Robbie Ray, In Pieces

Probably the worst move of the offseason was when the Tigers shipped Doug Fister to the Nationals for a package highlighted by prospect Robbie Ray. It was at least the move most commonly referred to as the worst move of the offseason, and on his own list of the worst transactions, Dave Cameron put it at No. 1. I don’t need to go into all the explanations, but because of all the conversations we’ve had, Ray and Fister might be forever linked. Ray is certainly a pretty well-known prospect, now. And just as everyone expected when the trade was announced, Ray has ended up pitching in the majors in 2014 sooner than Fister has, after making his big-league debut Tuesday night.

There’s only so much you can make of a start, particularly when it’s a first start. You have to account for all the jitters. You have to think a pitcher might not have his normal approach. Ray happened to start against the Astros, which makes for another variable, and then, above everything else, you have the sample size of a handful of innings. Ray survived, which means his start was a success, and he allowed just one run, which means he can feel really good today. Big-time analysis, we can’t perform. But for some analysis, we are already in the clear.

The only thing you can really do with so little information is examine the pitches thrown. You all but have to throw the results out, but the pitches themselves were all on Ray and what a pitch behaves like is the kind of thing that stabilizes almost instantly. Robbie Ray will only throw Robbie Ray fastballs. He’ll only throw Robbie Ray curveballs and changeups. That was his Tuesday repertoire, and indeed, that’s his ordinary repertoire, where the fastball’s considered his best pitch and the changeup is thought of a lot more highly than the breaking ball.

The quick summary: about half of Ray’s pitches were fastballs, popping mostly in the low-90s. He also threw about twice as many changeups as curveballs, with the change in the mid-80s and the curve in the higher-70s. He showed the ability to scrape the mid-90s with his heat, and his curve was something more like a slurve. That curve has been his big project in the minors, as he’s scrapped plans to work on a slider. As you’d expect, given that Ray’s a southpaw, he threw his change almost exclusively to righties.

Now, ordinarily, .gifs are used to highlight remarkable pitches. In this way, they can sometimes be misleading about a guy’s true talent, because you can make anyone look good if you show only a highlight package. What I thought I’d do is include .gifs of all three of Ray’s pitches, showing a good one and a bad one of each. This still isn’t greatly informative, but at least it doesn’t hide that Ray is a work in progress.

Good fastball

GoodFA.gif.opt

Perfect spot, down and away, in a jam early.

Bad fastball

BadFA.gif.opt

Truth be told, it wasn’t that bad, as Ray just tried to pick a corner, but with that lead in that situation, you really want to throw a strike in a full count.

Good curveball

GoodCU.gif.opt

PITCHf/x thought this was a cutter, which is something I’ve never seen before. The hitter definitely wasn’t ready for a breaking ball, as Ray’s hadn’t been good up to that point.

Bad curveball

BadCU.gif.opt

Not the head! We only get one head!

Good changeup

GoodCH.gif.opt

This pitch was actually a ball, but it was a good ball. There is such thing as a good ball.

Bad changeup

BadCH.gif.opt

Ahead in the count, Ray threw a change more or less middle-middle. He was trying to throw a change much like the example of the good change above. This wasn’t hit for a hit, but it was hit very well.

I thought I’d also try something else, comparing each of Ray’s pitches to pitches thrown by other major leaguers. For all three of his pitches, we’ve got an average velocity, an average horizontal movement, and an average vertical movement. Using z-scores and whatnot, I created some homespun similarity scores to match Ray up with other left-handed starting pitchers in 2014. Let’s start with his four-seam fastball. Which lefty starters in 2014 have thrown the most similar four-seam fastballs, according to PITCHf/x?

Four-seam fastball

  1. Matt Moore
  2. Jon Lester
  3. Matt Harrison

An interesting list, with asterisks. Moore’s a big talent, but his fastball has declined, and so his 2014 fastball wasn’t his fastball of old. Lester is considered by most to be an ace, but as far as hard stuff is concerned, most everyone makes a bigger deal out of his cutter. Harrison’s been a good pitcher before, but his trademark is the grounder-inducing sinker, not his straighter four-seam, which at least PITCHf/x thinks he throws.

Changeup

  1. J.A. Happ
  2. Jose Quintana
  3. Martin Perez

Happ has trimmed the use of his change. This year it’s been his fifth pitch. Quintana has picked up his changeup rates, and he’s used it against righties in all situations. Perez’s change is a legitimate weapon. For him, that pitch is responsible for more strikeouts than any other.

Curveball

  1. Robbie Ross
  2. Matt Harrison
  3. Martin Perez

Here, oddly, we get a trio of Rangers, including two we’ve seen before. Perez will try to sneak the curve in against righties for a first-pitch strike. Harrison hasn’t thrown the curve much yet, but in the past he used it very similarly against both righties and lefties. Ross’ curve this year has mostly gone for balls. Which makes some sense, since it isn’t a pitch he featured as a reliever.

As with everything, you can take this only so far. All these pitches might behave similarly, but every pitcher has a unique delivery and the ball can be easier or more difficult to read out of the hand. Ray, in the past, has been noted to be pretty deceptive and hard to pick up. There’s also the matter of pitch consistency — when you’re looking at averages, you’re missing spreads, and, for example, we know that Ray’s curve is in the process of being developed so just grouping them all together can miss the mark. But one thing you can say is that Ray throws a similar repertoire as Harrison and Perez, except that Harrison has that sinker and Perez has one too.

