What’s your New Year’s resolution? According to the Wikipedia entry, it defines a New Year’s resolution, “in which a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice.”
Since starting the off-season with a six-player trade, the Tampa Bay Rays have been involved in many trade rumors, but nothing has yet materialized other than a small trade with the Houston Astros (for Hank Conger) and a slew of minor league free agent signings.
But as 2016 approaches what acts of self-improvement can the Rays promise?
Do not overuse the bullpen
Two of the league’s best relievers have been traded (Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel) and the Rays two best relievers (Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger) have been subject to trade rumors over the past six weeks. Trying to follow the “Kansas City Royals model” and construct a multiple-headed monster is the latest fad in the league. With that in mind, Kevin Cash needs to take what he learned in his first year and properly use the bullpen as they were one of the more overworked bullpens in 2015.
The overuse became an issue this past September when Boxberger vented to the media a bit in regards to how he and his fellow bullpen mates were used. In 2015, the Rays bullpen ranked sixth in appearances and innings pitched with 529 and 538.2, respectively. This resulted in a 3.93 ERA / 4.21 FIP / 4.15 xFIP which ranked them in the low 20’s among major league clubs. Their collective WAR of 1.2 was 25th best in the league. The Rays have competent arms for the late innings, but need to be used efficiently.
Allow the starting pitchers to go deeper into games
The Rays have always been commended for their development of starting pitchers. They have recognized how valuable young starting pitching can be and have taken extreme care of those young arms. It is smart to limit the innings of a Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, and Chris Archer when you have seen starters like Alex Cobb and Matt Moore go down with season-ending surgeries. But limiting those innings come at the detriment of the bullpen. If the 2016 Rays are to improve and make the playoffs they will have to allow those young arms to take the next step and face lineups for a third time.
The numbers are not in their favor. According to fangraphs, a pitcher’s OPS rises from .705 to .731 to .771 each time through the lineup. Over the course of the season you may be able to stay in a few ballgames by pulling the starter early, but it will all be for not in late summer when the bullpen is taxed.
This group of starters may be the best in the American League East and could become one of the best in all of baseball. Collectively they were a Top 10 staff with a 3.63 ERA / 3.74 FIP / 3.81 xFIP. However, they were 23rd in innings pitched and 28th in total batters faced, 914 and 3,803 respectively.
With a top-10 group of starting pitching and a bullpen that is producing numbers towards the bottom of the league the Rays were not efficiently using their assets.
Add Blake Snell to the team out of spring training (if he is ready)
Blake Snell, Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, rose through the prospect rankings with an extremely impressive 2015 season. Posting an excellent ERA, WHIP, and opponent batting average, there were slight rumblings he would be added to the roster this past September if the Rays could have stayed in contention.
However, that would have meant adding him to the 40-man roster and starting his service time. Service time being a hot topic during 2015 as teams use the tactic of carefully calling up prospects with the benefit of gaining an extra year of arbitration and team control. That was the case with Kris Bryant this past season when he was called up at a point where he could not accumulate the 172 days of service time to qualify as a full year. With constant rumors of an Alex Cobb or Jake Odorrizzi trade there could be an open spot in the rotation. If Snell can impress through the spring and show he is ready to start the Rays should reward him.
That could be their “something slightly nice.”