In early May, I created a ranking system for the Rays’ relief pitchers over at Rays the Stakes. Since those rankings were released, there has been a drastic improvement in the play of the bullpen. I would even say that the reason the Rays are now 9 games over .500 instead of playing .500 baseball is due to the enhanced bullpen. The relief pitchers are the main reason the Rays are currently the hottest team in baseball.
I was harsh in my bullpen rankings in May, but the grades were deserved. With the improvement in play comes an improvement in rankings. As you will see, the improvement in 2 pitchers and the placing of 2 pitchers on the DL are some of the main reasons the Rays are winning consistently. It is now time to re-grade the bullpen.
As a reminder, here is the ranking system:
1) “The Rudy Lugo” – You have no place pitching in a major league ballgame, period, end of story. Yes, I would rather have someone in the following ranking than you on the mound.
2) “The Nick Swisher” – May as well bring in an outfielder, as you are only good when the Rays are down by a large margin and have given up. This ranking is also known as the “Jose Canseco.”
3) “The Brian Stokes/Shawn Camp” – I shut the game off every time one of these 2 entered a game in 2007. The outcome was determined before either threw one pitch: chalk one up in the loss column.
4) “The New York Mets in September” – You have looked good for so long, you can get 2 outs in the 9th, and then a collapse is highly probable. This ranking is also known as “The Greg Norman in a major golf tournament.”
5) “The Cecelia” – “You’re breaking my heart; you’re shaking my confidence daily.” You were very good, and still show flashes of brilliance, but sometimes you are blowing a lead that you shouldn’t, and I am losing confidence in you quickly.
6) “The Sex Panther” – 60% of the time you pitch well….every time.
7) “The Al Reyes” – You are sufficient as a closer, for a last place team. You will get saves, even some saves with a 1 run lead. However’ if this team wants to get anywhere deep in October, you will not suffice as the closer. The Tampa Bay area hospitals also want to thank you for the extra patronage as you are good for a heart attack a week for Rays’ fans. (Author’s note: In order to fall into this category and not actually be Al Reyes, you also must pass the test of yelling the line “don’t tase me bro!”)
8) “The Rick Vaughn” – You are wild and will walk batters, but when you need to be called on for the big strikeout, you will produce. Just stick to throwing the heat.
9) “The Pocket Aces” – You hold up approximately 85% of the time against a random opponent, and because of that, I am willing to put a lot of money behind you.
10) “The Late 90’s Mariano Rivera” – Lights out, enough said. (Author’s note: This pains me to give any props to the much hated Yankees. Let’s be honest here though and call it like it is, a spade is a spade. Rivera in the late 90’s was unhittable and was the single most reliable closer in baseball history.)Now that the rankings 1-10 are re-established, it is time to look at how each of the Rays relief pitchers fall into these rankings.
Grant Balfour: 8 – The Rick Vaughn – You haven’t given up a run in your last 7 relief appearances which is excellent, but your WHIP in those appearances is still close to 1. With your fastball, your WHIP should be lower. When you get it down closer to .75, your ranking will improve. A few more shutout appearances and your ranking will also improve, as I can’t argue with results. Previous ranking: 8
Chad Bradford: 6 – The Sex Panther – In 66% of the games you have pitched in, you allowed a run. That’s close enough to 60% for you to be a sex panther. I expect this ranking to improve with more appearances. Previous ranking: NR
Randy Choate vs. Lefties: 10 – The Late 90’s Mariano Rivera – You have allowed 1 hit in 22 at bats against lefties. Who is Brian Shouse again? Previous ranking: NR
Randy Choate vs. Righties: 7 – The Al Reyes – Righties have hit .222 against you, which is actually pretty good for a lefty specialist. It is ok for you to match up against righties for now, but you won’t face a single one in a meaningful September at bat. Previous ranking: NR
Lance Cormier: 6 – The Sex Panther – You have been serviceable and succeeding as a long reliever, but I still don’t think you will see the field in clutch situations. Previous ranking: 6
J.P. Howell: 10 – The Late 90’s Mariano Rivera – The last time you allowed an earned run was May 23, and that was in a 10-3 win. In your last 9 appearances you have 4 saves and 3 wins. It has been nearly a month since you have blown a save, and that was before you were the full time closer. Since you have been made the go-to closer, you have been lights out. You are a major reason that the Rays have won 7 in a row. You are the only guy on this list with a shot at the all-star team. Previous ranking: 5
Joe Nelson: 9 – The Pocket Aces – You gave up 1 run and 2 hits in 9 appearances in the month of June. Earlier in the season you were susceptible to the big inning, but it seems as though those times have past. Every time you enter the game, I expect a 0 on the scoreboard. Previous ranking: 9
Troy Percival: 4 – The New York Mets in September – The only reason you are a 4 is because you could get some outs, but your collapse in games was inevitable. There is a reason that you are on the “Chein Ming-Wang Mentally Disabled List,” and it’s not because you have an injury. Previous ranking: 7
Brian Shouse: 5 – The Cecelia – You started off the season well against lefties, but started to lose your touch before you got hurt. Since you’ve been on the DL, you were replaced admirably by Randy Choate. I know the saying that you can’t lose your job due to an injury, but what if after you were injured you were outplayed? That’s what happened here. Previous ranking: 9 vs. lefties, 1 vs. righties
Dan Wheeler: 9 – The Pocket Aces – You gave up a total of 5 runs and 15 hits in 24 appearances in May and June. The last time you allowed a run though was June 6 against the Yankees. A month of shutout pitching is also known as getting the job done. Earlier in the season, I had to look the other way when you came into the game. Now, I get more and more confidence in you daily. Previous ranking: 4
The biggest improvements have been J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler. These 2 pitchers struggled through April and parts of May, but have been lights out since that time. These 2 guys really make the bullpen very solid and trustworthy. Add that to a lefty specialist in Randy Choate who is mowing down hitters, and you have a bullpen that will be very tough to beat. A 1 run lead is a lot easier to trust when these 3 guys are pitching at the top of their game. There is a long list of reasons that the Rays are now 9 games over .500 and nipping at the heels of the Yankees and Red Sox. In my opinion, the bullpen improvement leads the list. Anyone following the team can see this fact, it’s not rocket science.