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 eighth day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, EIGHT starts for Jeff Niemann…
OK, OK, yesterday we wished for a seven-year extension for BJ Upton. Let’s see if we can make a more realistic request today.
Most reports on the 2009 Rays are making the assumption that David Price will be in the starting rotation when the Rays break camp and head north. On Day 2 of Raysmas, we laid down an argument for giving David Price two more months in triple-A. Part of the argument was to give the Rays one final chance to evaluate the starting pitcher abilities of Jeff Niemann.
In 2008, Niemann made two starts for the Rays (one good, one not so good), hardly enough of a sample size to evaluate his abilities at the major league level. Of course, the good news is that Niemann stayed relatively healthy for the second consecutive year.
His performance at the triple-A level was very similar to his 2007 season. Niemann went 12-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 131 innings (25 starts) in 2007. In 2008, he was 9-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 133 innings (24 starts).
What is very interesting is that most of his peripheral numbers were almost identical. From 2007 to 2008, his strikeouts per 9 innings improved from 8.5 to 8.7. His walks per 9 innings went from 3.2 to 3.4.
The one number that did improve was his hits per 9 innings, which dropped from 9.9 all the way to 6.8. His BABIP was .341 in 2007 and only .247 in 2008 suggesting that he may have been somewhat unlucky in 2007 and lucky in 2008. However, his line drive rate did improve by 20 points (.183 to .163) suggesting that lucky wasn’t the only factor.
Has Niemann finally figured out how to miss the sweet spot on the bat? Is he finally ready to live up to the expectations of being the 4th overall selection of the 2004 draft? The 2008 season may be the last chance to see Niemann as a starting pitcher in a Rays uniform.
If Price is sent to Durham to start the season, Niemann will not be without competition for the final spot in the rotation. Jason Hammel and Mitch Talbot will also be fighting for the job. But with Niemann out of minor league options and his prospect status fading quickly, it is imperative for Niemann to come into camp in the best shape of his life and win the final spot convincingly. Then it is up to the Rays to give Niemann at least 8 starts to show what he can do.
On the eighth day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is EIGHT starts for Jeff Niemann and…
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]