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 based on what we have learned. 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 tenth day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, TEN saves for Grant Balfour…

Much has been made of how Joe Maddon prefers to use his best relief pitchers in the most important part of the ballgame. While true, it does not tell the whole story.

Maddon still used preassigned roles for his relief pitchers, but he did show that he was willing to deviate from the plan when needed. Maddon’s two best relief pitchers in 2008, JP Howell and Grant Balfour were still more likely to see time in the 6th or 7th inning rather than the end of the game.

Howell made 42 of his 64 appearances prior to the 8th inning. Balfour made 31 of his 51 appearances prior to the 8th inning. On the other hand, Dan Wheeler made 54 of his 70 appearances in the 8th inning or later and Troy Percival only made 4 appearances (all in September) prior to the 9th inning.

This suggests that even if Maddon promises to use his best relievers in the most important spots, the norm will still have Howell and Balfour in the 6th and 7th innings, while Wheeler and Percival man the 8th and 9th innings.

Part of this is that much like hitters that prefer to hit in the same spot on a regular basis, some pitchers are more comfortable knowing their role ahead of time. But more importantly, there is still something different about closing the door in the 9th inning. There is that extra bit of pressure that comes with knowing there is no room for error and half the time there won’t be a chance for the offense to clean up a blown lead. Percival has handled that role well for most of his career and when he was healthy, he handled it well in 2008.

But what will Maddon do in 2009 when Percival is not available? In 2008 Maddon went to the other veteran, Wheeler. But Wheeler struggled in the 9th inning. In 35 appearances in the 8th inning, Wheeler had an opponent OPS of .421 (117 PA). The number jumped to .776 in the 9th inning (81 PA).

Can Maddon stick with that model in 2009? We hope not.

And at some point the Rays will need to take a peek at 2010 and beyond. Percival will be a free agent following the 2009 season. Wheeler will still be around in 2010, but we doubt Maddon and Andrew Friedman envision Wheeler being the most-days closer for an entire season.

That leaves Balfour as the most likely in-house candidate to close in 2010. And if that is indeed the plan, there is no reason not to toss a few save morsels in the direction of The Mad Australian.

On the tenth day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is TEN saves for Grant Balfour and…
NINE no-hit innings [Day 9]
EIGHT starts for Jeff Niemann
[Day 8]
SEVEN-year extension for BJ Upton [Day 7]
SIX months with at least 15 wins [Day 6]
FIVE-year extension for Matt Garza
[Day 5]
FOUR pitchers with 15 wins [Day 4]
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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6 Comments

  1. DirtbagFan says:

    I'm dying to hear some news out of the hot stove...

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  2. Surveyman82 says:

    Me too....

    Wasn't everything hinged on Tex signing, so what is everyone waiting for??? Shouldn't we see our DH/RF in sight? Why are we being so reactive to the market and not proactive?? If there is a guy we want, go get him!!! We need a big Bat!

    I hope we can groom a in house closer because the cost vs value in going out and buying a closer is just stupid, look at the BJ Ryans, and F-Rods signings. I love Balfour in that role,and he has that little crazy edge you need in a closer....
    Percy is old, and is going to need duck tape and bondo to get through this season... The Future is NoW!!!

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  3. Roy-Ray says:

    I agree about not spending big bucks on a closer, or a reliever for that matter with all the quality arms the Rays have in their system. Most of their best minor league pitchers are starters, but so was Howell. Let's find the next JP Howell to plug into a relief role and spend our money on a decent DH.

    I like Balfour, but he needs to work on his slider a bit more. He has got to get a second pitch working that he can use as an out pitch, or at least as something other than a throw away pitch. With an improved slider or change, with his attitude, he could be the low-cost closer that could carry the team through the entire season.

    Hickey has done a great jog with the staff so far and I am sure he will be working on getting something more out of Grant.

    I for one think that Percival has nothing in left in the tank. I would be shocked if he delivered any value in '09 other than cheerleading -- I hope I am wrong, but the front office needs to be acting as if he will deliver nothing for '09 and just enjoy it if he adds anything positive.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    How bout more than 10 saves how about like 25 or 30!And I dont think we are going to get Bradley.The Cubs or Nats will get him.We will likely get Burrell,GIambi,Abreu,or someone else.Out of the 3 I prefer Abreu.

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  5. Robert Rittner says:

    It is possible that the reason we saw Howell and Balfour more often prior to the 8th inning is that the most crucial situations arose then more often. I have not checked the stats to see if that is true, but it is entirely possible that it was about that time that starters began to tire and put men on base while by the 8th and 9th, Howell and Balfour having been so effective, Wheeler and Percival had a less difficult situation in hand.

    I am not asserting that is true; I have no evidence one way or the other. But I would not jump to a conclusion that Maddon trusted Wheeler and Percival more late in the game. I do agree with you that Maddon did have some somewhat preconceived notions as to when to bring in Wheeler and Percival (8th and 9th) which is why I hope the Rays do not sign a "real" closer. It would allow Maddon more flexibility to have no clearly designated closer.

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  6. The Professor says:

    that is a fair argument, but that may also be why Maddon "assigns" the 6th and 7th to Howell and Balfour. But then again the Rays did give the 8th and 9th inning guys a lot of money to do their jobs.

    Like I have said many times. The Rays always have a plan and they have an idea of what they want to do. But they never commit to something until absolutely necessary. That is the same here.

    Maddon's plan is to use Howell/Balfour early and then Wheeler/Percival late. But he is flexible enough that he will deviate if necessary. Seems like a simple thing. But it is amazing how few managers do it that way.

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