Despite trading away Matt Moore at last year’s deadline and Drew Smyly during the offseason, pitching continues to be the strength of the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s what the team has built themselves around since the days of David Price and James Shields, and it’s what they will continue to build themselves around in the near future.
That said, number one starter Chris Archer was far from an ‘ace’ in 2016, and the depth of the rotation isn’t quite what it has been in years gone by. Youngster Blake Snell is going to have more pressure on him during his sophomore season, while the likes of Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb have to continue to pitch like front-line starters.
1. Chris Archer: After holding down a 3.26 ERA across 535 1/3 innings between 2013 and 2015, the Rays ace experienced a real drop-off in form last season. He lost a Major League high 19 games and finished with an ERA above 4.00. Having endured a rough first half of the season, Archer pitched a lot better after the All-Star break as he allowed two runs or less on six occasions. One thing that did remain consistent with previous years was his ability to rack up the strikeouts, finishing with more than 230 for the second consecutive season.
Despite being the subject of much trade speculation during the offseason, Archer remains in Tampa Bay where he comes into 2017 desperate for a return to his All-Star form. With an improved start to the season, the 28-year-old should be able to bring his ERA back toward 3.50.
2. Jake Odorizzi: Having floundered in the Tampa Bay rotation for a few years, Odorizzi made his mark on the big leagues as he went 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts. His 8.2 hits per nine innings allowed were the fewest of his career, while his 166 punch outs were among the top 20 in the American League.
Despite pitching a career-high 187 2/3 innings in 2016, the 26-year-old was actually better during the second half of the season. He went 7-1 after the All-Star break as opposing hitters averaged just .230 against him. His workload will still have to be managed over the course of the year to ensure Odorizzi remains injury free, but if he can continue to build on a promising season a year ago 2017 may bring the right-hander a maiden All-Star nomination.
3. Alex Cobb: Between 2012 and 2014, Cobb was one of the more underrated arms in the big leagues. Over that span, he pitched to a 3.19 ERA in 446 innings as he won at least ten games in each of the three seasons. He kept his strikeout rates up and his walk, hit and homer rates down.
Cobb missed all of the 2015 season with tendinitis in his right forearm, and also sat out much of last year after having elbow surgery in May. He came back for five starts in September and allowed at least four runs in three of those appearances. In his final two outings, he allowed a whopping 17 hits and 15 runs in 4 1/3 innings, striking out just four batters in that span. Now fully healthy, the Rays hope that Cobb can return to being an effective starter in 2017.
4. Blake Snell: Rated by Baseball America and MLB.com as a top-20 prospect prior to last season, Snell looked comfortable during his 19 starts at the major league level. He finished with a 3.54 ERA in 89 innings, across which he struck out almost 10 batters per nine innings while giving up just five home runs. Snell was fairly consistent throughout the year with comparable ERAs in the first and second half.
One of his best starts came in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, pitching six innings shutout ball against the Rockies while striking out nine. Now entering his sophomore season, it’s hoped the 24-year-old southpaw can become a consistent threat in the Rays rotation this year.
5. Matt Andriese: While much better utilized in swingman type role, Andriese enters 2017 as Tampa Bay’s fifth starter. Overall, Andriese threw 127 2/3 innings last year with the majority of those coming as a starter. In 19 starts, he held a 4.80 ERA while striking out an average of 7.7 batters per nine innings.
He started off the season quite well, going a perfect 3-0 in his first five starts as he held a 2.36 ERA across that stretch. The right-hander will likely return to a swing role later in the season when the Rays inevitably call up top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. Until that day arrives, Andriese and others will endeavor to pitch five or six solid innings.