By: Chris Larson
When you look at baseball overall, the Tampa Bay Rays are a team that never gets nearly enough credit or recognition. That's not only because of where the team plays, Tampa Bay is one of the smaller markets in the sport, but also because of the division the Rays play in, which is now dominated by, the two powerhouse teams in the: Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Just look at, the Rays recent 8-game win streak or the fact that Tampa Bay has 23 wins over the span of 39 games since the All-Star Break, for further illustration about how little the team is talked about nationally.
Regardless, that doesn't mean that the Tampa Bay Rays are divulged of talent at the big league level or that there is nothing to celebrate in a season that once again finds the Rays sitting out of the postseason. In fact, Tampa Bay has one of the up-and-coming farm systems in the game and plenty of young talent to help inject success at the major league level as well as for the team to build around as a core.
One vital part of that core moving forward is 25-year old, left-handed starting pitcher, Blake Snell. Snell is entering the midst of his peak this season and it has certainly been one to write home about for Snell. If you recall earlier this season when the players were being announced for the All-Star Game at the start of July, Snell made national news because he was snubbed from being named a starter, which was a more than deserving recognition, based on the way Snell has performed to date. Over 151.2 innings of work, Blake Snell has posted a 2.05 ERA with 37 earned runs, 177 strikeouts, and a 1.01 WHIP. Furthermore, Snell has posted a 10.5 strikeouts-per-9 rate and a 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value since he took the mound in the first game of the season.
If that's not impressive enough to add to the argument that Blake Snell should be considered in the conversation for the AL Cy Young Award, consider these facts as well. Over the last 28 days, Snell has a 0.82 ERA over 22.2 IP and has held opposing teams batters to a .113 batting average. Beyond that, Snell has a 12.7 strikeouts-per-9 rate over that period, a .175 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), and a 0.54 WHIP. Phenomenal numbers for someone, who wasn't even named to the AL All-Star team as a starter until there was enough controversy brought about the topic, and for someone, who could be the next starting pitcher, to join the elite class in the game today consisting of: Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Corey Kluber.
In addition to those brilliant stats, let's consider Blake Snell's left-and-right handed opposing batter splits as well. Here is a chart, courtesy of Baseball Reference, that helps to illustrate that information:
Based on that chart, take a look at the Batting Average Against that Snell has put up against lefties. Simply brilliant and you can't go wrong with the .195 Opponent Batting Average Against righties either. Compare that to last year's numbers (.243 BA against righties and a .182 BA against lefties) and you can start to see where the progress is taking place, begin to make the argument that Blake Snell has entered the next phase of his pitching career, and is starting to likely turn into peak form.
Furthermore, Blake Snell is a starter, who produces a fair amount of, medium contact hits by opposing team's batters and his groundball/flyball rates between last season and this year are virtually the same. Take a look at this chart, courtesy of FanGraphs, for more:
Based on that information, it shows that Blake Snell has virtually the same groundball percentage (43.9% last season versus 43.5% this year), that he's got virtually the same flyball percentage (37.8% last year versus 37.4% so far this season), and has lowered his home run-to-flyball ratio by nearly half a percentage point (11.0% in 2017 versus 10.5% this season). Beyond that, the three sets of percentages in the middle of the chart show the pull%, centerfield%, and opposite field% for Snell followed by the amount of Soft, Medium, and Hard contact in the last three rows. Out of those 6 sets of data, there have been a few changes, but overall the numbers look virtually the same between last season and this year.
One thing that's really interesting, however, about Blake Snell is his Opponent Batting Average Against on line drives. Take a look at this chart, once again from Baseball Reference, for illustration:
As you can see, he does extremely well with Batting Average Against and On-Base Percentage, by the opposing team's hitters, on both ground balls and fly balls, which goes hand-in-hand with the success in both of those categories mentioned in the paragraph above. However, when it comes to line drives, Snell has a .663 Opponent Batting Average Against and a .663 Opponent On-Base Percentage. That's not to knock Blake Snell or say that he loses consideration because of that factor, but it's a very interesting note, to add to this in-depth conversation and something that is sort of fascinating in a sense.
To round out this conversation, let's take a look at how Blake Snell compares to other starting pitchers, around baseball so far this season. When it comes to ERA, Snell's 2.02 ERA ranks third in baseball (behind Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale), Snell ranks third in BABIP (.246), and Snell ranks first in left on-base percentage ahead of any other starting pitcher (87.1%). Beyond those three categories, Snell's 10.5 strikeouts-per-9 rate, ranks 11th in baseball, his overall strikeout percentage (29.9%) ranks 8th, and Snell's 0.83 home runs-per-9 rate, comes in 12th among qualified starters.
Now, Blake Snell might get robbed of the AL Cy Young Award because of someone who pitches in his same division, Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox, but he certainly deserves to be in the conversation for it based on the numbers that he has posted so far and will likely continue to put up. Right now, the Rays starting rotation might be in question because of, The Opener Project, that the team continues to embrace, but Tampa Bay has found their ace of the future and has a legitimate building block, that they know, they can rely on for many years to come, as long as he stays healthy.