Player Profiles 2020: Tampa Bay Rays Starting Pitchers

Pitch breakdowns, projections, and nicknames included.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Rays At A Glance

I love their pitching staff, but I might love their pitching philosophy even more. In 2019, no other group of starting pitchers elevated their fastballs more than the Rays. Charlie Morton was one of four pitchers to post a sub-3.00 FIP. Blake Snell is a Cy Young award winner and has more strikeout potential than any other Rays pitcher. Tyler Glasnow has come up big since coming over from the Pirates. Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough have quietly been effective. And then there’s Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell, who have similar upside, although Honeywell hasn’t pitched since 2017. This is a fun group.

 

Charlie MortonLocked Starter

Nickname: The Quiet Ace

 

2019 In Review

Morton has been fantastic since 2017, but he was even better in 2019, posting a career-high 12.9% swinging-strike percentage and career bests in ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-. All that the age of 35! Health is always a concern for Morton, but he’s built himself up to nearly 200 innings, and he’s as effective as anyone when he’s on the mound.

Fastball (49% usage)

Morton very significantly raised his average vertical fastball location and averaged a career-high in 2019. The result was a 12.9% swinging-strike percentage on his fastball that is significantly better than his career average 8.0%, as well as his 10.6% and 9.3% numbers from 2017 and 2018, respectively. 2019 marked the first time that Morton has thrown his fastball more than his sinker since 2010, and also the first time any of his breaking pitches (i.e., his curveball) was thrown more than either of his fastballs.

As is the case with many pitchers, Morton’s sinker is better at inducing weak contact than his four-seamer is, but his four-seamer’s swinging-strike percentage is twice that of his sinker. In terms of strike percentage, his four-seamer also gets the edge with a 29.0%, compared to his sinker’s 26.5%. It’s no wonder he had career-highs in K% and swinging-strike percentage.

These were all judicious changes by Morton, and I hope they stick.

 

Curveball (37% usage)

As previously mentioned, Morton threw his curveball more than ever in 2019. What’s encouraging, though is that he maintained his whiff rates. In fact, his curveball was a Money Pitch in 2019, with a 41.9% O-Swing rate, 42.7% zone rate, and 16.9% swinging-strike percentage. He also had a career-high (we’re going to be saying that a lot, huh?) in pVAL, with a 24.8 pVAL and 2.1 pVAL/C.

His xwOBAcon seemed to be pretty low, but his .299 xwOBAcon is just 21 points below his average since 2017. So, perhaps he was a little fortunate, but it’s not as if his curveball’s production is going to fall off a cliff — especially because he gets a lot of swinging-strikes with it. Notably, his curveball BABIP was .227 from 2017 to 2018 and .254 in 2019, and it has a high 72.3% weak contact percentage since 2015, so it may just be a pitch that legitimately can induce weak contact year-to-year.

 

Cutter (10% usage)

Morton’s slutter has been a great strike-getter for years now. With a 39.4% CSW, it bests his curveball’s 36.8% CSW in 2019. As a result, it was his third-best pitch by pVAL (4.6) and was his second-best pitch by swinging-strike percentage (14.1%). He changed it from a pitch he threw at the bottom (or outside) of the zone to a pitch that he throws in the zone to his glove-side.

It may be due for regression (.302 wOBAcon and .372 xwOBAcon), but the strike-getting ability isn’t made up.

 

Splitter (3% usage)

As far as splitters go, Morton has one of the more underwhelming ones across the league. By batted ball quality, it was easily the worst splitter thrown by a starter in 2019, and the worst by swinging-strike rate, outside of Trent Thornton‘s. (Although, he threw just 100.)

 

2020 Outlook

His improved strikeout rate is legitimate, and it seems his walk rate is too. Morton is 36 years old and better than ever. His health is the only worry here. I can get with a 3.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 30 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 30% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Charlie Morton 2020 projection:

3.40 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 28% K rate in 165 IP

 

 

Blake SnellLocked Starter

Nickname: Snellzilla

 

2019 In Review

The Seattle native teased us with a 1.89 ERA Cy Young campaign in 2018, his season was shorted due to injury in 2019. The pendulum — while on his side in terms of ERA in 2018 — swung the other way, and he put up a 4.29 ERA in 2019, despite strong peripherals.

