The Tampa Bay Rays are a fascinating circus to watch when you have zero vesting interest in their success. Given the fact they don’t have any fans, the Rays are completely down to experiment with strange new ideas for how baseball ought to be played. This time around, they’ll be throwing Sergio Romo, the former closer of the World Series San Fransisco Giants, as a starter to plow through the early difficult matchups before letting rookie starter Ryan Yarbrough come into the game.
Here’s manager Kevin Cash’s explanation of what the team is doing, per the article I linked above:
“The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top. It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first, which is somewhat unheard of – up until Saturday anyway. Then Yarbs can, in theory, have the availability to get deeper in the game. There’s no more secret about the third time through the order, everybody knows that. And that’s kind of what this is about.”
The Rays did something similar against the Blue Jays last week and it worked for them. They started reliever Andrew Kittredge and let him go two innings before bringing in Yarbrough to pitch the third through seventh innings. Yabrough was brilliant, surrendering just one hit over his five innings of work. He was still able to toss his five innings, but he didn’t have to go through the good part of Toronto’s order three times, which, statistically and logically, is when pitchers are most prone to get smacked around.
I think this is the trend baseball is moving. Rather than having distinct starters and relievers, teams are going to move to having 13 pitchers who can come in and do their thing just one time through the order. The Jays being unwatchable last year pushed me to follow the Dodgers, who were a hell of a ride. A thing that was extremely noticeable was how loaded their bullpen was with multi-inning guys and how quick their leash was for starting pitchers. Rather than letting Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and so on work through the other team three times, a wealth of solid arms from the ‘pen would quickly take over the game. The Dodgers had two complete games last year. One was Clayton Kershaw, the other was Hill. Nobody came close to throwing 200 innings.
I hate to just wank off about the Rays and the random stuff they’re getting up to, but I think this could actually be an interesting idea to explore for the Blue Jays who, as we know, have had horrendous starting pitching this season. Per Baseball-Reference, the Jays have had the third-worst starting pitching in baseball this year, better only than the Padres and Reds. Their ‘pen, meanwhile, has been baseball’s best in terms of BR’s Wins Above Average.
Marcus Stroman, in his first time through the order, has been good this year. He’s holding opponents to a .660 OPS in their first at-bat against him, but, in their second and third at-bat, opponents are putting up a .957 and and .857 OPS against Stroman. Marco Estrada’s splits have been similar. Good the first time, bad the next two. It’s been less exaggerated for Aaron Sanchez, but, again, it’s the same trend. It hasn’t been an issue for J.A. Happ, who’s been the team’s best and most consistent start thus far, and it hasn’t been a thing for Jaime Garcia because he’s just been consistently bad.
I mean, this isn’t some new groundbreaking thing I’ve discovered. I’m aware this is a very simple explanation of what’s going on. But, given how bad Toronto’s starting pitching has been and how few options there are to improve it, this might be a worthwhile thing to explore.
If Aaron Sanchez or Joe Biagini is struggling to pitch more than four or five innings or the other team is picking up on Marco Estrada or Marcus Stroman’s pitches the second time through the order, maybe it’s worthwhile to explore having Tyler Clippard or John Axford come out and face the top of the order at the beginning of the game.
I was actually coming into this post with a “ha ha Rays Tank!” style idea to just make fun of them, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed, to me, that it could work for the Jays. I don’t know. Maybe I’m off my rocker here and I’m just in a mood for something to get changed up. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot, but I don’t really see much of a solution for Toronto’s starting pitching woes at this point other than hoping everyone quickly regresses to normal.