SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Ray Black seemed like an urban legend. You would see his outrageous strikeout totals in the minors, then notice that he was pitching just every third day to limit the injury risk. You would hear his fastball exploding in the bullpen at Scottsdale Stadium, then see him walking through the clubhouse the next day encased in ice.
Black’s name came with a caveat: “If he could only stay healthy …”
In 2018, Black got healthy and stayed healthy. He made his MLB debut and had some pretty high highs, along with some rough moments. Here’s a rundown of the long-awaited arrival of Ray Black and his 100 mph fastball …
What Went Right:
First of all, Black stayed healthy. That’s the most important thing that happened to him in 2018. Black looked headed for life on his family farm, but he picked up a ball last offseason and found he was pain-free, and when he arrived in Double-A, he struck out 20 in 10 innings. He was similarly dominant in Triple-A, earning a big league promotion July 8.
After giving up a three-run homer that day, Black threw 10 1/3 consecutive hitless innings. His relief no-hitter lasted nearly a month, and in the midst of that streak, he had an absolutely dominant inning against the heart of the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup.
That Ray Black inning was so nasty. The first picture is a 99.4 fastball to Goldschmidt, the second is the two-strike slider that got Pollock: pic.twitter.com/kjUWNKIekV— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 3, 2018
Black led the Giants with an average of 12.79 strikeouts per nine innings, and his walk rate of 3.86 was down from some minor league stops. While his ERA was 6.17, perhaps he got spectacularly unlucky; his FIP was 3.98 and his xFIP was 3.45.
Black was one of 10 big leaguers to throw double-digit pitches 100+ mph, maxing out at 100.9 mph, according to Statcast. His average fastball was over 98 mph.
What Went Wrong:
When it went bad for Black, it REALLY went bad. He gave up runs in seven of his 26 appearances, but six of those instances included multiple runs. When he returned in September, for example, Black allowed runs in just two of his 10 appearances, but in those two he was charged with six earned. The end result was that 6.17 ERA.
Black allowed a three-run homer to Matt Carpenter in his big league debut and that problem followed him a bit throughout the rest of the season. He allowed four homers in 23 1/3 innings and nine of the 17 hits he allowed went for extra bases.
Black made the MLB minimum in 2018.
Black showed some important traits as a rookie. He was able to pitch back-to-back days and go multiple innings, and while the Giants sent him down to Triple-A at one point, in part to watch his innings, he didn’t have any health issues down the stretch. If he’s still rolling next spring, Black should be in the opening day bullpen. This is not a bullpen built on strikeouts, but Black, at his best, is a player Bruce Bochy can call on in the sixth or seventh when he absolutely needs a strikeout. This late in his career, there should be no restrictions, and while the Giants still have some concerns given his lengthy injury history, they’re going to ride this as long as they can. Perhaps over time Black will develop into a setup man or even a closer, but for now, all sides are happy with one of the best developments of 2018: Ray Black was healthy.