Blake Snell was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2015, and showed promise in his first taste of Major League action in 2016. He struck out 98 batters in 89 innings, posting a 3.54 ERA and 3.35 FIP in his 19 starts. Sure, he struggled with his control at times, averaging 5.16 walks per nine innings. He also struggled to pitch deep into games, and averaged fewer than five innings per start. Still, the Tampa Bay Rays had many reasons to feel optimistic about the 24-year-old lefty, and he came into 2017 all but guaranteed a spot in the rotation.
Rays Rotation Fueling Team’s Success Since Blake Snell’s Demotion
After eight starts, however, the Rays sent Snell back to their Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls. His strikeouts fell off to just 7.29 per nine innings this year, his control problems didn’t improve, leading to 5.36 walks per nine innings, and he still struggled to pitch deep into games, averaging barely over five innings per start. He didn’t get through the sixth after his first start.
It’s widely acknowledged at this point that a pitcher’s record is not a good way to evaluate him. Yet, the fact that Snell was 0-4, and the Rays were 2-6 overall in his starts, was not just a coincidence. Snell was not giving his team a good chance to win when he took the mound. When Snell was demoted after giving up six earned runs over 5.2 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on May 13, the Rays were three games under .500, at 18-21, though they were a game over, at 16-15, in games that weren’t started by Snell.
Man of the Hour
Since Blake Snell’s demotion, the Rays have gone 9-5, pulling themselves up over .500, at 27-26, and within a half game of the American League’s second Wild Card, currently shared by the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. The Rays are 2-0 in the starts made by the man who replaced Snell in the rotation, Erasmo Ramirez. Ramirez, who, prior to Snell’s demotion, had made just one start this season and only made one last year, has given the Rays two solid outings. He allowed two earned runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out five over 5.1 innings, in a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees on May 19, and surrendered two earned runs on four hits and a walk, while striking out two over six innings ,in a 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on May 24.
Because he’s been pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen since last season, Ramirez was limited to 65 and 82 pitches, respectively, over those two starts as the Rays look to build up his arm cautiously. Nevertheless, he’s pitched efficiently enough to average 5.2 innings per start, despite averaging just 73.5 pitches. Snell, meanwhile, averaged just 5.1 innings per start despite averaging 99 pitches.
The Rays Without Snell
Meanwhile, Chris Archer (3.61 ERA), Jake Odorizzi (3.14 ERA), Alex Cobb (3.67 ERA), and Matt Andriese (3.24 ERA) are all performing at solid-to-strong levels. Ramirez replacing Snell has allowed the Rays to go into every game right now confident their starting pitcher is going to give them a chance to win. The Rays have the American League’s second best rotation ERA, at 3.55, and that rotation has gotten even better since the weak link was removed.
This isn’t to suggest Snell is terrible or hopeless. He’s still young, he’s already had some success in the big leagues, and he still has great stuff. There’s nothing wrong with a pitcher as young as Snell going back down for a bit to work on some things. Perhaps he’s already rediscovered his strikeout ability, as shown by the 21 he’s racked up in just 11.2 innings since being sent back to Triple-A. Snell could still have a bright future. For now, though, Blake Snell’s demotion has proven to be the right thing for both the Rays and himself.