View from the catwalk: Adam Kolarek says he's been in this situation before

View from the catwalk: Adam Kolarek says he's been in this situation before

Rob Mains over at Baseball Prospectus gave a very good graphical breakdown of the Rays pitching usage. It’s not behind the paywall, and it’s worth your time. Basically, he goes through comparisons of innings for starts, and innings for relief experiences to show exactly where the Rays are and aren’t unusual as a result of their bullpen days and their opener-headliner strategy.

It’s most interesting to me to see where the Rays are not leading—relief pitchers per game (that’s Toronto) and starts between three and four innings (that’s Miami).

I do have to pick a little bit of a bone with the conclusion, because this is an excellent piece ruined (maybe that’s the wrong word because I’m still telling you to read it) by some faux-analysis that got tagged on at the end.

All told, Tampa Bay opener starts have yielded an 18-17 record, for a .514 winning percentage. The team in its other games is 42-41, for a .506 winning percentage. That doesn’t strike me as the type of difference—it works out to 1.3 wins over the course of a season—that drives imitation, although certainly there are other factors.

In what world is this how we would evaluate whether a strategy works?

What is the sample? It’s a bunch of games, weighted toward the appearances of pitchers in a long relief role that we’ve taken to generally calling “headliners.” The plurality appearances in this role are given to Ryan Yarbrough (9) and Austin Pruitt (6).

Now what is the control? It’s a bunch of games, weighted toward the appearances of Blake Snell (23), Chris Archer (17), and Nathan Eovaldi (10).

Now, you tell me, quick withouot looking it up, which of those groups you would expect to be better?

To evaluate a strategy, you need to come up with a baseline expectation. In science, often, this is done with a control group, but because baseball isn’t played in a lab, true control groups aren’t always possible. In no case is Snell the right control for Yarbrough. The better way, in this case, has something to do with projections, and it’s harder. Baseball Prospectus knows this.

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Home team rules in Rays-Yankees series

Home team rules in Rays-Yankees series

NEW YORK — The season series between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays is even at six wins apiece, but when the teams get together, the outcome often is based on the venue.

The teams will reconvene their unique season series Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

The home team is 10-2 so far.

The Yankees swept a two-game series April 2-3 and won the first three games of a four-game set June 14-17. Since then, the Rays have won six of the last seven meetings by taking two series at home.

Tampa Bay posted a 3-1 victory in its last trip to the Bronx on June 17 and then swept a three-game series, capped by Jake Bauers‘ game-winning homer in the 12th inning, on June 24.

The Rays won two one-run games while Masahiro Tanaka pitched a complete game in New York’s 4-0 victory on July 24. The Rays have won four one-run games against the Yankees this season, and the last series marked the first three-game series without a New York homer since Sept. 2-4, 2016 at Baltimore.

Although the Yankees struggled in the last two visits to Tampa Bay, they are 13-3 against the Rays at home in the last two seasons and have won the last 12 home series between the teams at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees come into their latest encounter with the Rays looking to rebound from an 8-5 loss to the New York Mets on Monday. Miguel Andujar hit a two-run homer, but Luis Severino lasted a season-low four innings and the Yankees fell 10 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

Despite losing for only the second time in eight games since getting swept in a four-game series at Fenway, the Yankees face their largest deficit since finishing the 2016 season, 10 games out.

“Keep going baby, seriously,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the large deficit. “That’s all you can do right now. You really can’t get caught up in that. We’re going through a tough stretch for us, being a little beat up, all these games in a row and I feel like the guys are playing well and we’ve been able to rack up some wins here of late and that’s all we can control.”

This time they will face the Rays with Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge both on the disabled list.

Sanchez has begun doing some running and could start hitting as he recovers from a strained right groin. Judge is three weeks into recovering from a fractured right wrist and could start swinging a bat in the next few days.

The Rays head into New York with eight wins in their last 13 games. They were unable to complete a sweep in Toronto when they managed six hits in a 2-1 loss on Sunday.

“We got pitched tough,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Still not clicking offensively like we’re capable of.”

