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Oh, What a Vague Description of What We Have Been Missing: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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After a disappointing series against the Phillies, the Jays continue their homestand with three games coming up against the Tampa Bay Rays this week.  The series opens on Monday night when Doc Halladay returns from the Disabled List and Jeff Niemann hurls for the Rays.  On Tuesday night, Scott Richmond tries to continue his fine work this season and Matt Garza seeks to continue his dominance of the Jays.  The series and homestand conclude on Wednesday afternoon with an unnecessary (for both teams) getaway game with Ricky Romero starting for Toronto and James Shields twirling for Tampa Bay.

This is our first series against the Rays this season and it would be really nice (and quite important) to get at least two wins against an AL East Divisional opponent.  It won't be easy, but this team is capable of playing with anyone and we should be able to get off to a good start with Doc going Monday night.

29 June

Jeff Niemann (6-4, 4.23, 1.465)

The 26 year-old Niemann is an huge (6'9", 280 lb.) righty who Baseball America ranked as the 99th best prospect in baseball before the 2008 season.  Niemann has performed admirably for the Rays this season, pitching to a 4.23 ERA through 72 1/3 innings over 14 starts, but has struck out just 44 (5.4 K/9) while walking 33 (4.0 BB/9), a ratio that is probably not going to be sustainable for him going forward.  Still, his .288 BABIP and 72.9% strand-rate are not incredibly out-of-line with league norms, so if he can keep his HR-rate as low as it is (just 0.98 HR/9), he can probably stay in the majors.  Niemann averages just over five innings per start.

In his 14 starts this season, Niemann has PQSed 1, 3, 2, 3, 0, 0, 1, 3, 5, 0, 5, 0, 2 and 0 for the unimpressive mean of 1.8 and Dominance-/Disaster-rates of 14% and an astronomical 50%.

Niemann's exhibited reverse platoon splits thus far, actually being hit harder by righties (.287 / .352 / .481; 1.91 K/BB) than lefties (.252 / .351 / .364; 1.05 K/BB), but his walk-rate vs. lefties is much higher and his slugging percentage is only lower because he's yielded one homerun (vs. seven HR to righties).  He has given up 11 doubles (vs. just four to righties), however, so if some of those doubles turn into homers, we'll see very different platoon slugging numbers.  In the minors, Niemann exhibited moderate platoon splits and was somewhat tougher against righties, as would be expected.

Niemann is primarily a fastball pitcher, but has a pretty diverse arsenal.  He throws both the two-seamer and the four-seamer and can get the latter up around 94 mph at times.  His curveball is nothing special, but his slider has some nice movement and could be quite frustrating for us if he is able to locate it well.

 

30 June

Matt Garza (5-5, 3.61, 1.161 WHIP)

Garza was a real thorn in the Jays' side last season, going 3-2 against them in five starts but with an ERA of 0.47 over 38 innings and limiting them to a 465 OPS.  No, I'm not terribly excited to be seeing him on Tuesday, either.  Garza was acquired from the Twins in the Delmon Young trade, which also opened up centrefield for the long-term for B.J. Upton.  After coming up at just 22 in 2006, Garza's been nothing short of very good at the major league level, where he's maintained a strikeout-rate of 6.9 K/9 and walk-rate of 3.2 BB/9 (2.15 K/BB) since 2007.  So far this season, Garza's pitched 97 1/3 innings over 15 starts, struck out 85 (8.2 K/9) and walked 39 (3.8 BB/9).  There is some hope for us, though, as he may not be able to overcome his high walk-rate forever because his strand-rate is quite high at 78.8%.

Over his first 15 starts, Garza has PQSed 4, 5, 2, 3, 5, 2, 5, 3, 4, 4, 5, 2, 2, 2 and 5 for a mean of 3.5 and quite-excellent Dominance-/Disaster-rates of 53% and 0%.  Those dominance/disaster rates are pretty sick.  And he hasn't even faced us yet.

Garza sticks mainly to his four-seamer and a nice hard sinker but he mixes a change in against lefties as well.  He's had even more success this season with his slider, which comes in pretty hard as well.  He also throws a big nose-to-toes curve.

 

1 July

James Shields (6-5, 3.41, 1.283 WHIP)

Shields is another pitcher who has been nothing but solid since coming up to the majors in 2006 with a career ERA of 3.87 and WHIP of 1.213.  A control specialist, since 2007 Shields's walk-rates have been quite Doc-like, at 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 BB/9, while his strikeout-rates have been 8.1, 7.0 and 6.5 K/9.  The increasing walk-rates, coupled with decreasing strikeout-rates, could spell trouble for Shields, but his ratio is still quite good and even if his strikeout-rate stays at just 6.5 K/9, he should be fine if he continues to limit his walks as well as he has.  He's pitched 108 1/3 innings over 16 starts so far this season.  As his peripherals suggest, his success so far has been quite real.

After 16 starts, his PQS log reads 0, 4, 3, 4, 2, 5, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 3, 4, 4 and 4, with a mean of 3.6.  His dominance-rate is an excellent 63% and he's only had one disaster outing, for a rate of 6%.  Pitchers who don't walk many generally aren't doing you many favours, so the Jays will have to earn any runs they're going to score off of Shields.

Like most control-artists, Shields is a change-up pitcher and, as is typical of such, exhibits reverse platoon splits this season, limiting lefties (.266 / .307 / .410; 3.23 K/BB) even better than righties (.285 / .320 / .472; 3.40 K/BB).  Over his career, on the other hand, he's been a bit better against righties (.268 / .309 / .433; 4.40 K/BB) than lefties (.255 / .302 / .417; 3.35 K/BB).  Either way, the platoon advantage probably won't be much help.

As previously mentioned, Shields uses his 90 mph four-seamer mainly to set up his change, a great pitch which breaks down relative to his fastball.  Sources disagree as to whether Shields throws a cutter or a slider, but whatever it is, the pitch is pretty effective.  He also throws a decent curve and a two-seamer.  Shields is similar to Shaun Marcum in that he has a great change, but can throw any pitch in any count, allowing him to strike batters out, even though he does not have an overpowering fastball or jelly-knee-inducing breaking pitches.