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2006 Team Preview: Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Pitchers

So Marc and I are going to try this... but between Marc working hours that are illegal in some countries and me limping through a difficult semester, we'll see how long it lasts.

Marc does position players, and I do pitchers.

You'll notice that my analysis will have a slightly-less stat-intensive slant, but make no mistake about it: I don't know enough about scouting to give any salient pieces of anaylsis that come from how a pitcher looks.

We'll keep trying, though.

  1. Scott Kazmir - In 2002, the Devil Rays selected Scott Kazmir with the 15th pick in the draft, amazed that the fireballing  lefthander from Cypress Falls High School in Houston had fallen to the 15th slot. No one knows how they got the 15th pick in the draft that year, it just happened. That first round produced a major haul for them; they nabbed B.J. Upton with the second pick, too.

    This is exactly how it happened. There was no trade involved, seriously.

    But anyway, Scott Kazmir has blossomed into one of the most intriguing young pitchers in the game, and he simply got more dominant as the year went on. In April, he only struck out 13.4% of the opposition, but he was up to 25.4% for September. That's high. His strikeout rate generally trended up throughout the year, and his control never became substantially worse.

    Kazmir posted a 3.77 ERA in 186 innings last year, in spite of a .315 BABIP. He still has some work to do with his control, but he's 22 years old, throws gas and is lefthanded. If he stays healthy, he's going to be a great one, no doubt about it. Well, maybe some doubt. But not all that much.

  2. Mark Hendrickson - The Devil Ray rotation is a lot like the curve y = 1/x... with only one pitcher close to the y-axis. That's a sad way to be. Hendrickson has good control, and very little else to be positive about. The 6'9" lefthander did well against the Yankees last year, on occassion. But he didn't do well. His 5.90 ERA was based on a bunch of factors, but his defense didn't help. He also doesn't strike anyone out, and the ball was flying out of the park a little too frequently to be anywhere near successful. Hendrickson's a groundball pitcher, but not a dramatic one. His G/F hovers between 1.3-1.35 every year, which is mildly interesting if nothing else. One thing not to like about his scouting report is the difference in his fastball and his change-up, velocity-wise. notes that his fastball doesn't top 90, but his changeup is right in the mid-80s. That defeats the general purpose of the change-up. The curve is his best pitch, undoubtedly, but he might be better suited to drop the change from his arsenal, if this is right.
  3. Casey Fossum - And the hits just keep on comin'. Actually, Fossum's a terrible guy to bring out that one for; Fossum does strike out a good number of batters. On the surfact, it looks like Fossum's K-rate dropped off a bit (7.42 to 7.08), but that's just a product of a very high BABIP in 2004. Fossum was pretty much a shoo-in for a bounceback last year, a buy-low type 5th starter, and he delivered. He wasn't particularly good, but he kept his ERA under 5 and didn't get lit up like he did in Arizona. Getting away from the BOB was like Mike Hampton leaving Coors or like Chiang Kai-Shek leaving Mainland China: it was necessary for regrouping and licking the wounds of failure. Fossum was OK last year and if I were building a team, I wouldn't mind Fossum as a fifth starter. Of course, when you're paying him 2 years/$4.55 million minimum... so long as minimum salaries stay low, there's literally no reason to pay Casey Fossum that amount. You could throw a bunch of AAA-vets into his place and they'd probably equal his performance, if used correctly. But that's what revenue sharing does, I guess: it gives the small markets money to keep a guy like Casey Fossum around. And that's what we want, right?
  4. Seth McClung - Um... the 6.59 ERA isn't a typo, and has him slated as the #4 starter. McClung might have a future, actually... but let's be reasonable. He's never put up an ERA under 5 over a full season above A-ball. He didn't do well in AA-Orlando in 2002, he got hammered in 38.2 innings in the bigs in '03, and he's never had substantial AAA time. He's had Tommy John surgery and last year was his first full-season big league test. McClung throws hard, in the upper-90s, but he's another one who just doesn't know where it's going when it leaves his hand. A positive is that his strikeout rate approached something good... the way he throws, you'd expect more strikeouts. It's tough to completely write off someone who throws as hard as McClung does, so I won't. But the odds are firmly against him becoming Nolan Ryan. (One of his PECOTA comps is Eric Gagne, 2001. That would be very good.)
  5. Doug Waechter - One of the things I do before I write these is look at a player's stat card at ESPN to see if there's anything that stands out. For Waechter, it's his flyball tendencies. He was at .53 G/F in 2004, and he brought that up to .91 G/F in '05. He did give up more than his fair share of homers; his HR/F was at .122, which is a little higher than I would think it would be (Tampa's a pitcher's park). There are good pitchers who are flyball pitchers. I'm looking at a list of the 15 most dramatic flyball pitchers in the league, and Waechter would be on this list if he pitched enough innings. But there's a specific trend to this. The good ones generally strike people out (Pedro Martinez, John Patterson). The bad ones usually don't (Jose Lima). Now, not striking people out does not prevent success for a flyball pitcher. But it comes damn close. The problem is that if you give up too many BIP, and a lot of them are flyballs, inevitably, you're going to struggle with the longball. Striking people out limits the BIP. That's why Johan Santana is so good with a .91 G/F. But it's very difficult to survive as a flyball pitcher with an absymal strikeout rate. Waechter's not horribly low, but .126 K/PA is too low for any real success as a flyball pitcher. Even with some good control from last year.
Bottom line on the D'Ray rotation: it's weak. Outside of Kazmir, it's very weak. The trade for Chuck Tiffany and Edwin Jackson was a risk, but they had no real need for Baez, who was overrated, and one of those two, or both, even, could be valuable parts of a rotation in the future. The D'Rays are going to score a bunch of runs in the future, and Delmon Young is pretty much unanimously the best prospect in baseball (as in, I haven't seen a list with him not #1). But they're going to give up a lot of runs, too. This might be one of the two or three worst in the league.