Willy Adames drove in Tampa Bay’s lone run with an RBI single and is .419 (13-for-31) in his last nine games. Bauers went 0-for-10 during the weekend, and is mired in a 6-for-34 slump but is 6-for-19 in Tampa Bay’s last five wins over the Yankees.

J.A. Happ will make his third start for the Yankees and is hoping it goes as well as the first two.

On July 29 against Kansas City, he allowed one run and three hits in six innings of a 6-3 win. After missing a turn because of hand, foot and mouth and disease, Happ returned Thursday against Texas and allowed three runs and four hits in six innings while getting nine strikeouts and doing so after the bullpen was taxed in Boston and Chicago.

“I knew that we needed some innings,” Happ said. “I did what I could out there. Would have like to (have) gone one or two more.”

Happ is 3-4 with a 4.73 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) against the Rays. He was 0-1 with a 2.53 ERA in two starts against the Rays with Toronto this season.

Hunter Wood will be the starter or opener for the Rays, though he likely will not pitch much beyond the second inning. In his six “starts”, Wood has not pitched more than two innings.

Wood’s last appearance in this role was Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles when he allowed three runs and five hits in two innings.

Wood is 0-0 with a 3.91 ERA in 15 appearances and owns a 4.35 ERA in his starts. He faced the Yankees on July 23 when he allowed one run and two hits in two innings.

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Tyler Glasnow, Kevin Gausman show must-add upside

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Tyler Glasnow, Kevin Gausman show must-add upside

More Week 21: Top-10 Sleeper Hitters | Top Two-Start Pitchers

Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery. To kick off our look at the waiver wire for Week 21, we’ll focus on two pitchers who got just that, and who just might be living up to their potential as a result.

We’ve written a lot about Tyler Glasnow since his trade to the Rays, and we’re going to just keep doing it until he gives us reason not to. Glasnow oozes potential, and he’s starting to live up to it since joining the Rays. He made his third start Sunday against the Blue Jays, and although he continues to be limited in his innings and pitches – just five and 79, respectively, this time around – you have to be impressed by what he’s managed to do. He limited the Blue Jays to one run on two hits and, most impressively, just two walks, while striking out six. He racked up 14 swinging strikes, giving him a whopping 17.6 percent rate in three starts with the Rays. He is throwing strikes consistently, and working up in the zone, allowing his impressive stuff to play up. Glasnow’s always had the potential, and now we’re seeing it in action. He deserves to be universally owned at this point.

It’s a lot easier to get excited about Glasnow than Kevin Gausman, just because we’ve been fooled by Gausman so many times before. Anyone who has followed his career knows Gausman can look like an ace on any given night, week, or month. He did so Friday against the Brewers, when he limited them to just one run over eight innings, with eight strikeouts and no walks. Of course, he also gave up three runs with just two strikeouts in his previous start against the Mets, his first since leaving the Orioles. That’s Kevin Gausman for you, though there are reasons to believe this might be the start of something more:

It could end up being another false start. However, Gausman put together a 3.10 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 93 innings in the second half in 2016, and he did so while looking a lot like he did Friday. The upside is high enough to bet on, given the changes he appears to have made, especially if the cost is just a waiver-wire claim – though I would make Glasnow more of a priority at this point.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Ryan Zimmerman has been a disappointment this season, after he could barely get on the field in Spring Training. He ended up missing more than two months of action after struggling to a .689 OPS in his first 33 games, and Fantasy owners wrote him off at that point. However, since coming off the DL, Zimmerman has looked a lot more like the 2017 version of himself, hitting .356/.434/.756, with seven strikeouts and six walks in 14 games. He isn’t playing every day, but his role has been expanding, and Zimmerman is squarely back in the mix among starting Fantasy options now that he appears healthy.

We’ll see if it sticks, but Drew Steckenrider is the Marlins‘ closer for at least the next few weeks. Kyle Barraclough was placed on the DL with a back injury this week, though he had already been removed from the closer’s role after surrendering 16 runs in 14 appearances dating back to the start of July. There may not be many save opportunities for the Marlins, but Steckenrider will get them when they are available, and he’s shown the potential to be a Fantasy contributor, sporting a 2.94 ERA and 11.9 K/9 over the last two seasons. That makes him a must-add in all category-based formats.

