The Tampa Bay Rays shuffled their roster up quite a bit this offseason, and the shakeup continued this past Saturday. Emilio Pagan, who was the Rays’ closer last season, was traded to the Padres for two players. But with Pagan now off the Rays roster, who will be Tampa Bay’s closer to start 2020? Let’s take a look at their options.
Let’s start with hard-throwing lefty Jose Alvarado. The 24-year old has spent three seasons with the Rays, with 2018 being his most effective season with Tampa. During the 2018 season, Alvarado posted a 2.34 ERA, and struck out 80 over 64 innings (11.25 K/9). The left-handed reliever also picked up eight saves in 2018. Last year, though, wasn’t as successful for the left-handed pitcher. Alvarado posted a 4.80 ERA in 2019, and while he did strike out 39 over 30 innings (11.7 K/9), the lefty walked almost a batter an inning (27-8.1 K/9). The Venezuelan native also struggled badly against right-handed hitters last season. Alvarado, against right-handed hitters, posted a 6.75 ERA and opposing right-handed batters hit .282 off the 24-year old.
Alvarado can be an effective reliever when things are going right for him, as he has good stuff. The 24-year old’s sinker can induce weak contact, and his cutter had a Whiff% rate of 61.4% last season. However, as we mentioned earlier in the article, he has his weaknesses. Right-handed hitters beat him up, and his control leaves a lot to be desired. While he has been an option for them before when it comes to getting saves (Alvarado had seven saves last season and does have has 15 career saves), don’t expect him to be Tampa’s primary option in the ninth inning.
Fireballer Diego Castillo has been quite solid since making his MLB debut in the 2018 season. Over the last two seasons, Castillo has a career ERA of 3.30 and has struck out 146 batters over 125.1 IP (10.50 K/9). And last season, Castillo struck out 81 over 68.2 IP (10.69 K/9) and did record eight saves (second on Rays behind Emilio Pagan (20)). Castillo can beat hitters consistently, and that can largely be attributed to a hard slider that has late movement and can beat hitters.
Because Castillo was second on the Rays last year in the save category, he has to be one of the relievers under consideration. However, can he be trusted late in games on a consistent basis? The 26-year old did have a BB% rate slightly above the MLB Statcast average last season at 9.0%, which is a bit concerning. Another concerning stat is Castillo’s ERA in the ninth inning last year, as the righty posted a 5.65 ERA during the final frame in 2019. Despite that, the stuff is legit, as his sinker/slider combo can wreck havoc on hitters, making him a candidate to pick up more saves in 2020.
Nick Anderson‘s career path could be the plot of a movie. Anderson went undrafted out of high school, was arrested as a collegiate pitcher for second-degree assault, and spent years in the independent ball scene looking for a shot to play in the Majors. Anderson finally got a chance to play affiliated ball in 2015, as he signed a minor league with the Twins. And almost four years after he signed a contract with Minnesota, Anderson made his MLB debut last season with the Marlins, and he was a dominant force last season.
With Miami, Anderson posted a 3.92 ERA with the Marlins, and struck out 69 over 43.2 innings pitched (14.38 K/9). The 6’5” righty peaked the interest of the Rays, who traded for Anderson and Trevor Richards in July. With Tampa, Anderson put up video-game numbers, as he struck out 41 batters over 21.1 IP, and walked just two batters with the Rays. From August 1 (Anderson’s first day with Rays) to the end of the season, the 29-year old’s 17.30 K/9 was tops among qualified relievers during that timespan.
Anderson can beat hitters with a hard fastball that induced an above-average amount of whiffs up in the zone. The righty also possesses a curve that batters only hit .129 off of last season and had a whopping Whiff% rate of 54.2%. Anderson had a dominant rookie season, and the 29-year old is now in play to be the primary option for the Rays late in games this season. But, who do we think will be the closer for Tampa this season?
Picking a favorite to replace Emilio Pagan is tough, as the Rays do have several talented relievers. We didn’t even mention Chaz Roe or Oliver Drake, both of whom could be in play to pick up some saves in 2020. On top of the Rays’ depth in the bullpen, Tampa could decide to not have a set closer, and rather go by a committee or based off of matchup.
However, if we had to choose one reliever, Anderson would be the clear pick. The 29-year old was dominant last season, regardless of what team he pitched for. The 6’5” righty has a fastball/curveball combo that overwhelmed hitters last year, and was lights-out with Tampa once the Rays acquired him in July. Another reason why we like Anderson is that he was primarily utilized as a setup man for the Rays last season. In 2019, the majority of innings he logged with Tampa came in the eighth inning, so it’s quite possible he could shift to the final frame in 2020.
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