Smyly’s changeup might’ve been baseball’s least-effective pitch. Here it looked terrific, as the Rays took advantage of Jones’ willingness to swing early. And then Smyly went to work with his new approach:
Cool. How about Nick Hundley?
High fastball. Hundley can’t hold up.
Low breaking ball, perfectly executed. Starts up, drops down.
High fastball to try to get a swing. Smyly’s playing with eye levels.
High fastballs are tempting pitches. You can’t lay off them forever.
Drew Smyly arrived with the Rays as a mid-rotation starter with issues against righties. The Rays promptly gave Smyly some advice, and relative to his 2014 with the Tigers, Smyly subsequently doubled his K-BB% against righties while cutting his OPS allowed in half. The thing about pitching tweaks is they’re supposed to take time. We usually don’t believe in the idea of a pitcher improving almost overnight. Smyly might’ve improved, and meaningfully so, almost literally overnight. Of course we’ll have to monitor 2015, when we have a bigger sample and opponents more prepared for Smyly’s new approach. But for everyone who doubted the Rays’ end of the allegedly underwhelming trade-deadline blockbuster, perhaps they really did know something. We all saw the Rays traded for Smyly, but maybe we didn’t all see him as the pitcher the Rays did.
I previously alluded to the idea that the Rays had two reasons to go out Tuesday night, and play like they still have a chance in September:
If Tuesday night’s 4-3 win against the Yankees was indicative of anything, it would be the former. New York entered Yankee Stadium with a 1.5% chance of making the playoffs, knowing full well that they would have to go on a ridiculous run in order to make up ground in the Wildcard race. The Rays did their damnedest to make sure that didn’t happen.
James Loney put the Rays on the board two outs into the first inning. Kuroda threw a first pitch fastball on the inner third of the plate, which Loney crushed into the second deck in right field.
Loney struck again in the third inning after Ryan Hanigan, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria had all singled give the Rays a 2-0 lead. The Rays first baseman poked a sinker on the outside corner up the middle for an RBI single to put Tampa Bay up by three.
Kuroda’s night was done in the fourth after he gave up three more singles to Kevin Kiermaier, Hanigan and Zobrist. The trifecta produced the fourth run of the night — the one that proved to be the difference in the game.
While Chris Archer was perfect through the front three innings, Jacoby Ellsbury attempted to change the narrative by sending a homer to the short porch in right for the Yankees first hit and run of the game — a sad turn of events after Archer barely missed with a 2-2 backdoor slider.
Archer began to unravel in the fifth inning after he led off the inning by hitting Chase Headly with an errant fastball. Ichiro Suzuki responded by slapping a single through the left side of the infield, moving Headly to second and bringing Stephen Drew to the plate. Drew followed with a blooped fly ball into short center field, just in front of Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier — as he’s wont to do, — charged in at full speed and bobbled his pickup. Thankfully for the Rays, the Yankees third base coach played his call conservatively and held Headly at third — consequently loading the bases with no outs.
Chris Young, looking to give the Yankees a fighting chance, plated a pair of runs on another grounder through the infield, this time to left. Despite Matt Joyce’s horrible throw home (which allowed the two runs to score), he got a chance to earn his proverbial keep on the very next play. With Drew at second, Ellsbury sent a single to left. Joyce quickly fielded the play and let loose with a throw home to beat the runner at the plate. Hanigan initially set up on the inside of the baseline, though he changed his location in relation to the base path as soon as he saw Joyce’s throw bouncing home. It just so happened that he was set up to block the runner illegally, well ahead of the charging Drew who was called out at the plate. While Joe Girardi challenged the call, it was upheld.
With a runner still on second and only one out, The Captain sent a liner toward right field…and right into a double play to end the inning. A wise man once coined the phrase that would be applicable, ahem…Womp Womp.
Archer’s night was done one out into the seventh inning after Ichiro glanced a single off the righties foot. Maddon called upon Grant Balfour to get the final two outs of the inning — a tenuous task at best.
Though Archer wasn’t great, he was better than his previous two starts. I’ll gladly take three earned runs over six-plus any day of the week.
Grant Balfour, somewhat surprisingly, put together his fifth consecutive clean outing — though it wasn’t pretty. Ian Malinowski (of DRaysBay) best detailed what happened next,
He (Balfour) immediately missed badly with a fastball in the dirt, but Ryan Hanigan speared it. The next pitch was a curve, also in the dirt, and Ichiro easily stole second. Ichiro saw an opportunity to get to third with less than two outs, and he got a great jump off second. He would have made it easily, but Stephen Drew swung at a 2-0 curve down and away that he probably should have taken, flying it to short left field. Wil Myers bounced his throw badly, but it didn’t matter. Easy double play to end the inning.
Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee did what they do in the eighth and ninth innings to close out the game. To be fair, McGee did get a little help from Kiermaier:
The New What Next
The Rays will attempt to close the gap to four games within .500 Wednesday night with Jake Odorizzi on the mound. He’ll be opposed by Chris Capuano. Tampa Bay faced the 36 year-old Capuano (2-3, 4.46 ERA) twice out of the pen this season when he was with the Red Sox. He threw 2-1/3 clean innings of work, though Tampa Bay blasted him to the tune of six runs (five earned) in his previous 4-1/3 innings of work. Per Fangraphs, in Capuano’s four starts with the Yankees, his changeup has generated 63.3% ground balls, and his slider, 55.6%. The change piece has also coaxed 26.4% swinging strikes in that time. Those rates are significantly different from those of his prior stints, whether from earlier this season or in recent campaigns. He’s had over arching problems with the home run, and hard-hit balls in general, but he’s enjoyed some better outcomes since moving to the Bronx. You can read about the pitching matchup in our series preview.
Rays 9/10/14 Starting Lineup
First, Evan Longoria and James Loney went back-to-back with homers in the first inning — the first set of back-to-back homers since June 19 vs the Astros:
Then this happened, and it was was pretty cool:
But in the sixth — with Helly being Helly — this happened:
Though Kevin Kiermaier responded with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the sixth inning, extending the lead to two runs:
While the Rays tied the game at five, Joel Peralta allowed this to happen in the 11th inning giving the Orioles the go-ahead runs:
In other words, the game was par for the course for Joel Peralta and the Tampa bay Rays. And in light of the handling of the Rays by the Orioles, urm…Nelson Cruz, something popped in my head:
If you’re looking at the end of this season as a testing ground for the 2015 season — like I am — a picture of who is expendable emerges. I wouldn’t be surprised if a trade involving Matt Joyce and SeanRod comes to pass. Also expendable are Cesar Ramos, Jose Molina (no brainer), and Joel Peralta — which is sad since he’s played an integral role in the bullpen and the clubhouse for the last few years. When Matt Moore comes back, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Hellickson moved into the long reliever role.
Thoughts? Leave them below.
Maddon said he expects to talk to executive VP Andrew Friedman on tonight’s flight to New York about whether they will shut down LHP Drew Smyly for the season after a career-most 153 innings or give him one more start. They will decide by Tuesday, when Smyly would throw his bullpen session.