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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Monday
Jun102013

Matt Moore is Getting Hit. Hard. What Gives?

The Tampa Bay Rays are the team that every other team wants to be.

OK, maybe not this year judging by their spot in the standings (which shouldn't matter anyway because who knows what kind of tricks wacky Joe Maddon has up his sleeve. What? No one calls him that? So noted), but no other team in recent memory has had so much success while spending so little money. Maybe the Angels, Blue Jays and Dodgers should have been paying closer attention. 

High draft picks for a decade yielded a stockpile of top-shelf talent, all of which seemed to flood the big league team at the same time: Evan Longoria, David Price, the list goes on. 

Their latest and greatest minor league graduate wasn't a first round pick. But, judging by his "stuff," Matt Moore looks more like an overall first choice, then an eighth-round selection.

Matt Moore

After laying the groundwork for his legend with a stellar ALDS performance in 2011 against the Rangers, Moore put together a fine season in 2012. Nothing spectacular, but good for a rookie. Too many walks, a strikeout per inning, an ERA under 4.00, a good start.

Moore then came barreling through the gates in 2013, firing on all cylinders and rendering any hitter that stepped into the batter's box helpless. He posted a 5-0 record in April with a 1.13 ERA and a 10.7 K/9. He went 3-0 in May, but his ERA was nearly three times what his April marking had been. His K/9 also fell to 5.7 for that month. He was winning, but pitcher wins are silly, and his peripherals suggested that hitters were adjusting.

Or were they?

Matt Moore is a three-pitch pitcher (which is kind of necessary if you are going to be a successful major league starter). He relies mostly on his wicked fastball and wipeout slider. He has a change-up, but has always used that sparingly compared to the other two. And in the first two months of this season, Moore stayed with that approach. In June, well, not so much.

He used his change-up 14.4% of the time in April.

In May, he used it 15.6% of the time.

In June (over the super-duper small sample size of seven innings), he has used his change-up 25.3% of the time. He's still throwing his fastball more than 60% of the time, but his slider is the pitch that is getting shelfed in favor of his change-up. And hitters are teeing off on it. 

And by "teeing off," I mean "torching."

Hitters are posting a  .462 batting average against the pitch this month (which he has thrown 47 times already) and slugging a robust .615 against it. Probably because, well, he's throwing it too much. To illustrate how much the pitch is getting smacked around.

Here's a heat map of his changeup.

Yup. That's a lot of red.

Normally, Matt Moore's change-up is a decent out pitch. His slider is still his bread and butter though. Hitters hold a career OPS of .478 against that pitch. But a .674 OPS against on his change-up, is nothing to be ashamed of. It's just not a pitch that is meant to be thrown over and over and over and over...yeah, you get the point. 

So, Matt, Pedro Martinez you are not. If we hope to see your crazy, two-feet-of-movement fastball hang around in the big leagues for a long time to come, keep the change-up in your back pocket. For your sake, and for ours.

Sunday
May192013

The Fernando Rodney Difference

It is uncommon for the Tampa Bay Rays to have a reliever to lead the team in saves for successive seasons.

Rays Saves leaders since 2000

Player SV Year
Fernando Rodney 48 2012
Kyle Farnsworth 25 2011
Rafael Soriano 45 2010
J.P. Howell 17 2009
Troy Percival 28 2008
Alberto Reyes 26 2007
Tyler Walker 10 2006
Danys Baez 41 2005
Danys Baez 30 2004
Lance Carter 26 2003
Esteban Yan 19 2002
Esteban Yan 22 2001
Roberto Hernandez 32 2000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/19/2013.

Usually, the Rays anoint a new closer each season but this year Tampa went right back to Fernando Rodney who was successful for them last year converting 48 of 50 save opportunities.

But this season, he has already been denied shooting his imaginary arrow into the save-osphere, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities.

