On the surface, it appeared as if starting Andy Sonnanstine in Seattle would be a soft-landing for the Rays’ swingman. Sonnanstine has struggled this season; however, pitching in a notorious pitching park with spacious dimensions appeared to be safe enough. Five innings, seven earned runs, five walks, and three home runs later, it seems as if there is no saving grace Sonnanstine.
Sonnanstine has thrown 18.1 innings as a starting pitcher this season. In those 18 innings, he has allowed eight home runs and 10 walks while striking out just six batters. Overall, he has surrendered 10 home runs in 31.2 innings of work with 12 walks and nine strike outs. There is some case for regression, but the process is also flawed.
Relying heavily on a cut-fastball that barely hits 85 MPH, Sonnanstine has lost the ability to get major league batters out on a consistent basis. He has thrown 471 pitches this season and received a swing and a miss on less than five percent of those tosses – or around 22 whiffs total. While not fooling anybody with his stuff, Sonny’s location has been just as poor. Here is a look at where Sonnanstine is throwing his cutter to left-handed batters this season (h/t fangraphs.com).
Lefties are hitting .317/.414/.650 against him in 70 plate appearances.
When Sonnanstine was successful in 2008, he used four pitches (fastball, cutter, slider, curveball) with regularity. He also did a fine job of changing speeds. In 2011, he has thrown a cutter or a curveball 86% of the time with a cut-fastball usage of around 68%. Not only is failing to mix his pitches, but there is less of velocity separation on his core pitches.
|Cutter Velo||Slider Velo||Difference|
|Cutter Velo||Curve Velo||Difference|
Sonnanstine had fantastic separation between his cutter and breaking balls in ’08. Meanwhile, he has since lost velocity on his cutter and increased the velocity on his softer stuff. Add in the lack of command and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Rays have plenty of issues right now. They have one consistent offensive performer. Their best player has yet to find his stride and their projected cleanup hitter is retired. They are getting little to no production from one-third of the lineup and the well-balanced rotation is leaning top heavy. Considering they had little margin for error coming into the season, there is a perfect storm of negative events going on in Tampa Bay right now.
The one quick fix is Sonnanstine. There is no reason he should take the mound to start a game again. Jeff Niemann successfully completed his first rehab assignment on Friday night and is about 10-14 days from rejoining the rotation. In his remaining absence, Alex Cobb presents a vast upgrade from Sonnanstine.
Upon Niemann’s return, it would be a waste of Cobb’s develepment to serve as a long reliever; however, Sonnanstine presents little upside in the role as well. While using Cobb as the seventh man in the bullpen would be a misuse of talent, using Sonnantine there would be a misuse of the 25-man roster. Instead, the Rays could call up a position player (Brandon Guyer, Russ Canzler) or bring back a more talented arm like Brandon Gomes or Jake McGee. Andy Sonnanstine isn’t the only problem for the Rays, but he is the easiest one to solve.