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. Think of RI as “Tampa Bay Rays 101.”

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. Looking back at last year’s 12 Days of Raysmas, we see that many of our wishes came true (including that sweet no-hitter), and the result was another division title.

Without further ado…

On the tenth day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, TEN saves for Jeff Niemann…

Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis? That is the first question that needs to be answered. If we assume that all six starting pitchers are still with the Rays on opening day and Jeremy Hellickson is not back in Durham, then either Niemann or Davis will be bumped to the bullpen.

And unless the Rays sign a bonafide closer before the season begins, then it is safe to assume that the starting pitcher that does move to the bullpen will have the most talent among that group. And with JP Howell eventually coming back to get the toughest outs in the 7th and 8th innings, it seems logical to make Niemann or Davis the closer.

And while we think either pitcher would be solid in the role, there are a few reasons we like Niemann a little more than Davis as a closer…

  • Both pitchers have one really good pitch, their fastball. This is a common trait among closers. But Niemann’s is a little better than Big Dub’s. In 2010, Niemann’s fastball was worth 12.4 runs, while Davis’ was worth 9.5 (data via Fangraphs.com).
  • Rafael Soriano was a flyball pitcher, but we typically prefer groundball pitchers in the 9th inning. Niemann tends to get more groundballs (44.4%) than Davis (39.2%).
  • In 61 career starts, Niemann has made 31 on extra rest, including 8 on at least six days of rest (not including the first start of the year). And his numbers are better on extra rest. So, despite his size, Niemann just doesn’t seem to have the arm of an endurance pitcher.
  • And there are the injury concerns. We have spoken with a couple of people that think it is just a matter of time before Niemann suffers a serious arm injury. If the Rays are seeing the same thing, they may think life in the bullpen could keep him off the DL.

Even if Niemann does work the 9th inning, it would surprise us if he were in the game for every save opportunity. But if the Rays have a lead to start the 9th inning and righties are due up, Niemann should get more than a few calls.



  1. phil says:

    Cork – they have a solid rotation no matter who the 5 of 6 start the year. In order to compete & win in the AL east they need a dominant closer (see last year). Do you think shields could do the job? Also do you think management is thinking along the same lines as you (moving a starter to the closer role)?

    Another bullpen issue is whether lefties Jacob McGee or Alex Torres will be groomed to be starters or relievers…One would be be needed to help out the bullpen this year. The other can take a spot in the rotation in 2012 (to replce Garza) Who would be better in which role?

    • Charles says:

      Here’s where Shields scares me as a closer:

      2010 Shields first pitch: .438 average allowed, 11 HR allowed in 121 opponent at-bats – almost 10% of the time!

      2010 Shields vs. leadoff hitter in an inning: .309 average allowed, 7 HR allowed in 207 opponent at-bats

      When these things happen to your starter, it sucks but is not insurmountable. When they happen to your closer, there’s little or no time to come back and you lose games.

      • Charles says:

        Of course, that whole 10% thing (which is really more like 9%) only takes into account when the first pitch results in some kind of result (out, hit, HBP, etc). But if I was scouting Shields, I’d be telling my guys to do a lot of first pitch swinging, especially in a tight game when a good swing in a high percentage situation could tie things up.

      • phil says:

        ok Charles – who would you make the closer – davis or niemann?

        • Charles says:

          If I had to pick one of those guys, I’d pick Niemann. But honestly, I’d much rather see Jake McGee come in and take the job.

          • phil says:

            Yes but when will Jake be ready to close? i’l rather see him groomed properly for the role…

  2. Don says:

    Phil, your excused! Try Baseball is my life by Oprah Winfrey…”

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