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The Running of the Bullpen

Starting pitchers have long been viewed as the focal point of a baseball team, to me, a strong bullpen is as or almost more valuable.  Relief pitchers are the unsung heroes of the late innings of a game; they save the day when the starter isn’t having a good outing.  There is no shortage of games that the bullpen makes or breaks a game with one pitch.  The Rays organization seems to be a breeding ground for pitchers so let’s take a look at who is currently in the bullpen.

The closer may be the single most important element to a bullpen.  With the exit of Grant Balfour the Rays went without a named closer for a portion of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.  Brad Boxberger (R) quickly rose to the occasion and became Kevin Cash’s go to guy.  By the All Star Break he had 23s closes and an invite to the All Start Game, but soon thereafter he began to waver.   Although Boxberger had 18 saves in the second half of the season he doubled his blown saves from the first half (2) to 4.

In 2016 Boxberger has been officially named the closer.  With another year under his belt his performance only stands to improve.  Only time will tell if Boxberger will surpass the 41 save he was able to record in 2015.  He will depend on the strength of his fourseam and the control of his changeup.

Prior to the rise of Boxberger, Jake McGee (L) was the guy.  I’ll admit there was a time I hated seeing McGee come into a game but his performance 2014 changed my mind.  He closed out 2014 with 19 saves and probably would have gotten more if he closed out more games.

Going into 2015 McGee seemed to be the ringer for the closer position, but with Kevin Cash as the new shipper and starting 2015 on the DL nothing was certain.  By the time he was back on the active roster, Boxberger had already solidified the closer position.  Cash decided to make McGee the 8th inning guy (or what we know as the set up guy) and he filled the position perfectly.  McGee, more than any other one relief pitcher, set Boxberger up for the most saves.  The key to McGee being successful in 2016 is control of this fastball and staying off the DL.   That said, given that he escaped arbitration this off season with a one year extension, I’ll make the prediction that if McGee has a strong start to the season he will get traded by the All Star Break.

The middle of the bullpen is comprised of Erasmo Ramirez (R), Steve Geltz (R), and Alex Colome (R).

For a percentage of the 2015 season Erasmo Ramirez was a starter due to a number of starting pitchers being on the DL.  Due to that, his stats as a reliever are skewed.  Ramirez seemed inconsistent at best as a starter but he filled a very necessary void for the team.  Barring any long stents on the DL from the starters, Ramirez is well suited as a middle reliever that can go for a few innings if the starter is having a bad outing.

If I could say that there was one break out reliever if 2015 it would be Steve Geltz.  In the beginning of the season he was sitting down almost every batter he faced.  Geltz’s fastball seemed unstoppable, but as the season wore on and the Rays bullpen was pitching more innings than most in the league he began to waver.  2016 will bring more experience for Steve Geltz and with that stamina so remain consistent is the long 162 game season.

Alex Colome, like Ramirez, got the opportunity to start a few games due to so many starters being on the DL.  Considering that Colome pitched almost 3 times as many innings in 2015 (109.2) than he did in 2014 (23.2) and 2014 (16), he held his own keeping his ERA 3.94.

The back end of the bull pen is a little more fluid.  Relievers being used as starters allowed the Rays to bring up a few up and comers.  Danny Farquhar (R), Matt Andriese (R), Xavier Cedeno (L), and Andrew Bellatti (R) were a few of the names we saw picking up some innings.

I know at the beginning of this article I said that I thought the bullpen may be “as or almost more valuable” than the starting rotation, but in closing I will say this:  The success of a team is greater than the sum of its parts.  No one player makes or breaks a team.  The beautiful thing about sports is the cohesion that the players have with each other and watching them win because of it.  That is why I love baseball and the Rays.

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