Collette Calls: Lead Horse In The Stable

Collette Calls: Lead Horse In The Stable

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

I hope everyone was able to enjoy Labor Day weekend as much as they possibly could. For me, that included a Charlotte/Durham doubleheader with my daughter and then my first ever Atlantic League game as I took the kids to a Gastonia Honey Hunters game, where we saw Khris Davis play and where my dog Lewie made his big screen debut. Since I work in the education space by day, Labor Day weekend is my professional All-Star Break, as it marks the halfway point in the craziness of the Back to School season which dominates my particular speciality of Educational Technology. Most of the Northeast is coming back to school as this article goes live, but many places have been in school for a few weeks now and my daily workload can verify that activity.

In the theme of looking ahead to next year and relievers, I want to stick close to my heart today and look at one particular guy in the Tampa Bay bullpen, which Kevin Cash called The Stable back in 2020, a name which has had some lasting power. The guy I want to discuss today is the one featured in the middle of the tweet below:

Pete Fairbanks made his major league debut in 2019 with Texas, which included an outing against Tampa Bay in which he struck out three

I hope everyone was able to enjoy Labor Day weekend as much as they possibly could. For me, that included a Charlotte/Durham doubleheader with my daughter and then my first ever Atlantic League game as I took the kids to a Gastonia Honey Hunters game, where we saw Khris Davis play and where my dog Lewie made his big screen debut. Since I work in the education space by day, Labor Day weekend is my professional All-Star Break, as it marks the halfway point in the craziness of the Back to School season which dominates my particular speciality of Educational Technology. Most of the Northeast is coming back to school as this article goes live, but many places have been in school for a few weeks now and my daily workload can verify that activity.

In the theme of looking ahead to next year and relievers, I want to stick close to my heart today and look at one particular guy in the Tampa Bay bullpen, which Kevin Cash called The Stable back in 2020, a name which has had some lasting power. The guy I want to discuss today is the one featured in the middle of the tweet below:

Pete Fairbanks made his major league debut in 2019 with Texas, which included an outing against Tampa Bay in which he struck out three hitters but allowed two solo homers to Willy Adames and Travis d'Arnaud. He left such an impression on the Rays that they traded for him a few weeks later, sending Nick Solak to the Rangers in a one-for-one deal. He joined the Rays after a short stint in Durham and was one of eleven different relievers to earn a save for the club as they began their current trend of community closer which has seen them use 10 or more pitchers to get saves in each of the past four seasons. 

Despite some of the best velocity and strikeout rates in both 2020 and 2021, Fairbanks saw just five saves over those two seasons. He had issues with his command, and both Nick Anderson and Andrew Kittredge simply outpitched him, particularly in that area. The former is now back in Durham attempting to recover his stuff while avoiding Tommy John surgery (it isn't going well), while the latter is on the mend from a June Tommy John surgery. With Kittredge out of the picture, the Rays have again had 10 different relievers earn saves this year, with Fairbanks joining that group in the second half after going down with a significant tear in his lat muscle very late in spring training. 

His rehab process lasted the entirety of the first half, as Fairbanks did not return to the active roster until after the All-Star Break and got off to an inauspicious start allowing a home run to Austin Hays on his very first pitch of the season. Fairbanks has since gone 239 pitches without allowing a home run. Outside of his homeritis in 2019, Fairbanks has never been particularly easy to square up, as he's allowed five homers since the end of the 2019 season, but the improved command this season has certainly helped him avoid the mistakes of his first season in the big leagues. The other impressive thing in his stat line has been that his season walk total matches his homer total; through 63 batters faced, he has one walk and one homer. Oh yea, did I mention he has found another few ticks on his fastball this season as well?

He is now averaging 99 mph with his heater, a pitch that also comes in hot with elite spin rate along with his above-average extension to pair up with his retooled slider, which now has much more drop than it had in other seasons:

Hitters must now look to cheat a bit on 98-101 mph heaters while hoping they're not getting started early only to see the slider coming. Fairbanks has embraced the Rays' way of a high volume of high-running heaters along with a bevy of sliders down in or below the strike zone:

The newfound velocity and re-shaped slider have converted his potential into actual production in a limited scope this season and have helped him achieve the following improvements in key areas:

SEASON

O-SWING%

SWING%

ZONECONTACT%

F-STRIKE%

SWSTR%

CSW%

2019

31%

47%

84%

60%

13%

30%

2020

32%

48%

79%

61%

17%

30%

2021

32%

47%

78%

61%

13%

31%

2022

44%

53%

73%

65%

17%

33%

Fairbank's ability to get ahead early in the count is allowing him to put hitters on the defensive, forcing them to swing more frequently to protect the strike zone while also generating more swings out of the zone when the opposition guesses incorrectly. This is a similar formula to the success Edwin Diaz has had this year. In a small sample size, Fairbanks has actually been better than Diaz this season by expected weighted on-base average:

I bring up all this with Fairbanks because the choice by Tampa Bay to have a closer by community has mostly been out of necessity. When Kevin Cash has found a guy he's comfortable with, he has stuck with them. After all, Brad Boxberger, Alex Colome, Sergio Romo, and Emilio Pagan each saved at least 15 games in a single season, and Pagan's 20-save season came during the first year of this current four-year run of closer by community. 

Kittredge appeared to have the primary closer role for the club before going down with his arm injury, and Fairbanks certainly has the potential to follow the same path Kittredge blazed for him with nine wins and eight saves just a season ago. Fairbanks has quickly earned Cash's high-leverage trust (along with Jason Adam) in the late innings here down the stretch as the club continues to fight for a seat at the postseason table. We know the team will not court a big name free agent and will once again look to strike gold as they did with Adam this winter, but Fairbanks appears to be the Clydesdale in this stable with his growth as a pitcher and a mentality of a closer:

If that wasn't enough to get you excited about Fairbanks, perhaps this at-bat on Wednesday night will do the trick. Three straight hundos over the plate that vapor-locked Reese McGuire:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls.
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