Expect Few Runs Early in Tampa Bay

chris sale

Rainman M.

Thursday, July 6, 2017 3:24 PM GMT

In a battle of youth vs experience, 23 year-old rookie Jacob Faria starts for the upstart Tampa Bay Rays against Boston’s Veteran Ace Chris Sale. Faria has been a positive surprise so far. Can he outperform one of the best starting pitchers?

Boston Red Sox vs Tampa Bay Rays

The Red Sox come into the series vs Tampa Bay after failing to complete the sweep against Texas, who snapped their six-game winning streak. They came up completely flat last night in Texas: their starter Doug Fister got shelled while Texas’ Andrew Casher took a no-hitter into the sixth inning en route to an 8-2 win. The Rays, meanwhile, have been very up-and-down. Their starting pitching has been crucial for them, as their lineup has often been inconsistent and their bullpen has been unreliable.



Probable Pitchers

Chris Sale (11-3 2.61 ERA) takes the mound for Boston. He is having a career year: his K/9 rate is up from 9.25 last season to 12.38 this season, his BB/9 rate is down from 1.79 to 1.64, and his HR/9 rate is down from 1.07 to 0.67. His stuff has gotten nastier: opposing batters are chasing his pitches outside of the zone at a higher rate, but they are also making contact with his pitches at a lower rate. Part of the reason for his improvement is the command and location of his pitches, which is also why he is walking fewer batters. But part of it is the pitches themselves. He is more comfortable with his breaking pitches this year, as he is throwing fewer fastballs but more changeups and sliders. His changeup is enjoying vertical movement like it almost never has in his career.

Jacob Faria (3-0 2.23 ERA) counters for Tampa Bay. Faria has lived up to the hype surrounding him so far. It’s still very early for him. It’s not surprising that a rookie pitcher starts off well and then ultimately enters into a slump after he either physically fades because he had put forth too much effort into his first ever professional starts or after opposing batters watch him enough on film and catch onto the element of surprise which he had been dealing opponents. In Faria’s case, the element of surprise was his fastball. 

 

The Verdict

Chris Sale is so effective against the Rays partly because he’s Chris Sale. But also because he matches up well against them as a left-handed power pitcher. It seems unlikely that Faria will continue to produce Sale-like numbers. His last two starts have been his worst—in terms of ERA, FIP (this is like ERA, but factors out luck) and HR allowed, possibly meaning that opponents are figuring his stuff out, that Baltimore, whom he faced twice in a row, matches up well against him, or that his stuff simply wasn’t there for him as it was in his previous outings.  But even in those two outings he made it at least six innings and gave up no more than three earned runs. Boston is slightly above-average against Faria’s most frequent pitch, the fastball, but one of the worst teams statistically against his best breaking ball pitch, the changeup. Even if Faria does continue to pitch effectively, if his last two performances against Baltimore are not the sign of a regression in progress, Tampa Bay’s bullpen is statistically one of the worst, whereas Sale is capable of going deep in every outing for Boston. If necessary, Boston’s bullpen has a plethora of solid arms, enough of whom should be fresh enough, even though Boston’s starter did not last long yesterday. I think Boston wins, but I also think we a low-scoring game early on between two effective starters on our MLB Picks.

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