To preview the upcoming series against the Rays we’ve set up a Q&A with R.J. Anderson of The Process Report and FanGraphs. If you’re looking for a take on the Rays’ side of things, definitely give The Process Report a read. R.J. and Jason Collette have been doing this at other places for a while.
Wade Davis had a rough time from late May until late June, either giving up a lot of runs or throwing a ton of pitches in not so many innings. Has he made any adjustments since then?
Is anything missing from his repertoire that is causing his strikeout and whiff rates to come in so low after being pretty high throughout the minors? Or does his stuff not forecast a high strikeout total in the majors?
Davis’ issues seem married to his usage patterns. He’ll use his fastballs to get ahead – like you’d expect – but instead of letting his plus breaking stuff take over and finish batters, he’ll go into a fastball fury, trying to blow the hitter away and do all the work himself. This leads to lengthier at-bats and some forced location that results in home runs. The lacking whiff rates seem to be a mixture of predictability right now more so than an inherent flaw in his stuff.
What’s the main difference between the B.J. Upton of three, or even two, years ago and the B.J. Upton of the last two years? What will it take for him to get back on track offensively?
Also, does he figure to play this weekend?
Hard to say with Upton. He’s played better than his raw numbers show and he’s murdering left-handed pitchers. It seems to be a BABIP issue, but the organization is obviously a bit frustrated with his progress nevertheless. The prognosis has been two-to-three days all along. During Wednesday night’s game, he stood in the dugout swinging a bat and Thursday morning he did some running. Joe Maddon remarked that he could be used later in the game if need be, signifying he should be good to go for the series.
One thing I admire about Joe Maddon is that he doesn’t hammer the idea of roles into his players’ heads. Do you think that plays a large part in the bullpen’s success? Or do you think it’s just that they have good pitchers and the Maddon storyline is just an interesting narrative?
Well, it goes beyond the bullpen. Ben Zobrist recently spoke up in defense of Maddon’s shuffling of positions and lineup slots. J.P. Howell has spoken in the past about how it’s their job to be prepared, whether they have to pitch in the sixth or the ninth. I’m not sure how much it really plays into the success because I think – with the exception of Rafael Soriano, who is often in the dugout until right before being called upon – the relievers assembled are good and Maddon places them in good situations.
Moreover, they still have roles to a degree. If I’m Randy Choate, and I know the it’s the 6th or 7th inning with a lefty coming up soon in a tight game, I’m probably getting mentally prepared to enter. You know? Maybe the mindset plays a marginal role, but it’s hard for me to credit that entirely to Maddon, despite him being very good at his job.
We’ve seen a considerable spike in James Shields’s strikeout and home run rates this year. Are they connected? His BABIP is way up, too. Do you think this is mostly poor luck, or is he doing something different this year that’s causing such a change in numbers that had been pretty consistent over the past few years?
I think it’s mostly poor luck. Shields has a stubbornness when it comes to walking batters. He’d rather challenge them in the zone than put someone on base. In a way that’s a good thing, but it also comes with the consequence of home runs. It’s worth noting his home run rate is well inflated over his norms between 2006 and 2009. He’s generating about the same number of swinging strikes as he did in years past, so I’m not entirely sure where the extra strikeouts are coming from.
Shields is such a weird case. You’re talking about a guy with maybe the best changeup in the American League who says and does intelligent things all the time; I would not be shocked to see him become a pitching coach down the line because he helps teammates with mechanical issues and philosophical talk. He seems to understand game theory and he’s even said this season that he likes it when team’s ambush him and figure him out. Presumably so he can mix things up. You can see that attitude prevalent in his arsenal too. He could probably just throw the changeup all day and night with good results – ask Nick Swisher – but he goes to a cutter, he goes to a curve, and sometimes maybe he outthinks himself. Joe Magrane used to say he gave the hitter too much credit by not throwing his change more often and maybe he had a point.
John Jaso: catcher of the next few years?
At least for the near future. The team reached an extension with Kelly Shoppach shortly after he arrived that probably implants him in the lineup against lefties for the next year. Dioner Navarro probably isn’t coming back anytime soon. Jaso’s skill set is interesting, though, and watching how he ages is going to be a mixture of curiosity and concern. He’s a decent baserunner for a catcher – probably the best at advancing on passed balls and wild pitches on the entire team – but he’s mostly a guy who will stand at the dish and take as many pitches as possible before either walking or putting the ball in play. That’s fine, except his power display to date has been limited. Will pitchers eventually just feed him strikes until he proves he can beat them, or can this sustain? I don’t really know the answer.
After the top, the organization has a dearth in catchers. The top prospects – like, the ones that have a shot at being major league regulars, not the Nevin Ashleys of the world – are Luke Bailey and Justin O’Conner; a pair of high school catchers drafted within the past two seasons.
Will we see any new players in a Rays uniform before the series is over? Anyone who might start the series with the team and end elsewhere?
It’s impossible to say at this point. The team shopped B.J. Upton around while asking for a lot and that seems unlikely to turn into anything at this point. Matt Garza’s no hitter and presence in the rotation probably means he won’t be seriously considered for a trade until the offseason. The most realistic scenario is Dan Johnson joining the team and someone like Gabe Kapler going on the disabled list. They like Kapler quite a bit and want him in the organization even after his playing days are over, so it would be awkward to designate him for assignment.
Final question: Will we see Jeremy Hellickson this season?
Most likely in a Price circa 2008 role.