The ugliest blown save of the season may have occurred this past Thursday night when he entered the game with a 3-1 lead over the Boston Red Sox in the top of the 9th and issued a career-high three consecutive walks before Will Middlebrooks lined a bases-clearing double that blew the save and resulted in a 4-3 Rays loss.

The 2012 All-Star closer was missing the strike zone by a lot and over-throwing his fastball in the hopes of closing out this game.

2012 vs 2013

Rodney is a very different pitcher this season. Not only had Rodney led American League in saves in 2012 and he had a 0.78 ERA and a 0.777 WHIP. This season, he has a 5.28 ERA and a 1.761 WHIP.

  • In 2012, he pitched 74.2 innings, allowed nine runs, walked 15, and he gave up two homers. In 2013, he has pitched 15.1 innings, allowed nine runs, walked 15, and he has given up two homers.

Rodney pitched for the Dominican Republic in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and you have to wonder if it took its toll in terms of velocity and control.

Rodney is a fastball/change-up pitcher

2012

In 2012, Rodney averaged 96 mph on his fastball, with a high of 100.4, and a low of 91.4. Batters hit .248 against it with two homers, 19 whiffs, and nine walks.

In 2012, Rodney averaged 82.5 mph on his change, a 13.5 mph differential, with a high of 88.7, and a low of 78.2

Batters hit .070 against it with no homers, 55 whiffs, and five walks.

2013

In 2013, Rodney has averaged 95.9 mph on his fastball, basically the same as last season, but you can see his location is nowhere as effective as last season, drifting lower in the zone.

He has hit a high of 100.1, and a low of 90.5. Batters are hitting .365 against it with one homer, six whiffs, and six walks.

In 2013, Rodney has averaged 84.2 mph on his change, an 11.7 mph differential, with a high of 84.2, and a low of 78.7

Batters have hit .094 against it with one homer, 17 whiffs, and eight walks.

As you can see, the reduced speed differential and less precise placement of the change is making both his change and fastball less effective.

Let's quantify that further

  • In 2012, batters swung at 50.1% of Rodney's change-ups; in 2013, it's 46.4%. 
  • In 2012, 70.4% of Rodney's change-ups were strikes or in play; in 2013, it's 60.6%. 
  • In 2012, batters swung at 50.1% of Rodney's change-ups; in 2013, it's 46.4%. 
  • In 2012, batters chased 42.5% of Rodney's change-ups; in 2013, it's 35.1%. 
  • In 2012, 40.6% of Rodney's change-ups were called strikes; in 2013, it's 28.4%.

You get the feeling that Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey, the brilliant pitching coach for the Rays, won't let this continue much further. Invariably, the Rays don't have room for error and can't afford a shaky closer. If Rodney is unable to sharpen his control and spread the speed differential between his two pitches, don't be surprised if the Rays seek an alternative closer. 

Friday
May172013

Peter Gammons: Tampa Bay Rays Draft Analysis

This analysis is a provided by Peter Gammons. For more analysis from Peter Gammons you can follow him on Twitter (@pgammo).

It was sometime after Thanksgiving, 2005 that Rays owner Stu Sternberg made official what everyone expected, that Andrew Friedman was taking over the baseball operations of a franchise that had never won as many as 71 games. Friedman was a former Tulane outfielder and had the esteemed Gerry Hunsicker as an advisor, but throughout the game there was the perception that the team once known as the Devil Rays was being turned into a satellite division of MidMark Capital, Friedman’s former employer.

Within three seasons, Friedman sideswiped tradition and hired Joe Maddon as manager and in 2008 the Rays made it to the World Series. In a division with the Yankees and Red Sox and their payrolls, that 2008 pennant began a five year run in which Tampa Bay won 90 games four times, made the post-season thrice and did it with by far the smallest annual payroll in the American League East. No team in the game won more games spending fewer dollars over those five years than the Rays.

