On January 25, the Tampa Bays Rays announced that team signed LHP Jeffrey Springs to a four-year, $31 million extension. The deal is set to keep the left-hander in Tampa until the end of the 2026 season, a place that has been quite kind to Springs over the past two seasons. The 30-year-old yielded nice returns for those who picked him up in fantasy last season, and the left-hander has the potential to replicate those results in 2023..
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A Look at Springs
Not too long ago, Rays LHP Jeffrey Springs yielded some unsavory results out of the pen for the Red Sox. In the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, Springs was acquire by the Sox to provide some relief for an ailing bullpen. While Springs did deliver quite high K/9 (12.4%) and Whiff% (37.6) rates, the lefty posted a rough 7.08 ERA. Springs showed potential thanks to solid stuff, but command and consistency eluded the High Point product over his first few seasons in the Majors.
Tampa Bay acquired Springs in February 2021, and the lefty turned a corner in the Rays bullpen. In 2021, Springs’ ERA dipped to 3.43, and the left-hander posted a very solid 12.7 K/9 to go along with it. The 30-year-old turned into a valuable left-hander in Tampa’s bullpen in 2021, but that changed this past season.
In late April, Springs made his first start since 2018 against Seattle. From that point forward, Springs slotted into the Rays’ rotation and fit in just fine. Springs posted a strong 2.46 ERA for the Rays last season, and a career-high 2.1 BB/9. While the 30-year-old’s strikeouts did slip down — not much of a shock given the increased usage — Springs did manage to average more than a strikeout per inning.
So, what makes Springs so effective? The left-hander doesn’t boast a hard fastball; Springs’ average fastball velocity was just 91.4 MPH last season. Yet, Springs gets above-average extension on his delivery that does make it look faster than what the radar gun indicates. Additionally, the left-hander has two solid other pitches, a slider and changeup. Both of those are valuable weapons against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, respectively.
Springs’ changeup, in particular, has been a valuable weapon. Per Statcast, Springs yielded 108 instances of weak contact on the change — which differs in speed by about 10 MPH as compared to the fastball — last season. That cumulative figure was good for seventh in the league, putting the lefty alongside names like Zach Davies (106) and Martín Pérez (109). The 30-year-old’s ace in the hole has nice fade and movement, as shown in this strikeout from last season.
Tampa will hope to see plenty of the same stuff from Springs over the next four seasons.
What it Means
Before getting into Springs’ value for fantasy, let’s point out that the Rays have done an excellent job in finding “sneaky” good and undervalued relievers. Springs is just one example — Jason Adam and reliever-turned-starter Drew Rasmussen are two other examples of Tampa’s pitching factory. The lefty fit nicely in the Rays organization when acquired in 2021, given his rough patches but potential shown in the past. Now, Springs has found a home in the Rays rotation.
As far as fantasy is concerned, it’s hard not to like a solid lefty that has the potential to rack up at least ten wins and a hefty amount of strikeouts come 2023. Springs was in elite company last season among pitchers; the left-hander was one of just 15 pitchers in 2022 to record a K/9 of at least 9.0, an ERA of 3.00 or better, and a WHIP of 1.10 or better (min. 125 IP). The rest of that list included elite names like Luis Castillo and Zack Wheeler, as well as Rays teammate Shane McClanahan.
While Springs’ past control issues are something to watch, the left-hander does a tremendous job of keeping hitters thanks to a good mix of pitches. Also, leagues that weight wins more do need to be wary of Springs’ usage. Nine of Springs’ 25 starts last season were less than five innings. Given how the Rays handle starters, it’s quite likely that this pattern could continue in 2023.
Consider Springs to be a strong option in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.