 

Fastball (48% usage)

Snell doubled down on the Blake Snell Blueprint and raised his average vertical fastball location, while lowering the average vertical location of the rest of his pitches. He also made a subtle horizontal shift as, instead of letting his fastballs drift arm-side, they were more toward the top-middle of the zone. He was throwing his fastball out of the zone to his arm-side a lot in 2018, so he helped himself out here.

Specifically, his fastball’s swinging-strike percentage raised from 9.4% to 12.8%, and he raised is pVAL/C from 0.6 to 0.9. His xwOBAcon remained stable, moving from .379 to .377, but his wOBAcon (.341 in 2018, .425 in 2019) was significantly higher than his xwOBAcon, suggesting we could see positive regression in 2020.

 

Curveball (25% usage)

I’ve already mentioned that Snell lowered the average vertical location of all of his secondary pitches, but I haven’t mentioned how much. For his curveball, Snell’s zone percentage dropped from 33.3% to 26.4%. He has a strong career 40.5% O-Swing rate, so he can afford to do it, but it resulted in a few important changes. First, his CSW dropped from 42.2% to 38.6%. That’s not a huge drop, but a change nonetheless. More importantly, his 13.7 pVAL from 2018 dropped to 0.9. Now that’s a huge drop.

Of course, his pitch retained a 40.3% O-Swing rate and a 24.0% swinging-strike rate. The issue was an elevated .477 wOBAcon, which is significantly higher than his .403 xwOBAcon. Another pitch that could see positive regression!

 

Changeup (20% usage)

Snell’s changeup went from 29.3% to 29.6%, staying essentially the same, but it reverted from an 8.0 pVAL to a 0.9 pVAL. This is despite an increase in O-Swing%, and a 15.3% to 20.1% increase in swinging-strike percentage. There’s not too much to say about it, other than his changeup is probably actually more of the 2019 version than 2018, but it’s still good.

 

Slider (7% usage)

He only threw it 133 times in 2019, but Snell’s slider got lit up. It had a barrel rate of 11.1%. Yeesh!

Considering his slider is incredibly similar in terms of career peripherals, I think he should throw it more. Snell is so good that he has the luxury to not do so, though.

 

2020 Outlook

Think about this: over his career, Snell has a pitch with a swinging-strike percentage above 15%, and two pitches with swinging-strike percentages above 22.0%. Now he has a fastball that has shown the ability to throw his fastball in the zone 60% of the time and yet still posted a near-13.0% swinging-strike rate. Snell has an incredible skill set, and the only thing that has been able to stop him thus far is batted ball luck (or lack thereof). How about a 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 33 K%?

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 28% K rate in 110 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.60 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 35% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Blake Snell 2020 projection:

3.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 31% K rate in 175 IP

 

 

Tyler GlasnowLocked Starter

Nickname: Glasnowish

 

2019 In Review

He was a mess with the Pirates, but Glasnow has been nothing short of dominant since joining the Rays. His 1.78 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 33 K% are all great. Too great. He’s due for some regression, but even then, Glasnow has shown incredible pitching prowess despite an approach that is nearly 70% fastballs and 30% curveballs.

 

Fastball (67% usage)

Glasnow employs the Blake Snell Blueprint as much as anyone. He raised his average vertical fastball location in 2019 much higher than it was in 2018, and he thrived. He saw a small (if not insignificant) bump in swinging-strike percentage from 9.3% to 9.6%, but a huge increase in pVAL, from 3.6 to 13.8. Part of this increase in pVAL came from being a more efficient strike-thrower — his fastball CSW improved from 28.8% to 33.0%. That’s one of the best CSWs for a starter in baseball. But a lot of it was luck, too.

Just one batted ball event short of 100, Glasnow managed to limit opposing hitters to a .221 BABIP, .280 wOBAcon, and .307 xwOBAcon. None of those numbers seems legitimate, considering the league average for fastball BABIP and wOBAcon are .307 and .409, respectively.

So, yeah, Glasnow’s fastball is good, but not this good. In isolation, it’s mostly a strong pitch based on fastball velocity. His fastball spin rate is above-average, but his active spin rate is dreadful, with a 71.9% that ranks in the 14th percentile in active spin. (Although, in fairness, he’s in the proximity of Jack Flaherty and Lance Lynn). It’s unique in that, in terms of its average, it gets zero horizontal movement. Zero. If anything, though, he cuts it. So, although he doesn’t get much rise on it due to its poor active spin, it gives hitters a different look, and he has the ability to manipulate it into a straight fastball, or something with more cut.

