The Tampa Bay Rays have added a new ninth inning guy when they brought back Grant Balfour. They added a new setup man in Heath Bell, but perhaps the most important reliever for the 2014 Rays is LHP Jake McGee.
McGee, 27, had an up and down year with the Rays in 2013 after an absolutely dominant 2012. In 2012 the southpaw went 5-2 with a 1.95 ERA, striking out 73 in 55.1 innings with the Rays. In 2013 he took a major step back as his ERA climbed to 4.02 and he doubled his walks. It’s no coincidence that once this reliever regressed the entire Tampa bullpen began to struggle.
McGee would come in and put out fires in the 6th, 7th and sometimes even the 8th inning for manager Joe Maddon. He could handle left-handers and right-handers with his blazing 97 mph fastball and a sharp slider. 97 mph coming from a lefty is just not seen by more than a handful of pitchers in today’s game. So why did he struggle so much more in 2013?
There are a few reasons why McGee struggled so much more in 2013 than he did in his spectacular 2012 season. One is he wasn’t able to get right-handed hitters out nearly as effectively as he did in 2012. In 2012 right-handed bats hit an anemic .098 with a 1.31 ERA against McGee. In 2013 that ballooned and McGee had a 4.29 ERA the right-handers.
McGee has a great fastball and a decent slider, but he really doesn’t have a third pitch so he is going to use a curveball this spring. The hope is the curveball will be his primary breaking ball in 2014. “I used to use it in the Minor Leagues when I was a starter,” McGee told MLB.com. “It’s more a 12-6 curveball. It’ll have a bigger speed difference than my cutter-slider used to.” McGee needs to find another pitch to have right-handers not tee off on his fastball. In 2012 he was successful because he threw his slider for strikes, but he wasn’t able to throw it consistently in the strike zone in 2013.
If McGee can throw a curveball or a slider for strikes this year to go with his fastball, he should go back to being one of MLB‘s best left-handed relievers.