The overall numbers aren’t great, but it’s time to take note of what Anthony DeSclafani is doing. He dominated the Diamondbacks Friday, limiting them to just three hits over seven scoreless innings, while striking out nine and walking none. That gives him two consecutive starts of seven innings and one or zero runs allowed, and three of his last six. In that span, he has a 3.82 ERA with 30 strikeouts and eight walks in 33 innings of work. DeSclafani doesn’t have ace upside, but in 2015 and 2016, he sported a FIP below 4.00, and seems to be getting back to that level. That’s a useful pitcher, especially if he can keep going deep into games.

Blue Jays look to bounce back against Rays

Blue Jays look to bounce back against Rays

TORONTO — The Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays are going to become familiar with each other during the remainder of the season.

After the Rays defeated the Blue Jays 7-0 Friday, the teams will meet 12 more times, wrapping up their seasons with a three-game series at Tropicana Field Sept. 28-30.

The game Friday resulted in the ninth shutout of the season for the Rays (59-57), while the Blue Jays (52-63) have been blanked seven times, twice by Tampa Bay.

The game was the first meeting between the teams this season at the Rogers Centre. The Rays were 5-1 over a pair of three-game series at the Trop May 4-6 and June 11-13 and now lead the season series 6-1. There are three more series between the teams, two in Toronto.

The Blue Jays will start right-hander Sam Gaviglio (2-4, 5.08 ERA) on Saturday afternoon. The Rays are expected to start right-hander Ryne Stanek (1-3, 2.56).

Gaviglio has not won since May 25. In 13 starts since, he is 0-4 with a 5.78 ERA. The team is 5-8 during that span.

He is 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA in one start against the Rays this season, giving up five runs in 3 1/3 innings in an 8-4 loss on June 11. Gaviglio is 1-1 with a 6.48 in two career starts against Tampa Bay.

Stanek is expected to start for the 19th time in 38 appearances on the season as the Rays often have opened with a reliever instead of a regular starter. His start on Saturday hinged on whether he was used in relief Friday and he was not needed in the easy win.

Stanek has faced the Blue Jays once in his career, and that was this season, when he pitched two scoreless innings while striking out three on June 12.

The Blue Jays could not get anything going Friday. Even first baseman Justin Smoak went 0-for-4 to end a 13-game hitting streak, the longest for a Blue Jay this season.

The Rays started rookies at all five infield positions Friday for the first time in franchise history.

More unusual was that Blake Snell was removed Friday with a perfect game going, requiring only 47 pitches to pitch five innings with six strikeouts.

It was his second start since his stint on the disabled with left-shoulder fatigue. He had pitched three innings on July 12, then pitched 1 2/3 innings in the All-Star Game before going on the DL. He returned Saturday with four innings against the Chicago White Sox.

“Five ups, the challenge of getting him deeper in a ball game, but Kyle’s (pitching coach Snyder) and my comfort level, just given the time he’s had off, that was enough,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Snell said he understood.

“Kyle said I was done,” the left-hander said. “Kyle told me why and I’m not going to argue. Kyle wants what’s best for my career, future-wise and everything. I felt great, yes, but I hadn’t gone five innings in a month. I’m not upset about it by any means. I know he’s doing what’s best for me and I appreciate that.”

Snell has allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 22 starts this season, which matches the Houston AstrosJustin Verlander for the most such starts in the American League.

While the Rays have already gone young, the Blue Jays figure to start to rebuild next season by also going with younger players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The speculation has been that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons will not be a part of that.

“Truthfully, a full breakdown, going young?” Gibbons said. “You know, I have to admit I don’t know if I’m interested in that. But we’ll see. I’m still here. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Everybody has been great to me, no doubt about that. We’ll see where it all ends up.”

Rays journal: Patience paying off for Mallex Smith

Rays journal: Patience paying off for Mallex Smith

BY KEEGAN MATHESON
Times Correspondent

TORONTO — It’s all clicking now for Rays OF Mallex Smith, who continues to ride a prolonged hot streak and flash game-changing ability at the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup.