Regression is more likely than not, although due to the nature of his fastball being different than others, it may be appropriate to treat it as somewhere in between a four-seam fastball and cut fastball.

 

Curveball (29% usage)

There are very few curveballs that are thrown as hard as Glasnow’s with comparable active spin. That’s why, even though his career zone rate is 33.2%, hitters still chase. It’s one of my favorite pitches in baseball, and with 35.2% CSW that ranks in the 83rd percentile for starters, it’s a good one. It’s another quasi-Money Pitch, as its 37.5% O-Swing rate and 38.5% zone rate fall short of qualifying.

With a 0.5 pVAL in 2018 and 4.1 pVAL in 2019, his fastball is certainly the pVAL breadwinner in his repertoire. Again, given that his curveball is different from others, I think it’s reasonable to expect that he can overperform a league average xwOBAcon, but his .276 xwOBAcon is doing so rather significantly.

Regardless of batted ball quality, it’s encouraging that he’s got two pitches in his fastball and curveball that he can throw for strike (and convert them!).

 

Changeup (4% usage)

I was encouraged in a May writeup that Glasnow might be breaking out his Vulcan changeup. He, at one point, said it was coming along. But after throwing it nine times against Boston and 13 times against Baltimore (both career-highs!), it was never seen again.

I’ve sort of given up any hope that this ever becomes a meaningful component of Glasnow’s repertoire. I can see how it would be killer — he gets a ton of horizontal separation between his fastball and changeup because his fastball doesn’t break to his arm-side. But for whatever reason, it’s just not happening. Hopefully one day! But I’m not counting on it.

 

2020 Outlook

Glasnow ranked in the top one percent of xwOBAcon in 2019. That sounds good, but it’s far more likely that it’s just not sustainable. That should be clear from what I’ve said above. I’m willing to bet on a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 32 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 27% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.85 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 35% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Tyler Glasnow 2020 projection:

3.60 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 29% K rate in 160 IP

 

 

Yonny ChirinosLocked Starter

Nickname: Laurel

 

2019 In Review

While not as flashy as the Rays’ top three starters, Chirinos is awfully steady. Over 104.1 innings started in 2019, Chirinos put forth a 3.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 22.3 K% effort that the Rays would take ten times out of ten.

 

Fastball (56% usage)

Chirinos throws a sinker 55% of the time, as well as a four-seam fastball that he threw 19 times (pitch misclassification, perhaps?). I want to roll my eyes since he throws a sinker so much, but it’s not bad. In 2019, his sinker put up a 3.9 pVAL, with a 5.6 swinging-strike percentage, .372 wOBAcon, .391 xwOBAcon, and .293 BABIP. So, for the most part, he did well with his sinker.

But he wasn’t super efficient with it, either. His 19.3% CSW ranks in the fifth percentile in sinker CSW for starters. That’s obviously not ideal, but he’s been able to make it work thus far. So we’ll remain skeptical, but keep an eye on it.

 

Splitter (23% usage)

Chirinos’ splitter is easily his best pitch. It performed well by results, with a 6.1 pVAL and 1.4 pVAL/C. With a 40.7% O-Swing rate, 29.8% zone rate, and 20.0% swinging-strike percentage, its dominance is clear. It induces very weak contact (.308 xwOBAcon, 3.7% barrel rate) and it seems to pair well with his sinker and slider. Chirinos does a fantastic job of placing his splitter right below the zone.

 

Slider (22% usage)

Chirinos’ slider is also a solid pitch. He can’t throw it in the zone 29% of the time like his splitter because he needs to throw strikes at some point, but it’s a quasi-Money Pitch, with a 41.7% O-Swing rate, 42.2% zone rate, and 13.8% swinging-strike percentage. He does a nice job of locating this, too. However, as with his sinker, it doesn’t grade out well, by CSW: its 23.6% CSW ranks in the 11th percentile, which is, like, Adam Plutko bad.

 

2020 Outlook

Chirinos has outperformed his xwOBA for two years now. However, we know that, by true talent level, Chirinos is more of a below-average starter than an above-average starter. He’s essentially just been fortunate with his sinker. The Rays are a strong defensive team, but according to this leaderboard, Chirinos was neither lucky nor unlucky based on his defense alone. I think a 4.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 21 K% is in order.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 23% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.40 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 24% K rate in 170 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Yonny Chirinos 2020 projection:

4.00 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP

 

 

Ryan YarbroughLocked Starter

Nickname: The Fratty Pirate

 

2019 In Review

Yarbrough’s sinker ranks in the first percentile in fastball velocity, so, he did something about it. With a 4.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 20.8 K%, Yarbrough had a solid year.

