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 try to project 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 fourth day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, FOUR pitchers with at least 15 wins…

In 2008, the Rays won 97 games despite not having a single pitcher win 15 games. This was due in large part to the dominance of the bullpen which led to 45 comeback wins last season, behind only the Yankees (49) and Tigers (46) in the American League, and a league-high 31 wins from the relief pitchers.

Of the seven teams in the AL that finished 2008 with a winning record, the Rays’ 66 wins by starting pitchers (68.0%) was a better rate than only the Yankees (66.3%). The remaining five teams ranged from 72.7% (Twins) to 82.6% (Jays).

2008 RAYS WERE LED BY THEIR BULLPEN: The bullpen was a big reason for the Rays’ worst-to-first performance in 2008. But it may be too much to expect a repeat in 2009. Last season, the Rays’ relievers were second in the AL in ERA (3.45) and led the league in batting average against (.218). If the bullpen does regress to something closer to league average, the offense and the starting pitchers will have to pick up the slack if the Rays want to contend again in 2009.

OFFENSE NEEDS TO SCORE MORE RUNS EARLY: If the Rays are going to get more wins from their starting pitchers, it means an offense that scores more runs earlier in the game. In 2008, the Rays only scored 71 runs in the first inning and 79 in the second. Those were by far the two lowest totals in the innings 1-8 (the Rays only batted 116 times in the 9th inning). On the other hand, the Rays two highest run totals by inning were the 5th (98) which is often when the top of the order is getting a third crack at a starting pitcher, and the 8th inning (96).

If the Rays can add an impact bat to the lineup through free agency, and get healthy seasons from BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, the Rays should be able to score early and often in 2009. If the Rays can score more runs next season, strong performances by the starting pitchers will be better rewarded with more leads being handed to the bullpen.

STARTERS NEED TO WORK DEEPER: Of course, the starting pitchers can help themselves with a few more “7+2’s”. That is a starting pitcher working 7 innings, and handing a lead to the bullpen in the 8th inning. In 2008, starting pitchers only worked at least 7 innings in 53 starts. It is a heck of a lot easier for a bullpen to record 6 outs than 9, or even 12. In 2008, the bullpen came through, but that may not happen again next season.

If the Rays want to make a run at the playoffs again in 2009, they will need more production from the offense and longer outings from the starting pitchers. If they can, we will likely see four pitchers with at least 15 wins. If that happens, the Rays will only need 10 wins out of the 5th spot to reach 70 wins from starting pitchers which is in-line with what other playoff teams did in 2008.

On the fourth day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is FOUR pitchers with 15 wins, and…
THREE Gold Glove awards
[Day 3]
TWO months in triple-A for David Price [Day 2]
ONE impact bat with a bow on top [Day 1]

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14 Comments

  1. Surveyman82 says:

    How our we going to have pitchers go deeper into games( 7+2) when Merlot Joe has them on a short pitch count? After they reach the magic number of 100 pitches; out trots Joe no matter the situation is or how they are pitching. This problem is going to be compounded now if King David is into the mix sometime this season. Kaz,the strikeout kid, needs to reinvent himself since he can no longer throw his out pitch. He needs to learn how to get out of innings quicker with far less pitches.

    Offense will help but things need to change from the management sided in order to have starters finish games or even last until the 7th inning.
    Our bullpen, despite being our best asset, was over used last year. Best example is Wheeler 70 games, and 66.3 innings pitched. And look how that correlated to his performance in the Boston series, Wheelers was spent.
    I think the best thing for the rays to do is utilize Neiman and Hammel in the pen not just as mop up duty long relievers but have them ready to follow up Price and Kaz as 2nd half Starters, you know be ready to coming in after 5 1/2, and finish up games for Scotty and Price... To bad rosters are only 25, and not 30....

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you Surveyman, Joe Maddon is so afraid that the pitchers arems are going to get hurt so they never go that long.Thats the thing about Kaz,Kaz throws alot of pitches and is still succesful but Maddon usually never lets him go above 5 or 6 innings because of it.sheilds had 3 complete games last year because he can keep the count low.

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  3. Sean G. says:

    That is a bit of a circular argument. Maddon had a great bullpen that he could lean on in 08. It will be interesting to see if he is still the second-coming of Captain Hook if the bullpen does slip a little this year. Maddon has always claimed that he doesn't care for pitch counts. We'll see.

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  4. Robert Rittner says:

    You are mistaken about Maddon. He has a young staff and has to protect their arms, but is perfectly willing to allow pitchers to go longer if they have not been under a lot of stress or if their mechanics remain solid.

    There is a lot of research now as to how to prevent pitcher injuries, and increasingly pitch counts are being deemphasized. Not entirely, of course. There are upper limits still. But more and more managers are considering body types, mechanics, stress factors, and other issues such as age, pitcher history and so on in their decisions. Maddon is fully aware of such factors, and has often stated that he allows pitchers to go beyond 100 or 110 pitches when their mechanics remain clean and if they have been throwing easily all game.

