If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you know that the model for this site is to tell you what the Rays have done, what they are doing and what they will do, and why. Unlike most team blogs, we do not very often tell you what the Tampa Bay Rays should do. However, for the next 12 days we will step away from the standard, and we present to you 12 “presents” the Tampa Bay Rays should give to their fans.

On the second day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, TWO new pitchers in the starting rotation by the all-star break…

Winning in baseball is about three things…Pitching, Pitching and Pitching. Much has been made about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitchers now that Matt Garza has been added to the mix that already included Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The addition of Garza represents a significant upgrade as Jason Hammel is likely to be relegated to long relief and spot-starter duty. With the move, the Rays now have arguably the best young trio of starters in baseball that could very quickly develop into one of the best groups of 1-2-3 starters in all of baseball.

Kid K, James the Greater and the Garza Complex are undeniably good, but if the Rays want to be a playoff-caliber baseball club, they need five starting pitchers that have the ability to be dominant and can win on a consistent basis. The other two spots in the Rays rotation are likely to be filled by Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine. Unless both pitchers step up their performances in 2008 the Rays will need new pitchers in those spots, sooner rather than later. A playoff-caliber team cannot afford to be the underdog in 40% of their games, as the Rays certainly would be with Jackson and Sonnanstine squaring-off with most of the starting pitchers in the AL.

Nobody is arguing the talent of Edwin Jackson. Once of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Jackson showed glimpses of his potential in the second half of 2007. After a first half in which he was 1-9 with a 7.23 ERA, his second half improved to 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA, including a 4-hit shutout. Still, Nuke’s second half only included one other start in which he pitched into the 7th inning, as well six starts in which he walked at least four batters.

The most telling start of Jackson’s season may have been his June 13th assignment against the Padres at the Trop. Jackson entered the game with an 0-7 record and a 7.40 ERA. The Rays had just recalled Jason Hammel from Durham. The implication was that Jackson needed to improve his performance immediately or be replaced. In his very next start, Jackson allowed five runs and was pulled before he could record two outs. Jackson is still young, and it is risky to judge a player on one game, but in addition to a poor major league record, Nuke melted when a little pressure was applied. At this point we would not trust Jackson to start a meaningful game in September or October.

While Jackson is a classic case of a pitcher that has played well below his talent level, Andy Sonnanstine is a pitcher that must find ways to pitch above his. Without a plus-fastball The Duke depends on making hitters swing-and-miss by changing speeds and arm angles and having pinpoint control. Sonnastine can win when he is on top of his game, but is very hittable when he is not. That method worked well against inferior competition in the minors to the tune of a 40-18 record and a 2.58 ERA in 3+ minor league seasons. Against major league opponents, his record fell to 6-10 and his ERA ballooned to 5.85. While the Rays atrocious defense was partly responsible for Sonny’s stat line, he is still not blessed with an arm that can help him get by when he is not on top of his game. If the Rays are in a pennant race in September, they cannot afford to send a pitcher to the mound that can’t get by on guts if the need arises.

We are not ready to give up on either Jackson or Sonnanstine. We feel both have earned an opportunity to start the 2008 season in the rotation. However, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays are no longer about development. It is time to start winning ballgames. If the Rays want to be a playoff-caliber baseball club, they need five starting pitchers that can win on a consistent basis. So far, neither Jackson or Sonnanstine have shown that they can be one of those pitchers. With pitchers such as David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jacob McGee, the Rays have several options that have the potential to be a dominant and consistent winner and one or more of those options may be ready by July. If Jackson and Sonnanstine do not have at least six wins and a sub-5.00 ERA at the all-star break, it will be time to find somebody else that can help the Rays win now.

On the second day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is TWO new pitchers in the rotation by the all-star break, and…
ONE Evan Longoria in the opening day lineup [Day 1]

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8 Comments

  1. Sean G says:

    Prof, you seem to be bucking a trend I have noticed among D-Rays fans.

    I have long thought there were two camps. Those that love the potential of Jackson and those that love the grittiness of Sonny. That is some people gravitate towards pure talent and what the radar gun says, and some like to trust results, not to mention a player like Sonnanstine resonates a little better with the Average Joe. And rarely have I seen somebody that likes both players nor have I seen many take your stance, that both are not good enough. But I like it.

