After a strange 2020 season, the 2021 MLB season will be starting on time. Currently, teams are slated to play all 162 games which means pitchers’ workloads will return to normal. More innings and more batters on more teams mean pitchers will actually have time to ramp up, unlike in 2020. During spring training, teams will need to start getting a feel for what their rotations might be. Here is an early look at the Tampa Bay Rays projected 2021 pitching rotation.
With the departure of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, more responsibility than ever before will be placed on Tyler Glasnow. After injuries derailed his 2019 AL Cy Young bid, Glasnow turned in a lesser, though, still solid, 2020 season. With a 4.08 ERA, 3.66 FIP and 1.134 WHIP, he was a major factor in getting the Rays to the postseason. Glasnow owes a lot of this success to the increase in spin rate on his pitches. His 14.3 K/9 last year was buoyed heavily by his curveball (2939 rpm) which generated an incredible 52.8% whiff rate.
Despite his regular season success, Glasnow’s struggles in October do give way to caution. Especially after giving up 10 runs across his two World Series starts. The main culprit here was the amount of hard contact he gave up (90.4 mph exit velocity, 42.4% hard hit rate), which culminated in a disastrous 1.7 HR/9. Cutting back on these number will be the key to Glasnow returning to 2019 form.
2. Chris Archer
The prodigal son returns. After spending one and a half seasons with the Pirates, Chris Archer returns to the team that made him an ace. Sadly, the days of him being an elite starter are long gone. After a couple of injury plagued years, Archer missed all of 2020 after undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The last time he pitched, he was having the worst season of his career, en route to a 5.19 ERA, 5.02 FIP and 1.412 WHIP in 2019. While his strikeout rate was still a respectable 10.8 K/9, his 4.1 BB/9 and 1.9 HR/9 rendered him ineffective on the mound. With his average velocity and movement looking worse than ever, the future doesn’t seem too bright for Archer. Still, if any team can fix a broken pitcher, it’s the Rays.
3. Rich Hill
Happy birthday to 41-year-old Rich Hill. In a move that just seems so on brand, the Rays have brought in the soft-throwing journey man to pitch for his 10th team. One would hope the Rays have a strong contingency plan for Hill as the veteran has produced just one healthy season in his 16-year career. That was all the way back in 2007. Last year, he made just eight starts, but being the pitcher that he is, they were eight really good starts. Like all his injury riddled seasons, Hill still managed to pitch at a high level, owning a 3.03 ERA and generating a lot of weak contact (86.8 mph exit velocity). Though his 5.10 xERA last year might be an omen of things to come, for now, all Hill needs to do is show he can still pitch.
In an age when every pitcher is trying to add as much speed to their pitches as possible, Ryan Yarbrough continues to be an outlier. For the third year in a row, Yarbrough continued to slow down his pitches, topping out at just 87 mph on his sinker, and for third year in a row his stats improved. Through nine starts and two relief appearances last year, Yarbrough owned a 3.56 ERA, 3.80 FIP and 1.186 WHIP. With excellent command (1.9 BB/9) and an unmatched penchant for creating weak contact (82.6 mph exit velocity, 25.1% hard hit rate), he is quite possibly the most underrated pitcher in baseball. With 2021 likely being his first season as a full-time starter, he may finally get the respect and attention he deserves.
Rounding out the rotation is Michael Wacha; another former ace decimated by recent injuries. While his 2015 All-Star season seems like a lifetime ago, Wacha might just be the next in a long line of pitchers who get a new life after joining the Rays. At the very least, he could recover from a horrible 2020 season with the Mets, where he put up a 6.62 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. That said, there were a couple of promising developments last year. Namely a career-high 9.8 K/9 and a career-low 1.9 BB/9. If Wacha can find away to keep this numbers in 2021, while simultaneously lowering his 12.2 H/9 and 2.4 HR/9 back down to reasonable levels, he could be a productive starter again.
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