    Because the scoreboards keep track of pitch counts now fans tend to think that is what determines a manager's decisions, but it doesn't. It is one of many factors.

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  5. The Professor says:

    The Rays big 5 starters had 86 starts in which they threw at least 100 pitches (incl playoffs). They also had 20 starts with at least 110. I have no idea if the 86 is a big number or small, but the 20 seems like a lot in this day and age. But that is just a hunch. I don't know what other teams are doing

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  6. Robert Rittner says:

    As a tangent, this struck me as interesting:
    __________________________________
    "This was due in large part to the dominance of the bullpen which led to 45 comeback wins last season, behind only the Yankees (49) and Tigers (46) in the American League...."
    _____________________________________
    Another small piece of anecdotal evidence that a club that often comes back from deficits is not necessarily a good ball club. It is one of the standard mainstream cliches that some teams have more heart as evidenced by their success in close games and in their ability to come back late in games.

    The first part of that, success in close games, has not just been demonstrated to be a total myth, but quite the contrary, teams that play a lot of close games are often poorer teams. Really good teams ordinarily win a lot of blowouts and have no particular pattern of success in close ones.

    The second part I have not seen any evidence one way or the other but I suspect it is another myth perpetuated because it makes for such melodramatic writing in mainstream columns.

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  7. Surveyman82 says:

    Big game James, and the former Ray Ed14win Jackson got better as deeper they went into the game. Maybe they are built better for it I don't know. But our team is hyper sensitive about the pitching prospects you can't deny it. Just because high profile prospects in the recent past like Prior, Wood, Isringhausen, and Loewen, blew their arms out because of perceived overuse doesn't mean all will. It just sucks to be watching so many games and seeing "Capt Hook" walking out like robot when a guy reaches 100 pitches despite how well they are pitching. It changes the flow of the game. You hope to have a 4 run lead going into the 6th and your starter factors into the decision but some times you got to let a pitcher win his own games, ideally with the experience and maturity guys like Shields,and Garza we can hope to see them go longer and factor into a 7+2 situation. But with young guys like Price, and Kaz we can only hope more offense will correlate to more wins in the record column.

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  8. Robert Rittner says:

    You certainly can deny it as you have no evidence except your own observation that you prefer to see starting pitchers remain in games longer.

    Nothing Maddon does is robotic. In fact, that is exactly the opposite of his persona. But more to the point your facts are wrong.

    In his 30 starts, Garza threw over 100 pitches 18 times, and 5 times went over 110. At one point, he went 7 straight starts with more than 100 pitches. He was 24 and coming off an injury early in the year but was not coddled. When he labored, Maddon was careful to limit his pitches, an entirely appropriate thing to do.

    In his 32 starts, Sonnanstine only went over 100 pitches 8 times. Then again, he got into or past the 7th inning 12 times anyway because he tended to be efficient when he was on his game. He is exactly the type of pitcher who needs to be watched carefully because if he is throwing a lot of pitches it means he is not quite right, and Sonnanstine will get bombed if that is the case. So he has to be relieved when the pitches mount up.

    Kazmir, who has had injury problems for 2 years, still threw over 100 pitches in 16 of his 27 starts, also in 7 straight at one point, and over 110 in 5 of them. And in his case, except for one stretch of excellence, he labored terribly and was always at serious risk.

    All 3 pitchers are still at the most vulnerable age for injury, the "injury nexus" of 25 and under, but there was nothing robotic about removing them at a particular juncture. That decision was made based on game situations, not on some predetermined rule of 100.

    Shields went over 100 pitches in 17 of his 33 starts and got into or past the 7th 24 times. Like Sonnanstine, he is efficient so his pitches don't mount up, but notice the difference in the way Maddon treated him, because unlike Andy, Shields can maneuver out of trouble when not on his A game. That is being flexible, not robotic.

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  9. Surveyman82 says:

    Good grief! RR. are you a paid blogger from the Rays organization!!! Can't the worst franchise in sports history receive some jeers! Isn't the point of the 4th day of Raymas about Four Pitchers with 15 wins? How else do you suppose our rotation is going to factor into more decisions unless they go deeper into games. Maddon, whether its his own personal philosophy or pressure from upper management, he doesn't leave starters in long enough. 100 pitches your yanked! Don't you watch games or do you just through out stats? Besides Kazmir has only had arm problems this year, last year they jerked him around on which side of the rubber to through off of and that screwed up his delivery. If you recall, in 07 Kaz found out about his tired arm and his early September sit down from ESPN. More evidence to the fact that upper management is baby'n these guys. Let em pitch, and don't draft anymore pitchers from Rice University

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  10. Robert Rittner says:

    No, I am not a paid blogger.

