I intended to write this up the other day when the article was fresh, but I ran out of time, so I'm doing it now. Tuesday night, Greg Johns wrote a feature on ST NRI Chris Ray, who signed a minor league contract with the M's after spending last year with the and . He - like a few other relievers in camp - recognized that the M's would be a land of opportunity as far as the bullpen is concerned, so he signed here and turned down more money elsewhere.
In the article, Johns talks about Ray's comeback from Tommy John surgery in 2007. Ray missed nearly all of 2008, posted a 7.27 ERA in 2009, and posted a 3.72 ERA in 2010. It would certainly appear, then, that he got stronger with the passage of time, and indeed, Ray talks about how he didn't have his good fastball velocity in 2009, and how he also dropped his arm angle to compensate. In 2010, his fastball - and mechanics - were back to normal, hence the better results.
We see a slight shift up and to the right, implying a higher arm angle. But what about the velocity? This is what's puzzling. Ray's average fastball velocity, via Baseball Info Solutions:
And Ray's average fastball velocity, via PITCHfx:
There's no sign of a better fastball, here, and there's no sign of a better fastball in Fangraphs' velocity chart. I see no reason to believe that Chris Ray's fastball was faster in 2010 than it was in 2009, other than Chris Ray's own words. But then, we can't just ignore Chris Ray's words. Who has a better idea of Chris Ray's fastball than Chris Ray? So in the end, I'm stumped. Ray believes he got a lot of velocity back last season, but we can't find it in the numbers.
Ultimately, it may not matter. For us, anyway. Ray may have literally cut his 2009 ERA in half, but here are three statistics for you to browse:
2009: 7.7% unintentional walk rate
2009: 18.8% strikeout rate
2009: .392 BABIP
In his big comeback year, Ray threw way fewer strikes and missed way fewer bats. He just also allowed way fewer hits, and we know how volatile that statistic can be.
There's a chance Chris Ray impresses in camp and earns a spot with the team. He has a good enough repertoire to be a solid late-inning reliever. He'll just need to look better in March than he did all last season, because last season - ERA aside - he wasn't very good.