Brooks Raley is a 34-year-old journeyman who is currently enjoying his second extended stint in MLB. After putting up unimpressive numbers in fourteen appearances for the Cubs in 2012 and 2013, Raley bounced around the minors with three different organizations without much luck. He signed with the Lotte Giants of the KBO in 2015 and put up four halfway decent seasons as a starter before bowing out in 2019 with a 5-14 record.
The Reds took a flier on him in 2020 then swiftly DFA’d him. The Astros then saw something they liked, picked him up, and turned him into a serviceable reliever over the next two seasons. The Rays then signed him, did a little bit of devil magic, and turned him into one of the most effective lefty relievers in the league. Of course, the Rays have a few “one of the most effective lefty relievers in MLB” at their disposal, so to save some money they traded Raley to the Mets.
It’s easy to see why the Mets traded for him. Raley put up a 2.74 FIP and had just a 0.969 WHIP in 53 innings for Tampa Bay, who turned the journeyman into their second-most used reliever out of the bullpen. The Mets, meanwhile, gave a plurality of their left-handed relief innings last year to Joely Rodríguez, and that didn’t work out so well. Jumping on Raley’s solid numbers makes good baseball sense.
And if the stats don’t impress you, the peripheral numbers should. Raley’s Savant page is molten-lava red, with the exception of his velocity numbers, as he pitches slider-first and features ungodly movement from his sinker and changeup to induce weak contact. Despite not having a pitch that tops 91 miles per hour, Raley’s chase rate puts him in the 92nd percentile, while his hard hit percentage and barrel percentage puts him in the 98th and 99th percentile of all pitchers, respectively. Put simply, Brooks Raley does not give up hard contact.
It’s a little less important now with the schedule rebalancing and Juan Soto leaving the division for San Diego, but having a reliable left-handed reliever will go a long way in the National League East. The Mets will face a lot of high-leverage situations against Matt Olson, Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, and Jazz Chisholm, and to have someone dedicated to getting those sluggers out looks like a necessity in this division.
With the Mets so right-handed heavy in the bullpen, and with the only other potential left-handed relief coming from typical starters David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi, the team is clearly hoping Raley will be their go-to lefty in high-leverage situations. And while his age and mileage both in the minors and in Korea (over 900 IP) might concern some, his crafty stuff should play well for at least a few more years should the movement on his secondary pitches stay elite.
Baseball-wise, the Mets made a good trade. There are a lot of numbers that back this up, and they show that Raley will probably be a good reliever for the Mets. Are we all clear on that? Good. Because I want to talk about something else.
On June 4, 2022, the Tampa Bay Rays hosted a pride night at Tropicana Field that featured players wearing pride flag-themed hats and sleeve patches. In what was supposed to be a night commemorating Central Florida’s LGBTQ+ community, the game made more headlines for five players that refused to wear those hats and patches.
Raley was one of those five players. And while those players hid behind Jason Adam’s mealy-mouthed explanation, Raley was the first to enter the game without the pride logo, and whether fair or not was the public face of this demonstration. The public reaction was both swift and negative, highlighting the most embarrassing moment of an otherwise celebratory Rays season.
The Rays deserve some blame for the affair, as no well-run organization would allow their players to remove official team branding from their uniforms for any reason. But ultimately this falls on Raley and the others, who leveraged religion to justify their bigotry. Here’s a direct quote from Adam:
“I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior.”
If you don’t read that as “we don’t think queer people should have the same rights as us,” then there isn’t anything I can say that can convince you otherwise.
As disheartened as I was about this demonstration, I also wasn’t surprised. Being a queer baseball fan means I have to accept that many players and fans simply do not care about my livelihood, while some refuse to even accept it. For every Mark Canha or Liam Hendricks, there are dozens of people within the sport that object to queer rights, and the current political climate has emboldened some of these people to loudly express their bigotry. It sucks!
I firmly believe that people like Raley who express their bigotry do far more harm than other homophobic players who stay quiet, even if their silent beliefs may be just as hateful. It’s important to condemn both, but it’s also important to recognize the actions like the one Raley took as harmful, especially at a time when mainstream political talking points regularly express violent rhetoric against queer folk.
With all that said, I don’t know how much can be done about it. Raley expressed his bigotry, and the Mets traded for him anyway. It stinks all around. But I also want to watch a baseball game without exhausting myself from the same hateful nonsense I internalize on a daily basis. I would never ask that anyone root against Brooks Raley or any Mets player–I might even catch myself pumping my fist if he induces an inning-ending double play from Bryce Harper at some point this season. I just ask that you be aware of what he did and how queer people might feel about it when he enters a game.