What they’ve accomplished has been built around pitching, and Maddon’s astute usage of starting pitching, an organizational throwing and conditioning program that averaged nearly 150 starts a year out of their top five starters, and Maddon’s creativity in patching together bullpens.

In lieu of going out and trading for or signing power hitters, and faced with the reality that they could not afford to keep players like Carl Crawford and B,J. Upton from entering the free agent market, Friedman and Maddon put a premium on flexibility. For example, in 2009, Ben Zobrist, a switch-hitter, hit 27 homers, had a .405 on base percentage and was fourth in the league with a .948 OPS while playing 91 games at second, 59 in right field, 13 at short, 9 in left, 7 in center, three at first base and one at third. “Who could possibly be more valuable than Zobrist?” asked Maddon.

From Sam Fuld to Matt Joyce to Jeff Keppinger, they have patched together lineups from day to day, city to  city, building around the pitching. Maddon maintains that James Shields was a big part of the run from 70 wins to the world series because of the leadership he offered David Price, Wade Davis and, eventually in ensuing years, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb.

In 2013 opposing batters are hitting .341 when facing David Price from the right side of the plate at Tropicana Field (30 for 88 at the Trop). There is no questioning Tampa’s ability to find pitching. Granted, Price was a no-brainer in 2007; he was everyone’s number one, a reward for the Rays having the worst record in baseball in 2006. But Hellickson was a fourth rounder in 2005, when Friedman was overseeing baseball operations. Cobb was a fourth rounder in 2006. Moore was an eighth rounder in 2007.

Their professional scouts work to exhaustion, and got them Chris Archer in the Matt Garza deal, Alex Torres in the Scott Kazmir trade, Brandon Gomes in a deal with San Diego for Jason Bartlett and Jake Odirizzi with outfielder Wil Myers in the Kansas City deal for Shields and Davis. Their international scouts found Alex Colome in Latin America.

And in mid-May this season, one scout says the Rays’ AAA rotation in Durham of Archer, Odirizzi, Colome and Torres “may be the best triple-A rotation I’ve seen in five years.”

But there is a flaw in the Tampa system—finding and drafting position players. Sure, they drafted Evan Longoria in 2006, but he was the third pick in the nation, and fell in their laps because the Royals and Rockies picked Luke Hochevar and Greg Reynolds in front of them. They also got Desmond Jennings in the 10th round in 2006. But when one looks at Tampa’s current 40 man roster, and the only positional player they drafted other than Longoria and Jennings is shortstop Tim Beckham, who represents one of the worst draft blunders of the last decade.

The Rays had the first selection in 2008 and took Beckham, a high school shortstop for Georgia. In so doing, they passed on Buster Posey, who not only filled their longtime catching need, but was playing right up the road at Florida State. Some in the organization are said to have been concerned about Posey’s asking price, although they paid Beckham $6.15M. Others wondered whether or not Posey, who was drafted a pitcher out of high school and played shortstop one season at Florida State, would hold up catching and hitting with a build very similar to Brad Ausmus.

Posey went on to win two World Series rings and an MVP trophy four years after that draft, and the Rays continue to look for a catcher. To make it worse, in their final year picking at the top of the draft, not one player picked from the second round on down has spent a day in the big leagues. No position player from the 2009 or 2010 drafts has spent a day in the big leagues, and the side-affect of their major league success is that even if they are one of the lowest-revenue teams, they could go several years after the Beckham choice without a pick in the top ten of the first round.

With the Rays facing a decision on Price’s future in Tampa at the end of the season, presuming the arm problem he felt on May 15 is not serious, the strain on the development of young players will become evern more acute. Even if Myers hits it big, they need catching, middle infield and outfield help, presuming Moore takes Price’s role as the ace of the staff.

What Friedman, Maddon and the Rays have done is to maintain one of the best management jobs of the last decade. They did it without developing a position player since Jennings, but beginning with this June’s draft, they will have to begin to draft and develop position players if their run with the game’s elite is going to continue.