A hot April from Smith generated plenty of buzz, but that quieted through the summer. The 25-year-old has been in a groove since the calendar flipped to July, though, and he’s only getting hotter.

Smith entered Friday’s series in Toronto hitting 14-for-30 (.467) over his previous 10 games and has been making hard contact consistently, but the most impressive part of this streak has been his improved plate approach with eight walks over that span.

“To put it as simply as possible, it’s swinging at the pitches I like and not at the pitches I don’t,” Smith said before Friday’s series opener in Toronto.
Manager Kevin Cash went a little deeper on Smith, well, going a little deeper.

“He’s really confident right now,” Cash said. “Hitters go through different periods of the season where they see the ball really well. He’s confident hitting behind in the count, so he’s not going up there looking to get the at-bat over. He’ll swing early on, but if not, has full confidence in his ability that he can work deep.”

Smith has speed to burn, which has always been his most impressive tool dating to his days as a prospect in San Diego and Atlanta. In 2013 and 2014, which Smith split between Class-A and high-A in the Padres system, he stole 64 and 88 bases.

With his average hovering near .300 this year and the top on-base percentage on the team behind the injured Daniel Robertson, Smith is seeing more opportunities to run.

He plans on taking them, too.

“I think of myself as a base stealer, and base stealers need to steal bases,” Smith said. “It’s all about picking the right spots.”

Pep talk

When dealing with a younger team, part of Cash’s job is encouraging players who are performing better than their stat line might suggest.

Ryan Yarbrough was the most recent rookie to have that talk after surrendering two home runs in each of his last two outings. That bumped the 26-year-old’s ERA up from 3.67 to 4.24, but Cash is still impressed with the overall package of Yarbrough’s season.

“We talked with Yarbrough the other day. He’s frustrated,” Cash said. “Two outings where he was not pleased with himself, but it’s easy to look at his stats and remind him he’s got 11 wins, he’s basically been under a four ERA all year long as a rookie pitcher.”

Roe begins rehab

Relief pitcher Chaz Roe made his first rehab appearance on Thursday after missing a month with a torn left meniscus. It was a fine first step, too, as Roe struck out the side on 18 pitches with high-A Charlotte.

Roe was one of Tampa Bay’s busiest arms before hitting the disabled list with a 3.60 ERA over 41 appearances and 35 innings.

This and that

The Rays entered their series in Toronto riding a streak of six one-run games. It’s the second time that has happened in franchise history, and the second time it’s happened in the majors this season … Time to get familiar, because 13 of the Rays final 47 games (including Friday) are against the Blue Jays … Only 14 players on Friday’s active roster were on it when the Rays last faced the Blue Jays on June 13 at Tropicana Field. That’s 11 new faces in under two months.

Rays' Brandon Lowe, Adam Kolarek form rare Terps duo sharing major league clubhouse

Rays' Brandon Lowe, Adam Kolarek form rare Terps duo sharing major league clubhouse

The University of Maryland isn’t a baseball factory. The school has put 34 players in the major leagues, and those appearances have been mostly both few and far between, but inside the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, two former Terps are making history together.

When fast-rising prospect Brandon Lowe, the Rays’ third-round draft pick out of Maryland in 2015, was called up from Triple-A Durham on Saturday, he joined former Terps left-hander Adam Kolarek on the major league roster, marking the first time two Maryland products were teammates at the major league level in 68 years, when Hal Keller and Sherry Robertson played for the Washington Senators together in 1950.

Lowe made his major league debut Sunday, and in Tuesday’s game against the Orioles, they were on the same field together — Kolarek entered the game in the seventh inning and Lowe was the starting left fielder.

“It’s crazy. It’s nice to be able to not only talk about school and stuff with [him], but it’s also getting Maryland on the map really,” Lowe said. “I really think that when you look around baseball, it’s really been changing, especially dating back to when Adam was there. That’s when the program really started turning around and it’s been turning out some very good talent out of there.”

