There has been an abundance of change for the Tampa Bay Rays since the commencement of the MLB off-season. Most notably, the departure of distinguished executive Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, as well as trades including several of the longest-tenured and most popular players on the team, including Matt Joyce, Joel Peralta, Jeremy Hellickson, and Wil Myers.
Amid the roster and management modifications, one thing has remained constant about this club: their rotation remains a significant strength. Since the enormous David Price trade from this past July, perception surrounding this pitching staff has been inexplicably pessimistic. That’s something that I find extremely difficult to comprehend.
This rotation is expected to be comprised of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi – with a battle for that fifth and final spot (a temporary vacancy while Matt Moore is rehabbing) in Spring Training. No matter who the fifth starter ends up being, this rotation is still extremely talented and difficult to contend with, even though they’re flying under-the-radar.
Maybe that’s how the Rays like it. But I’m out to prove what you should already know: this rotation is the best in the AL East and still has the potential to be one of the most dominant in baseball, even without David Price.
The most common misconception about this rotation is that it lacks an ace — a true number one starter — now that Price is gone. That’s an awfully ignorant notion. Alex Cobb is quietly becoming one of the best pitchers in the game today, and is clearly deserving of that overused “ace” moniker, as Peter Gammons so eloquently pointed out a few weeks ago.
If Tanaka isn’t fully healthy, the only legit no. 1,starter in the AL East is Alex Cobb
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 11, 2014
Cobb has a terrific arsenal of pitches and some outstanding, sustainable numbers to boot. Although he’s been hampered a bit due to injuries, Cobb has really come into his own over the past two seasons. His 2.82 ERA in that span is good for seventh best in baseball (min. 300 innings pitched). I’m very aware that ERA is an imperfect statistic and is certainly not the be-all and end-all, but it’s impressive nonetheless, and his peripherals aren’t in bad shape either.
Actually, each member of the projected starting five put up very solid numbers across the board a season ago:
2014 statistics (According to Fangraphs)
- Alex Cobb: 166.1 IP, 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .228 BAA, 8.06 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 3.23 FIP, 3.26 SIERA
- Chris Archer: 194.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .239 BAA, 8 K/9, 3.33 BB/9, 3.39 FIP, 3.80 SIERA
- Drew Smyly: 153 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .237 BAA, 7.82 K/9, 2.47 BB/9, 3.77 FIP, 3.69 SIERA (1.70 ERA, 0.76 WHIP in seven starts after he joined Tampa Bay)
- Jake Odorizzi: 168 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .238 BAA, 9.32 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, 3.75 FIP, 3.66 SIERA
- Alex Colome: 23.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .218 BAA, 4.94 K/9, 3.80 BB/9, 3.85 FIP, 5.05 SIERA
Keep in mind, Alex Colome is far from a lock for that fifth spot, and his numbers from this past season are misleading because of the extremely minuscule sample size. Anyhow, it’s not difficult to see that the cupboard is not bare by any means. One thing that jumps out when evaluating these statistics is a trend of high strikeout rates. This rotation is full of swing-and-miss artists, making their vast recent success even more sustainable. Even though he’s going to start the season on the disabled list, Matt Moore is included in this dynamic as well. The overpowering lefty owns a career 8.79 K/9 rate.
These hurlers attack in different ways. While Moore and Archer consistently overwhelm opponents with a fastball-heavy mix, Cobb takes a more finesse approach, typically using his filthy split-changeup to make hitters look silly. Cobb’s mastery of that pitch has trickled down to his teammate Odorizzi, who, like Cobb, compensates for ordinary fastball velocity with an impressive array of off-speed pitches. Smyly is apart of the same mold, but from the left side. This is unquestionably a rotation with plenty of diversity.
The club isn’t short on dependable options in the minors, either. Nate Karns, recently acquired Burch Smith, and the aforementioned Alex Colome make up a trio of very talented, Major League ready right-handed starters at Tampa Bay’s disposal. Injuries have riddled this Rays rotation consistently over the past several years, so having several excellent backup options is critical.
As it stands today, there isn’t a starting five in the American League East that’s comparable to the one in Tampa Bay. Even if the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox splurge on free-agent starters Max Scherzer or James Shields (the chances of the happening are slim, according to reports), it would be exceedingly difficult to envision any team in this division fielding a deeper rotation than the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s also worth noting that the average age of the members of the eventual starting rotation (Moore included) is just over 25, with Alex Cobb serving as the veteran at age 27.
This staff, assuming it stays together, will be terrorizing the AL East for many years to come. The Rays are entering a new era of sorts, leaving behind a very successful period led by Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon. However, the winning culture they instituted, paired with a pitching-first philosophy, are characteristics that we will see from this club for a long time.