    I agree. both deserve one more shot.

    Unfortunately, we have had so much piss-poor pitching, Rays fans are willing to accept mediocrity at times. And right now, Duke and Nuke arent even mediocre. they just have "mediocre potential".

    And if there is any doubt, Rays fans need to ask themselves, what other team in baseball right now would even give up a decent prospect for Sonnanstine? I dont see it happening and that should be enough to tell you that he is not long for the Rays.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I gonna jump in here and defend Sonnanstine. The Guy has pin point control, doesnt walk anyone, actually strikes out a decent amount of batters (7+ per 9 IP), and eats up innings.

    Other than Shields, Sonny was the most consistent at going deep into games, averaging close to 7 innings per start. He always took you deep into the game and gave the rays a chance to win. Rarely did he ever get pulled early in a game, let alone before the 6th inning.

    While there weren't too many games in which he shut down the opposing line up, he consistently had quality starts and avoided the big innings.

    He may not have the potential that Jackson does, but he has a much more realistic chance at becoming a good back of the rotation pitcher capable of consistently giving you 200+ IP every year.

    In addition, according to rotoauthority, Sonny was one of the unluckiest pitchers in 07, and his ERA should have actually been around 4.70 based on his peripherals. Further, Bill James projected a 4.14 ERA for Sonnanstine in 08. Sonny will never be a top of the rotation pitcher, but I have no problem having him in the back of our rotation for the next year or two.

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  3. The Professor says:

    Most of what you are saying is true.

    Sonny had a .333 BABIP (Batting Avg on Balls In Play). That was good for the 20th worst in baseball with at least 100 IP. That is a strong sign that the defense sucked behind him.

    Sonny can win ball games, and I love that he is an inning eater. I am just not yet convinced that a team can win with a guy like Sonny in the rotation, even if it is at the back end.

    We should find out this year early on as the Rays defense figures to be significantly better, especially up the middle, where it is most important. Bartlett, is 1000% better than anything the Rays threw out there last year. Upton was going on pure instinct last season and should be much better this year, and not feel the need to play so deep (fewer balls will drop in front) and Iwamura's biggest problem at third was his arm strength (ironic considering his Japanese nickname was "Top Gun"). As long as he can handle turning the double play, he will probably be an above-average defensive secondbaseman.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    I have a feeling that Niemann is bound for the bullpen. He should be showing more consistent domination at this point and it just isnt there.

    On the other hand, i think he could have the makeup to be a successful closer down the road.

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  5. Robert Rittner says:

    I do think the Rays can compete with Sonnanstine as a #4 or 5 pitcher. Here are some of the winning teams in 2007 and their end of rotation pitchers:

    Boston: Wakefield
    Cleveland: Byrd, Westbrook, Lee
    Detroit: Robertson, Durbin
    Philadelphia: Moyer, Kendrick
    Cubs: Marquis, Marshall
    Arizona: Davis, Livan Hernandez
    SD: Germano, Wells
    Colorado: Fogg, Cook, Hirsch
    Angels: E. Santana, Saunders

    People might argue some of the specifics, but I think it fair to say that Sonnanstine has a chance to be as good or better than all, or at least many, of these pitchers as they were in 2007. They were in the rotations for winning or at least contending teams.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    on first glance, it looks as if about half those pitchers are veterans. not the best talent, but plenty of experience. and i would say the rest of those teams won in spite of the pitchers you mentioned.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    there is no doubt though that Sonny pitches like a seasoned veteran. You can see it in his eyes. Jackson still looks fresh out of rookie ball.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I trust Sonny over Jackson which is unfortunate bc i think Sonny would be the first one to lose a job to a new starter.

    While Jackson is capable of a 2-hit shutout with 12 Ks, he is also capable od not getting out of the first inning or walking 6 batters in 4 innings.

    It is easier to trust Sonny bc you know what you will get from him. 6 innings and 3-4 runs. Not great, but a team can win those type of games.

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