    The Rays were very poorly run for 8 years, but for the past 3 have been run brilliantly and fans should be pleased with that change. Conflating the two different groups into one is silly. And stating that the Rays are the worst franchise in history is hyperbole. There are plenty whose history is far worse; ironically enough one of them is the Phillies.

    When you claim, inaccurately, that the Rays have a 100 pitch limit on the pitchers, that is a purely statistical question. Watching games is irrelevant; it is either true or not. It turns out to be not true.

    As a matter of fact, I am a season ticket holder and do watch games, but that has nothing to do with the point anyway. You say Maddon yanks pitchers after 100 pitches; he does not.

    Kazmir has been considered an injury risk since he arrived in TB. There has always been a question about his mechanics and his slight build so that it makes perfect sense to be cautious. And still, as the figures demonstrate definitively, he has been allowed to throw many more than 100 pitches quite often.

    In fact, since Maddon arrived he has thrown 100+ pitches 14 out of 24 starts in 2006 and 6 of them over 110 including 110 & 120. And in 2007 he threw over 100 pitches in 24 out of 34 starts, 12 times over 110 including 5 straight.

    You cannot make the argument that Maddon routinely pulls pitchers at 100 pitches because it is dead wrong. If you find something to criticize that makes sense, I will certainly agree, but that is not it. But more to the point, your criticism of Maddon is clearly based on some pre-judgment that has nothing to do with the reality of the situation and is a complete misreading of his managerial style.

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  11. Robert Rittner says:

    I meant to type "119 & 120", not "110 & 120".

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  12. Anonymous says:

    RR,the thing about Kaz is though,he can throw 100 to 110 pitches in just 5-6 innings and what I think Surveyman is saying is that you need more than 5-6 innings to get the win in most games.But one thing we also need is for the offense to produce more.I watched a lot of games last year and even though we won Im still not impressed with the offense.Crawford better get back to his regular form this year,and Upton will hopefully be healthy will no more shoulder problems and have a season like 2007.

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  13. Robert Rittner says:

    Yes, I think you are right. I also may be taking her/his comment on 100 pitches too literally, although if s/he is going to use numbers, s/he should try to be accurate.

    But my fundamental point is that Maddon has been very flexible in his use of pitchers. When he thinks they are not laboring, he allows them to go deeper into games. In Kazmir's case, between the danger of injury and his inefficiency, he has to pull him after 5 or 6. In reality, if you really watch his use of Kazmir, he is extremely patient and does allow him to go much longer than one might expect because he thinks Kazmir can work out of jams. But it would be plain crazy to let Kazmir throw 120+ pitches which is what he would have needed to go 7 most games.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that many comments result from the habit I guess all of us have of managing the game while watching it. And in most cases, we are screaming for the manager to do something-or not do something-just when he does the opposite, so that we become hyper-critical. I can think of many occasions when I was screaming for Maddon to decide differently than he did.

    The problem is that we then think we really have a case for criticizing a manager since we remember the failures that we would have avoided and usually chalk the manager's successes up to good luck. Of course, that is silly (idiocy really for too many reasons to identify here). Then, every time the manager "screws up", we simply add it to our list of screw ups and think we really have a case for our criticism.

    Maddon used the bullpen a lot because it was working, not because he was afraid to stretch his starters. If it stops working, he will stretch his starters more, with the caveat that he will still be balancing the need to win against the possibility of injury or of tiring a pitcher out in June so that he is less effective in September/October. And any fair minded evaluation of his pitcher use pattern (as opposed to references to one's own experience in the ballpark) would note that he is about as undogmatic a manager as can be imagined who adapts as the situations require.

    It is the fans who are dogmatic, who come to games with definite views as to the right way to manage and are entirely in the dark of what really is involved, of the myriad factors that enter into decisions and the range of options that always exist. And that includes fans with all sorts of experience at various levels of coaching and playing.

    For example, I hate sacrifice bunts, generally dislike intentional walks and think having a designated closer is about as stupid a use of resources as ever devised by the sport. So I am ready to criticize Maddon when he does any of those things. And while I may actually be right now and then, I know that I would be genuinely stupid to think that my predispositions are legitimate reasons to evaluate his performance as a manager.

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  14. Robert Rittner says:

    I very much hope we can get four 15 game winners, but be aware that at least since 2006 no playoff team has done it. In fact, only 3 of the 24 teams had even 3 while two had none and seven had just one.

    If we simply say an average of 15 so that our top four starters get 60 wins, that is still unusual. Only three playoff teams have done that since 2006, although three more got to 59 wins. In many cases, one or two pitchers got to 18 or more wins while another didn't even get to 10. Eight of the 24 teams did not even get 50 wins from their top four.

    I think the 2009 Rays can do it. But we should be aware that it is unusual for 4 let alone 5 pitchers all to remain healthy and effective enough to pile up lots of wins in a season. If you look at all the playoff teams, there was almost always one or two starters who either flopped, got hurt or were unlucky, and often they were the stars of a previous or later year.

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