Currently, the Rays’ Maryland duo makes up two-thirds of the Terps’ current big league contingency. St. Louis Cardinals reliever Brett Cecil is the only other Maryland product on a big league roster. And while the school hasn’t produced many major league players, outfielder Justin Maxwell played parts of seven seasons in the majors from 2007 to 2015 and left-hander Eric Milton’s 11-year big league career included 89 wins and an All-Star appearance in 2001.

“It’s very special,” said Kolarek, a Catonsville native. “Growing up in Maryland, I was always a Maryland Terrapins fan in all the sports and then getting the chance to play there, it was definitely at a time when we were rebuilding to be competitive in college baseball. The fact that where the school is at now, you’re proud to see where the program is at now and realize you were a part of the building blocks and being on the ground floor. I think that’s definitely what it’s taken.

“You look at Brett Cecil, he’s a guy who left right when I got there. And to see a reliever get to the big leagues and get a lot of success, it shows that just because you’re not from a perennial school, it doesn’t mean that all the lessons and mental toughness you learned in college playing college baseball, it can’t continue into pro ball and hopefully get you as far as here.”

While Lowe, 24, and Kolarek, 29, missed playing with each other in College Park by five years, some of their college teammates overlapped. But their times at Maryland and their paths to the big leagues were much different.

Kolarek played on three losing teams at Maryland, including a 5-25 team his last year. He was drafted after his junior year, an 11th-round pick of the New York Mets, and pitched out of minor league bullpens for parts of eight seasons before receiving his first big league call-up from the Rays last season.

He didn’t make the Rays’ Opening Day roster this season, but was recalled in early July after posting a 1.70 ERA at Durham. After seven relief appearances with the Rays, he was briefly sent down to Triple-A, but returned last week.

Lowe was a key cog on two of Maryland’s best teams, ones that advanced to the NCAA super regional round in 2014 and 2015. After a redshirt sophomore season when he posted a .978 OPS in 66 games, Lowe was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft and received an above-slot $697,500 signing bonus.

He moved up through the Rays farm system quickly and has emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects after posting a .949 OPS with 54 extra-base hits (31 doubles, one triple and 22 homers) in 100 games between Double-A Montgomery and Durham this season. Lowe hit 14 homers in just 46 games at the Triple-A level before receiving his first big league call-up. While Lowe came up as a second baseman, he’s made a steady transition in the minors to playing left field, where he’s made his first two big league starts.

“Really just hunting a pitch you can do damage to, don’t take that soft contact,” Lowe said of his success at the plate this season. “Find something you can drive and hit it hard and good things are going to happen when you stay aggressive. … It started in the [High-A] Florida State League [in 2017] and I think that really made all the difference honestly. Down there, the fields are huge, the ball doesn’t fly and you just try to drive the gaps. And when you drive the gaps, you can get out in front of one a little bit and hit it to the right part of the field where it’s a little shorter there and it all works out. But really it was staying aggressive and getting a pitch to drive.”

While there’s only three Terps currently on big league rosters, Lowe points out there are many more coming up through other minor league systems. In the past five draft classes, 23 Terps have been selected. As many as were drafted in the previous 30 years before that.

Two former Terps – both of whom played with Lowe — are knocking on the big league door.

Right-hander Mike Shawaryn, a fifth-round pick by the Boston Red Sox two years ago, is ranked seventh among Boston’s top prospects by Baseball America and was just promoted to Triple-A last week after posting a 3.28 ERA in 19 Double-A starts.

Outfielder LaMonte Wade, a St. Paul’s School product, has shown five-tool potential while reaching the Triple-A level in the Minnesota Twins organization. He is ranked Minnesota’s 13th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline.

“I think what’s really cool now is that you look at even the higher levels of the minor leagues now, there’s a lot of Terps players in Double-A and Triple-A who you hope everything goes right for them and then we start being all over the major leagues,” Kolarek said. “I think it’s cool because there’s an underdog mentality that you have a lot of pride that you went to Maryland and you had to fight for everything and every win, and that kind of carries over. Brandon’s not the biggest guy. I’m not the hardest thrower. So you’re still fighting that underdog role.”

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