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]