 

Cutter (37% usage)

As I just mentioned, Yarbrough’s sinker isn’t very good. So he bumped his cutter usage from 29% to 37% and his sinker usage from 32% to 24%. Cutters are often pitches that are valuable because they induce weak contact, rather than because they miss bats. That rings true here, as Yarbrough’s 88.0% contact percentage and 6.3% swinging-strike percentage are pretty lackluster. However, his cutter’s 10.9 pVAL is quite good, and its .316 wOBAcon and .329 xwOBAcon seem entirely sustainable.

I don’t know much more he can throw his cutter, because there is a point of diminishing returns, but the more he throws this and the less he throws his sinker, the better.

 

Changeup (26% usage)

Yarbrough’s changeup is his only pitch that can do everything. Well, almost. Its 48.1% O-Swing rate, 30.4% zone rate and 18.1% swinging-strike percentage is a great trifecta. Paired with his 11.1 pVAL, everything looks good. But there are a few things.

Yarbrough’s .287 wOBAcon is 50 points below the .337 wOBAcon for changeups, and his changeup’s BABIP is .248. As for his CSW, it’s…not good! Its 17.7% CSW ranks 85th of 87 starters.

 

Fastball (24% usage)

Even while pitching half of his games in relief, Yarbrough posted a .459 xwOBAcon and 11.5% barrel rate with his sinker in 2019. That’s is so, so very bad. His .370 BABIP seems inflated, but it got hit so hard that I don’t think it’s actually far off. It’s bad, and he should do everything in his power to throw it the least he possibly can.

 

Curveball (13% usage)

Yarbrough’s curveball ranks poorly by CSW too — it ranks in the 22nd percentile. With a 5.2 pVAL, it performed well in 2019, but, uh, it’s not sustainable at all. His curveball returned a .159 wOBAcon, .226 xwOBAcon, and .094 BABIP. Yeah…not ideal.

 

2020 Outlook

I’m not a believer. There are far too many warts here for me to think that this can continue, especially since his sinker is such a travesty. It’s hard to nail down precisely where he’ll fall, but something like a 4.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 21 K% seems about right.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 18% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 22% K rate in 160 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Ryan Yarbrough 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 20% K rate in 140 IP

 

 

Brendan McKayFringe Starter

Nickname: McStrikeout

2020 Outlook

McKay’s 2019 cup of coffee has people down on him, but I think the bad things (e.g., home runs) would have washed out some over a full season. All of his pitches showed potential, he just needs to put it all together. I expect some struggles, but there’s no reason to not be high on him. For what it’s worth, he’s projected to have a better K-BB% than Jesus Luzardo.

 

 

Brent HoneywellFringe Starter

Nickname: Sweet Pot

2020 Outlook

At his peak, Honeywell is supposed to be someone with five average-or-better offerings, with good command. Sign me up! He’s probably going to show some rust, and his arm injuries are always going to scare me (he throws a dang screwball!), but the pieces are all there. We’ll definitely see less of him than McKay.

 

 

Nickname explanations:

Charlie MortonThe Quiet Ace. He was subtly an ace for many teams in 2019, not getting the same love as other big names yet producing through the year. Not sure he deserves the name for 2020, though.

Blake SnellSnellzilla. It’s wonderful. Why would I change this?

Tyler GlasnowGlasnowish. He was Glaslater. Then Glasnow proper last year…until he got hurt. Now he’s Glasnowish.

Yonny ChirinosLaurel. It’s just what I see his first name as.

Ryan YarbroughThe Fratty Pirate. Yaaarrrrr-brah.

Brendan McKayMcStrikeout. In case you didn’t know what K stood for.

Brent Honeywell: Sweet Pot. He’s a well of honey.

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

  • Avatar Karl says:

    I thought Charlie Morton was “The Quiet Ace”, always liked that nickname for him

  • Avatar Chris in The ICT says:

    What do you think is the roll for Trevor Richards? Opener? Or the Guy After The Opener? Can I claim GATO as the phrase for that type of pitcher?

  • Avatar Brian Fawcett says:

    kill the nicknames nonsense, keep up the decent analysis. You’re unnecessarily making a fool of yourself.

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