Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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How To Get The Most Out Of Two Way McKay

Photo: Twitter, MLB Pipeline

The Tampa Bay Rays enter 2020 as a top team in MLB with a ripening young pitching staff. In that, a major question mark looms over Brendan McKay and how he can be used effectively in his two-way capacity. To best determine that we can look at the effects of management methods of two-way players around the league and in McKay’s college and minor league career.

Ohtani

The major league situation most similar to McKay’s is that of Shohei Ohtani. Coming from Japan, he was accustomed to pitching once a week; similarly, McKay was on a 6-day schedule for much of 2019. Ohtani faced Tommy John surgery in 2018; McKay was limited by an oblique injury in the same year. From a manager’s perspective, the goal is to get the player to achieve the most while not being worn down from the stresses of both hitting and pitching.

In 2018, Ohtani was prohibited from pitching and then hitting (or vice versa) on consecutive days. That worked well performance-wise, as he generated a quality 3.31 ERA to go with a 3.57 FIP and 3.53 xFIP on the mound beside slashing .285/.361/.564 with a 151 wRC+ at the plate. When taking health into account, he lasted a third of a season before spraining his UCL before pitching again in September with the realization that surgery would be necessary. In response to this, the Los Angeles Angels are planning on limiting his pitching to about once a week.

Lorenzen

In 2019, Michael Lorenzen was used for the Reds as both a reliever and an outfielder. For most of the year, his dual usage was limited, as he only appeared in the outfield about three to five times a month from April to August. The thing about Lorenzen, however, which is similar to McKay, is that his pitching is better than his hitting to this point in his career.

Lorenzen pitched to a 2.92 ERA, 3.66 FIP (81 FIP-), and 3.97 xFIP in 83.1 innings, which is quite a workload for a reliever. As a hitter, the results weren’t nearly as good: .208/.283/.313 with a .262 wOBA and 56 wRC+. This may be due to the irregularity of his plate appearances, as pitching was his main obligation to the team.

In September, Reds manager David Bell decided that he had been holding Lorenzen back and should have him play the field more. Lorenzen would get starts in center field on days where he was unavailable to pitch, and there was at least one instance of moving to the outfield after a relief appearance. This flexible approach seems to be more accepted going into the upcoming season in receiving results from on mound and in the box.

McKay: College and Minors

Brendan McKay enjoyed an elite 3-year career at Louisville as a hitter who saw his OPS climb from .849 in 2015 to 1.116 in 2017, the year he was drafted by the Rays. At the same time, he posted ERAs of 2.56 and below to go with a double-digit K/9 in each season. There were no limits to what he could accomplish: he would pitch and hit cleanup in the same game!

As a professional, McKay’s arm has outpaced his bat at this point in his career. At nearly every level of the minors, he had an ERA under 1.50 and a FIP under 2.60. His strikeout numbers kept rolling, as he continued to see double-digit K/9s. What adds to his resume is that he earned a reputation as a guy who has excellent control of his pitches. His upside was so great that he got promoted to AAA when his bat was below average at his current level.

That’s not to say that he can’t hit: McKay has had a wRC+ over 100 at all stops in his professional career except for AA in 2019. He will always be limited in terms of plate appearances to keep from overworking his body, however. In 2018, the Rays would only DH him if he played at all on days before or after pitching. Facing an oblique injury that ended his season early, the team was forced to reevaluate. So, the following year, McKay didn’t play any first base and was not allowed to hit on the day after he pitched. Shortly before moving to AAA, he didn’t hit the day before pitching, either. That may mean that his concerns in AA were affected by fatigue, as he returned to being an above-average hitter in Durham. The last major plan in place for McKay was to use him on a 6-day schedule (pitch, rest, hit x3, rest, repeat). This way, he wasn’t overworked, but it came at the cost of not being on the same program as the rest of the staff’s pitchers.

McKay: 2020 Outlook

To start with health, because performance means nothing if a player is hurt, the six-day schedule is currently viewed as the best way to manage a two-way player’s body. It kept McKay healthy in 2019, and the Angels plan to use some variation of it for Ohtani in 2020. The implementation of it in MLB is far more likely than one might assume: Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Yonny Chirinos were limited last year due to injuries, and Charlie Morton and Ryan Yarbrough each reached a career-high in innings. The 6 man rotation would optimize McKay’s output while protecting the health of the rest of the team’s starting staff. A bonus is that the Rays would have another lefty bat off the bench if they can squeeze McKay on the roster, which gets an extra spot this year.

For personal benefit, the team might send him to AAA to start the year. That would ensure him regular at-bats that can’t be guaranteed in MLB, and it would help him adjust to a five day schedule if necessary. He might also need to work on playing first base, as we know how the Rays get with their double switches.

Little is known on how to manage two-way players, but it seems the Rays would benefit most by starting the season with Brendan McKay in a six-man rotation.

Nicholas Lobraico

High school student, former baseball player. Pitching enthusiast. Rays man in a Yankees land. Follow me on Twitter @LobraicoNick