In addition to relief pitchers Juan Oviedo and Juan Sandoval, the Rays signed a pair of major-league veterans, at least one of whom has a fair-to-good chance of making the opening day roster. Right-handed reliever Jamey Wright and outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter Shelley Duncan agreed to minor-league contracts with invites to spring training.
A former starter, Wright, has reinvented himself as a groundball specialist in the bullpen. The move has extend his career into his late-30s and increased his effectiveness. Wright has enjoyed an uptick in velocity since switching to the pen, and, at age 38, his average fastball neared 92 MPH last season.
The change in roles also led to a change in pitch usage and batted-ball profile. No longer needing four or five pitches as a starter, Wright narrowed his selection to a fastball, a curveball, and a slider/cutter. He has come to rely heavily on his two-seamer or sinker which has resulted in some of the most extreme groundball rates in baseball (he is one of five qualified relievers with groundball rates above 60 percent since 2010).
Though he pitches with his right arm, Wright has posted reverse splits over the past few years. That said, he has shown recent improvements against right-handers, and once again he may have the sinker to thank. He has increased his sinker usage versus righties from 22 percent in 2010 up to 54 percent in 2012. In that time, his OPS against same-siders dropped from .758 to .695. As a handcuff to the sinker, he uses his breaking ball as a strikeout weapon against right-handers.
The curveball has also been instrumental in Wright’s against lefties. Typically thrown down and away, he has induced a swing-and-a-miss on nearly 40 percent of the swings from lefties against his breaking ball since 2010. Wright also throws his sinker to southpaws, but incorporates more sliders/cutters to combat the split. He has struggled a bit with free passes; however, that has not been a deterrent for the Rays in the past. As a groundball specialist, he should enjoy playing in front of a revamped Rays’ infield that employs an above-average defender at each position.
Although Wright is currently signed to a minor-league deal, there is a decent chance he breaks camp with the club despite younger arms like Brandon Gomes, Dane De La Rosa, and Josh Lueke also fighting for jobs. Each of the younger relievers has remaining minor-league options, meaning the Rays can carry Wright on the 25-man roster with major-league quality depth readily available in Durham in the event of injury or ineffectiveness. The Rays receive this depth and flexibilty for a lesser guarantee than the Brewers will pay Burke Badenhop, something previously mentioned on The Process Report.
While Wright may take one of the open spots in the bullpen, Shelley Duncan may earn his way on the roster as a place holder for Brandon Guyer or Wil Myers. Guyer is coming off shoulder surgery and Myers may not yet be a finished product which could lead to some time in Durham for both. Until they are deemed ready, Duncan could find time as a right-handed alternative to lefties Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce in the outfield. Even after Guyer, Myers or both join the team, he may hold a spot as a partner for James Loney at first base.
Known around these parts for brawling with Jonny Gomes, Duncan’s bat packs a powerful punch, but not much else. Since 2010, he has produced 70 extra-base hits in 684 at-bats as a part-timer. His ISO over that period is a healthy .199, though he provides little in terms of average or on-base ability.
Despite being a right-handed batter, Duncan has shown no real platoon split. However, most of his playing time will presumably come against left-handed pitching. Defensively, Duncan is a subpar defender, but his closer to average than one would expect from a man of his size and athletic abilities.
Data courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info