Should Tampa Bay Rays Re-Sign Jamey Wright?
The Tampa Bay Rays signed Jamey Wright to a minor league contract on January 22, 2013 hoping that he could be their groundball specialist out of the bullpen after trading away Burke Badenhop to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Signing a minor league deal with a spring training invite was nothing new to Wright as 2013 would mark the 8th consecutive season that he came to spring training on a minor league deal and having to fight for a roster spot. The string of contracts spans through the San Francisco Giants (2006), Texas Rangers (2007-2008), Kansas City Royals (2009), Cleveland Indians (2010), Seattle Mariners (2011),and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2012).
Although signing a minor league contract was nothing new reporting to spring training certainly was a novelty as it was the first time in his 18+ year career he had trained outside of Arizona.
Wright hoped to achieve another career first with the Rays and that was making the post-season. Getting him into the post-season seemed a very important task to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria who in late September told Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune:
“To be honest with you, I’ve played really the whole year thinking about Jamey Wright…I don’t know, for whatever the reason he’s been more of an inspiration for me than any past events or the sadness of not winning the World Series in 2008…He’s played 17 years and never been a part of it. I’ve been wanting to [make the playoffs] for him. To be able to celebrate with a guy like that when we make it in will be a really, really cool experience.”
Wright had a very productive season for the Rays appearing in 66 games and posting a 2-2 record with a 3.09 ERA. Although his groundball rate was the lowest (50.8%) since the 2004 season as starter with the Colorado Rockies (49.8%) he did set career highs in strikeout rate (22.6%), lowest walk rate (8%), lowest walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) at 1.20, and ERA (3.09).
One reason for Wright’s higher strikeout rate may be his pitch selection. According to Fangraphs.com in 2013 he reduced his traditional 2-seam/4-seam fastball use and went heavy with his cutter while also mixing in a changeup (9.1%) after not throwing the pitch in 2011 or 2012.
He was used primarily as a low leverage reliever appearing in 50 of his appearances with the Rays trailing (34 times) or holding a lead of 3 or more runs (16 times). He came in with the Rays holding a 1-run or 2-run lead 3 times apiece and entered with the score tied in his 10 other appearances.
Nearly a third of his appearances (23 of 66) were multi-inning efforts while he entered the game with runners on base 25.8% (17 of 66) of the time. Of the 24 runners he inherited on the season he allowed 9 to cross home plate (38%).
In addition to being able to work multiple innings Wright was nearly as effective regardless of whether the hitter was a right handed bat or a left handed bat. Right handed hitters posted a .255 (26 for 102) average against while left handed batters struggled a bit more posting a .230 (35 for 152) average against. Although left-handed batters did touch him for all four of the home runs he surrendered in 2013.
While he may not have met his career numbers in groundball rate he still ranked 9th in the American League (51.1%) for all qualified relievers. His season got off to a rough start as over his first 24 appearances he had a 4.23 ERA allowing 13 ER in 24 innings of work but he came on strong to finish the season. Over his last 42 appearances he posted an ERA of 2.30 (11 ER in 43 innings) while striking out nearly a batter an inning (42) and only issuing a dozen walks.
Despite what Andrew Friedman has said the Rays will more than likely fill the closers role from the saturated market that currently is available on the free agent market. The trio of Jake McGee, Alex Torres, and Joel Peralta will all return but the rest of the pen is yet to be determined. Cesar Ramos, Wesley Wright, Brandon Gomes, and Josh Lueke are options to fill some of the lower leverage roles. Rookies Kirby Yates and C.J. Riefenhauser will come to spring training looking to make the team but will most likely head to Triple A Durham to start the season.
Then there is Jamey Wright who for lack of a better term is Joe Maddon‘s Swiss army knife. He can come in with runners on base, he can pitch with the team trailing or ahead, he can be brought in to face lefties or righties, and he can still generate a high percentage of ground balls. He turns 39 years old on December 24th and I’d like to see the Rays give him an early birthday/Christmas present by offering him his first major league contract since the 2005 season. He has earned it.