The bullpen now...

The D'Rays appear to be going with a closer by committee, so we'll just cover these guys in a random order. Travis Harper, the man of a not-deceiving 6.75 ERA. Somewhere along the line, Harper transformed from a groundball pitcher (or at least close to the average, usually) into a flyball pitcher. That's a bad shift. He should go back. If Harper gets a bunch of high-leverage innings and he's as bad as he was last year, you'll see that a bullpen can be really important... Jesus Colome's strikeout rate dropped off a lot last year, and that's not a good sign. I'll attribute to lingering injuries; he went on the DL twice with right shoulder problems. When healthy, he throws in the high 90s with good movement on the heat. He also piles up strikeouts: not like Brad Lidge, but a notch or five below that. Colome's been in Tampa for 5 seasons now, and last year was his worst in the last few... Supposedly, the closer's job is Chad Orvella's to lose. Orvella's another one of those precocious types who just never got any seasoning in AAA. He was dominant in 16 games in AA, though, last year, and he was darn good in the bigs. He's 25 now, and he's the second best pitcher on the roster right now. And that's not a criticism. Orvella's good. Real good... Tim Corcoran? A minor league vet with some OK numbers in AAA the last couple of years, but nothing to write home about. This guy should be getting mop-up work with Harper, but its guys like this that are.. ah screw it, no it's not... Shinji Mori is new to the scene and pitched in Seibu, Japan, it seems. He was very good in 2003 and 2005, but not so much in 2004. A man with a similar name, Mori Ogai, wrote a book called The Wild Geese in the early 1900s, and, tried as I might to make a connection, I've failed. Bottom line on Mori is that he could be intriguing, and the Japanese relievers have been good at times (like Otsuka and Takatsu). Mori Ogai sent his main character off to Germany to try and become a doctor at the end of The Wild Geese; Shinji Mori sends himself to Tampa this time and will try to translate his strikeout rate. No similarities except the name, right? We'll see... Dan Miceli was a critical cog in the 2004 Astros' pennant run, and then he found himself in Colorado the next year. Not fair, right? A deep bone bruise in his foot relegated him to the DL last year. I honestly don't know how healthy he'll be, but he's starting to get a little long in the tooth. He has been a solid reliever in the past, though.

That's the pen, which is better than the rotation, but not by very much. It's a sad thing to say, but the Devil Rays will most likely finish in last place again, unless a lot of young pitchers develop. All those good young hitters make this Arizona-East, though, with guys like Delmon Young, BJ Upton, and Jonny Gomes poised to be very good hitters for the next few years.

The balance of power in the AL East could shift to Tampa in the next couple of years, if guys like Tiffany and Jackson blossom into good pitchers. The hitting will be fun to watch, though. That's for sure.