I hope that if you learn anything today, it's that Chewbacca is a southpaw. Other than handedness of creatures slightly hairier than Bobby Ramos, I wanted to take a look at what the latter will be missing out on in 2012. Per usual, the Rays have acquired more arms than they have spots for on the Major League roster. Generally the Rays like to bring in as many options as possible with the hopes that enough will work out to field an above-average bullpen. Following the bullpen exodus after the 2010 season Rays GM Andrew Friedman has shown that he wants to acquire guys not only for now, but also arms that may come in handy down the road so that he's never again in a position to replace virtually an entire pen.
It makes a lot of sense when you look at what the Rays have already acquired to this end prior to the upcoming 2012 season. Trades for Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke, the retention of J.P. Howell and Joel Peralta, and the Free Agent signing of Fernando Rodney show that there is more than one way to stock this preserve, especially when relievers are in higher numbers than the albino deer. Let's assume that the Rays start the season with a front four of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore. Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis can fight over the last rotation spot with the loser going to the pen. The Rays would be left with each of these guys on the active roster:
Wade Davis or
Josh Lueke (2)
Brandon Gomes (2)
Alexander Torres (1)
Dane De La Rosa (2)
Jake McGee (1)
Cesar Ramos (1)
Alex Cobb (2)
Parenthesis indicate estimated number of remaining options to start 2012
That's 14 guys for seven spots so the Rays have essentially built two bullpens allowing them the flexibility to substitute different options in if Plan A doesn't work out. Today, I wanted to look at projecting the seven guys that have a track record in MLB. We're looking at just these guys today because they have built enough of a track record that we can project how they might perform in 2012 without it being a complete guess. Additionally, I think the Rays are rolling the dice a bit when it comes to options. The team's hope is that each of these guys can perform well enough that the Rays can keep their younger players in AAA to get more seasoning and try to hoard options as much as possible. This isn't going to work out in all cases, but this works for a first look.
All projections are based on the idea of Marcel where we weight previous years performance such that more recent years carry more weight. In this instance we're looking at the last three years with weights of 2/3/4, respectively. First let's take a look at the total projections for each guy:
Badenhop, Farnsworth and Peralta really distinguish themselves here, while Fernando Rodney sticks out like a sore thumb. You can see each players strengths (Peralta's K%) and weaknesses (Peralta's inability to get wormburners) which can give you an idea about what kind of role each guy could fit into. My ideal bullpen features a couple of niches that don't include inning number. Ideally, I want:
1) A guy that can get out lefties and righties in high leverage (Soriano)
2) A guy that can get lefties and righties in low-medium leverage (Benoit)
3) A guy that can get lefties out in medium-high leverage (Choate)
4) A guy that can get righties out in medium-high leverage (Wheeler)
5) A guy that can get a strikeout on command (Balfour)
6) A guy that can get a groundball on command (Bradford)
7) A guy that can go multiple innings or pitch in low leverage (Cormier)
Parenthesis indicate the ideal guy from Rays history, in my opinion
Since several of these rely on batter handedness, it also makes sense to look at each pitcher's L/R splits to see if they would have a role on this team.
Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta slot in nicely as your 1 and 2. Farnsworth is better against righties and Peralta is better against lefties so they compliment each other nicely while not killing their team when you can't get the ideal matchup. J.P. Howell looks like the ideal candidate for our 3 as even in a down year in 2011 couldn't tarnish his projections against lefties. He gets both ground balls and strikeouts making the walks a bit easier to tolerate. In a previous article I compared Josh Lueke to Brandon Gomes based on their ability to get same-handers while struggling with lefties. Burke Badenhop also fits this profile as he looks like a guy that you'd rather have facing a righty if at all possible. Let's pencil him in as our 4. Things begin to get a bit murkier, but you have to think the Rays see Rodney's previous ground ball rates and hope he can be our 6. His walks crush his lines, but he doesn't have an egregious platoon split while still getting grounders at a nice rate. We should be able to count on either Davis or Niemann to be our 7, or swing-man, long innings type guy.
You'll notice that the Rays currently lack a 5 in this scenario, but having the other holes filled allows the team to be patient with all the younger guys to see which one makes the most sense in this role. It could end up being De La Rosa or Lueke or Gomes or whoever. The point is that the Rays look to have established a nice pen with more depth than most teams in MLB. This should allow the team the flexibility to try a guy out and if he's not working out then they have plenty of other options to plug and play. If Plan A does work out, then the Rays should have another nice piece stowed away in AAA for an extra year.