So Ray will probably end up generating fewer groundballs. But to offset that, he’ll probably end up generating more missed swings, since the four-seam fastball works up and tries harder to avoid contact. Alternatively, Ray might start throwing a sinker, or anything else. The important thing to remember is that Robbie Ray is still a prospect.

We didn’t learn a ton about his future on Tuesday. What we learned was that he made his big-league debut, and it was a successful one. He’ll spend much of the rest of the season in Triple-A, still trying to smooth out his secondary stuff. Ray looks like a major-league starter. He has the components of a major-league starter. At issue is how good of a major-league starter. A lot of that is going to come down to how his curveball progresses. Already, he’s a back-of-the-rotation type. The Tigers believe he can be more than that. The Tigers, as they themselves have demonstrated, might believe in Robbie Ray even more than Robbie Ray himself.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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TM
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TM

He looked pretty damn good all things considered. If he can be a ~3.80 xFIP guy over the course of his team control years then I think the trade was quite fair for both sides.

Paul
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Paul

If Fister can produce a 2.00 xFIP guy this year over 180 IP, then I would also think the trade wasn’t fair.

However, this situation is unlikely just like your conditional situation. Nobody expects him to be a 3 WAR pitcher right away, and certainly nobody expects him to average 3 WAR over his five years. Ray was not a top-100 prospects by most accounts, and most consider his ceiling to be a mid-rotation starter which is around 3 WAR.

TM
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TM

I don’t think you even read what I posted.

KK-Swizzle
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KK-Swizzle

He didn’t read it well, that’s for sure 🙂

Paul
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Paul

I don’t think you understand how unlikely it is for Ray to be a 3.8 xFIP guy over his team-controlled years.

peopletocakeratio
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peopletocakeratio

i’m not going to try to argue whether the results of the trade may end up being roughly equivalent. to me, it’s not really an issue of the trade being fair in hindsight; it’s a matter of the trade being lopsided at the time.

yes, from the tigers’ perspective, part of the logic behind the trade may have been to clear some future payroll and to obtain a starting pitcher they would have under control for longer than fister. there is value in that endeavor and that seems to have been accomplished. however, it seems that unless the actual market value for fister was lower than any of us expected and/or both the nationals and the tigers had higher opinions of the players sent to detroit than the rest of the league, no one believed the tigers got *market value* for trading two years of arbitration-eligible doug fister.

it’s certainly possible that the tigers had “better” trade offers from teams, returning prospects/players the tigers didn’t project/value as highly as those they got from washington. obviously contract status, position and ability also matter. and there may have been other considerations, of which we’re not aware, that shine some light on the return the tigers were able to get for fister (e.g. health, personal issues, contract demands).

on a semi-related note, i wondered why the trade talk this winter centered on scherzer and porcello; scherzer’s market value had never been higher and while the same may have been true for porcello after 2013, he was still a pitcher with a worse-than-average ERA the four prior seasons. (i’m not saying ERA is what anyone should solely use to determine the quality of a pitcher; just that it evaluates actual results rather than a metric which may better estimate a pitcher’s ability, independent of the team he plays for.) fister had proven himself a top pitcher in the league and was relatively cost-controlled for two years. to me, it made a lot of sense that he’d be the one to be traded.

asdfsdafa
Guest
asdfsdafa

I keep hearing that the trade is going to be terrible no matter what because Dombrowski could have had more. But that’s just a guess. Unless you are familiar with the inner workings of the Tigers FO, you have no idea if there were better returns out there.

On top of that, Mike Rizzo initially rejected that trade. It was so lopsided that Rizzo turned it down? How does that even make sense?

http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/tigers-might-get-short-end-of-fister-trade-but-they-thought-it-through-022014

“You can see that young pitching right now is very difficult to acquire,” Dombrowski said. “We had a list of about 15 pitchers that we would consider in various deals. He was one of the 15. The other 14 people said no. And (the Nationals) said no at first.”

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confirmed Dombrowski’s account, saying, “Robbie Ray is a guy we were reluctant to move at the beginning. It’s why the trade took 2½ weeks to consummate.”

bobabaloo
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bobabaloo

That may be true. But dombrowski was pretty impatient then. That trade happened early in the offseason. And it’s not like he absolutely had to get a deal done. If everyone said no, he should have just kept fister, or at least waited a bit.

peopletocakeratio
Guest
peopletocakeratio

hi, yeah. “Unless you are familiar with the inner workings of the Tigers FO, you have no idea if there were better returns out there.”

i said: “it’s certainly possible that the tigers had “better” trade offers from teams, returning prospects/players the tigers didn’t project/value as highly as those they got from washington. obviously contract status, position and ability also matter. and there may have been other considerations, of which we’re not aware, that shine some light on the return the tigers were able to get for fister (e.g. health, personal issues, contract demands).” i have no idea if the market values of the other 14 trades dombrowski pursued would have been considered as lopsided as the trade that was actually consummated.

i also said: “however, it seems that unless the actual market value for fister was lower than any of us expected and/or both the nationals and the tigers had higher opinions of the players sent to detroit than the rest of the league, no one believed the tigers got *market value* for trading two years of arbitration-eligible doug fister.” so, it appears that both the nationals and tigers had higher opinions of the players sent to detroit than the rest of the league. or at least higher than the MLB journalists and folks who follow prospects.

so pretty much, i’m aware i don’t know the inner workings of the tigers’ (or other teams’) front office, so i didn’t specifically claim that dombrowski did or did not do anything in trading doug fister. it was all based on the general reaction to the tigers being ripped off in the trade (i.e. fister’s market value was higher than what he was traded for) compared to what the internal valuations of the players by the tigers and nationals.