1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Wondering what’s wrong with Blake Snell? You might not believe the answer

His ERA has nearly doubled from last year but the reigning Cy Young Award winner can still be as nasty as ever.
Rays pitcher Blake Snell celebrates a strikeout to end an inning earlier this season. Snell's overall numbers are less spectacular than 2018, but he's still got some of the game's nastiest stuff. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times)
Rays pitcher Blake Snell celebrates a strikeout to end an inning earlier this season. Snell's overall numbers are less spectacular than 2018, but he's still got some of the game's nastiest stuff. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Published Jun. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — First pitch is hours away, and you’re feeling troubled.

Not panicky, not exactly nervous. Just a little concerned, perhaps.

Once upon a time, this would have been an afternoon to savor. Big game on the schedule, and Blake Snell on the mound. What could possibly be better?

Well, now that you’ve asked:

How about the 2018 version of Snell?

Yeah, that’s unfair. Snell didn’t just have a breakout season in “18, he had a once-in-a-generation season. He was practically untouchable for nearly four months, and that’s not an exaggeration. Beginning with a start at Houston one year ago today, Snell went 14-2 with a 1.25 ERA down the stretch.

That’s just nuts.

So, um, where’s the crazy now?

Related: MORE RAYS: Former commissioner Bud Selig says Tampa Bay still has potential as MLB market

Fourteen starts into 2019, Snell is 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA. He’s given up nearly as many earned runs (31) by mid-June as he did (38) all of last year.

Is there something wrong with his arm? No. Was last season a complete fluke? No. Is his control a problem? No. Has he lost the zip on his fastball or the bite on his breaking pitches? No and no.

In some ways, Snell’s stuff is more impressive than it was last season. He’s generating more swing-and-misses than ever before. He’s averaging more strikeouts and less walks. Even his percentage of hard-hit balls has gone down.

So how do you explain this?

Warily, I suppose.

There are a handful of theories but no obvious smoking gun. The easiest way to explain it is Snell has had less luck and worse timing. Line drives that might have been caught last year are now reaching the outfield grass, and a few extra fly balls have left the park.

Related: RELATED: Join our Rays Fever Facebook group for conversation, polls, story links and more

But the biggest difference has been Snell’s performance with runners in scoring position. Last season, Snell stranded runners on base at an otherworldly pace.

Opponents hit just .088 (10-for-114) against him with runners on second or third. This season, hitters have a .237 average (14-for-59) with runners in scoring position against Snell.

That, alone, could account for a big chunk of his increased ERA.

Now it’s possible there are other factors that may have contributed to this. Manager Kevin Cash, and Snell himself, have talked about his pitch selection at times.

It’s true, Snell is throwing his fastball less than he once did. Last June, he threw his fastball 55.5 percent of the time. This June, it’s down to 44.1. Instead, he’s throwing his curveball and changeup more.

Normally, that might be an “A-ha!” kind of discovery. Except, Snell actually began throwing his fastball less last September (41 percent of the time) and he still looked unhittable.

The problem could be that Snell gets too enamored with his off-speed pitches, and that occasionally lessens their effectiveness.

Related: MORE ROMANO: A Negro League player from Tampa is gone, but he leaves an important legacy behind

Another possibility might be Snell’s psyche. He has seemed more frustrated on the mound at times this season. He’s taking a lot more time between pitches (going from 23.4 seconds last year to a ridiculously slow 26.6 seconds in 2019), and has worked with a wide assortment of catchers due to injuries.

But all of that has the feel of amateur psychiatry.

The bottom line is that Snell is still one of the elite pitchers in the American League. The issue is that he was so good last season, and a lot of fans assumed they would see the same pitcher this year.

It’s almost stunning to realize the Rays are still near the top of the AL East while going .500 in Snell’s 14 starts. That’s not all his fault because run support has been an issue, but you could make a good argument that it’s the difference between first and second place today.

The good news is the Rays are not alarmed by his first-half numbers. There are no guarantees, but everything suggests the numbers will soon tilt in Snell’s favor again.

Today would be a nice start.

Past vs. present

At this point last season, Blake Snell was beginning his drive toward the Cy Young Award. He’s got some ground to make up in 2019.


March/April: 4-1 record, 2.52 ERA, 35.2 IP, 41 SO

May: 3-2 record, 2.60 ERA, 34.2 IP, 35 SO

June: 3-1 record, 1.74 ERA, 31 IP, 37 SO

July: 2-1 record, 2.04 ERA, 17.2 IP, 21 SO

August: 4-0 record, 1.04 ERA 26 IP, 34 SO

September: 5-0 record, 1.26 ERA, 35.2 IP, 53 SO


March/April: 2-2 record, 2.54 ERA, 28.1 IP, 39 SO

May: 1-2 record, 3.51 ERA, 33.1 IP, 44 SO

June: 1-1 record, 6.59 ERA, 13.2 IP, 18 SO

Contact John Romano at Follow @romano_tbtimes.


  1. Tampa Bay Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg, right, with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, during a Rays playoff game against the Houston Astros in October. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    Also, a peek into their thought process on why standing pat is bad, as was Pat Burrell, and other things they’ve learned.
  2. Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg talks with reporters during a briefing at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, California on December 10, 2019. [WILL VRAGOVIC  |  Tampa Bay Rays]
    Principal owner says staying full time in Tampa Bay remains unlikely, so the focus remains on sharing games with Montreal.
  3. Agent Scott Boras faced a lot of questions from reporters at the winter meetings on Tuesday. [MARC  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Game’s top agent says Rays have been unappreciated in their market. Also, they should think of adding a veteran starter.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays Tommy Pham (29) works to clean out his locker area for end of season on Oct. 11. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Whatever concerns the Padres had about Pham’s elbow apparently were resolved as the deal goes through as planned.
  5. Rays manager Kevin Cash had more than a few points to make during his Q&A session on Monday in San Diego. [MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Beyond the opener, Mike Zunino, Tommy Pham and Brendan McKay, here’s the rest of the story from Cash in San Diego.
  6. Yonny Chirinos may join the Rays' rotation full time next season, possibly signaling an end to consistent use of the opener. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough did well enough that the Rays could go back to using five traditional starters.
  7. The Rays' Tommy Pham played through elbow injuries at the end of last season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    Padres say they are still “working through” some things with results of physical, likely concerning his elbow.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20), right, and Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud (37) walk back to the dugout after the first inning in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    The cheating scandal and sign-stealing investigation will be a popular topic during this week’s winter meetings.
  9. Steven Souza Jr. hit 30 home runs for the Rays in the 2017 season while improving his defense and baserunning, but hit only .239. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Talented and entertaining outfielder is a free agent after being non-tendered by D-backs, and Rays do need some help.
  10. Could a reunion with outfielder Steven Souza Jr., shown during a 2016 game, be possible for the Rays?
    What they’ve done so far, what they’re looking to do, Hall of Fame possibilities, and rumblings.