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.