To the ire of every other American League contender, the Rays went out Monday and made a move that could potentially make them even stronger, acquiring reliever Jesse Crain from the White Sox for future considerations (read: players to be named later or cash). Crain is currently on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain, and his return has been pushed back after he experienced a setback last week. But if healthy, he'll give the Rays yet another shutdown option late in games.
For Crain, a 10-year veteran who's spent his whole career in the bullpen with Minnesota and Chicago, the trade comes despite his having spent the last month on the disabled list, and despite a bullpen session being canceled last week due to discomfort in his shoulder. If you look at Crain's numbers, though, it's easy to see why the Rays would take a chance on him. Through 36 2/3 innings this year, Crain has a minuscule 0.74 ERA and a whopping 46 strikeouts against just 11 walks. He's yet to give up a home run on the season, and has limited hitters to an insane .146/.205/.171 mark with runners in scoring position. That's six hits—only one for extra bases—in 41 at-bats. He's especially adept in high-leverage situations, according to Baseball Reference, with an opposing slash line of .213/.267/.275 in 87 plate appearances. And despite being right-handed, he's been no slouch against lefties, with a .275/.342/.333 mark by southpaws in 77 plate appearances. Against same-handed hitters, he's almost untouchable: .174/.230/.217 in 75 plate appearances.
How's Crain done it? With a quartet of pitches, relying mostly on a four-seam fastball and a slider and mixing in a curveball and splitter as needed. His four-seamer, which sits at 95 MPH, is his go-to pitch, particularly when he needs a strike; when he's ahead in the count, Crain will go to his slider, with the splitter as his main offspeed pitch against right-handers and the curve as his main breaking pitch against both lefties and righties. Most of his swings and misses come on the slider and splitter, but he's effective with nearly all his pitches. Against his four-seamer, opposing batters are hitting .230 with a .271 slugging percentage, .212/.323 on the slider, and .186/.243 on the splitter. If there's one concern, it's that Crain gives up a lot of line drives (his line-drive percentage this season is a whopping 23.9, a large part of his equally daunting .330 batting average on balls in play). But because Crain has cut down on his walks dramatically and gets swings and misses so often, and also avoids contact in the zone, he's able to avoid trouble most of the time.
For the Rays, Crain's addition gives them a right-hander who handcuffs right-handed hitters. Both of the Rays' top right-handed setup men, Joel Peralta and Jamey Wright, boast reverse splits this season: Peralta has a .606 OPS against righties, versus a .498 mark against lefthanders, and Wright's splits are .658 against right-handers and .588 against southpaws. Peralta has also been heavily used by Joe Maddon, having appeared in an AL-high 52 games so far, as he was virtually Tampa's only reliable reliever for the months of April and May. The 38-year-old Wright isn't far behind, with 44 games under his belt in his first season with Tampa. Wright in particular has had a rough go of it in July, with 11 hits and four runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings this month, so Crain will likely help take the load off him, possibly becoming Joe Maddon's top seventh-inning guy or go-to option against tough right-handers like Adam Jones or Dustin Pedroia.
Of course, that's all contingent on Crain coming back healthy and effective after a month sidelined, and possibly longer. That's a big reason why Chicago's return was so measly for a reliever who, if healthy, would've commanded a far better package of prospects. According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, exactly what the White Sox get in return will be determined in a couple of weeks, though it's unlikely to be better than a couple of non-top prospects. It's a bitter pill to swallow for general manager Kenny Williams, though with Crain a free agent after this season, it's likely he thought it better to get anything at all for possibly damaged goods instead of a zero at season's end.
With Crain now off the market, the Padres' Luke Gregerson becomes the best right-handed option likely to be traded in the next couple of days, though closers Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon are rumored to be available. For a full rundown of what pitchers, both starters and relievers, could be moved this week, check out Jay Jaffe's post from earlier today. All stats on Crain, Peralta and Wright courtesy Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball.