Tagged: Alex Cobb

5 Bold Predictions for Rays’ Second Half of the Season

The second half of the 2013 regular season is underway. Five and a half games out of first place in the AL East and three games behind in the Wild Card race, the Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of work to do these next three months.

Without further delay, take a look at my five bold predictions for the second half of the season.

Good pitching will return to Tampa Bay

After posting historically good numbers in 2012, the Rays’ pitching staff was surprisingly mediocre in the first half of the season. Reigning Cy Young award-winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez and most of the bullpen struggled in the first half.

However, things appear to be turning in the right direction going into the second half. Jeremy Hellickson has been sharp in his last three starts, Matt Moore looks to have returned to his early-season form and the bullpen has been excellent as of late.

Also, David Price is returning to the rotation tonight and Alex Cobb—who led the rotation earlier this season—should return after the All-Star break.

Matt Moore will have excellent second half

It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season for Matt Moore so far. The phenom southpaw was outstanding in April and May, but had three straight bad starts in June before returning to form in his last three starts.

Moore’s fastball velocity has been down all year, but he’s done great work with his offspeed stuff and is still unhittable when he commands his pitches. He really looks poised for a huge second half.

The Rays will trade either Ryan Roberts or Roberto Hernandez before the deadline

As usual, I don’t expect GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays to make a lot of noise at the trade deadline later this month, but I do expect to see one small trade.

Ryan Roberts is definitely a possibility. With Wil Myers now in the majors, the Rays don’t really have a spot for Roberts on the roster, especially with the offense performing so well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt for some relief pitching help.

Roberto Hernandez is another potential candidate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and there are a few teams in the league that could really use his services. With Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Alex Torres and Jake Odorizzi, the Rays could certainly afford to trade Hernandez.

Wil Myers will make big push for AL Rookie of the Year

With just 14 games played, it may be a little early for the “Wil Myers for Rookie of the Year” talks, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the second half.

Myers’ transition into the big leagues has been a pretty smooth one, as he’s swung the bat well posting a .345 wOBA. As of right now he’s not one of the top candidates, but I think he’ll prove in the following months why he was considered the top hitting prospect in baseball.

The Rays will clinch a playoff spot

Can the Rays return to the postseason in 2013? It won’t be easy with Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees in the same division, as well as the Athletics or Rangers as likely serious contenders for a Wild Card spot.

If the “Tampa Bay Rays pitching” returns—which I think it will—and the offensive remains productive, I believe this team will be playing in October.

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Tampa Bay Rays First Quarter Grades

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It hasn’t been an ideal start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With one quarter of the season already behind us, the Rays currently stand at an even 20-20.

The’ve really underachieved overall as a team, as things simply aren’t falling into place for them just yet.

With a strong offense and a struggling bullpen, it’s looked like 2009 all over again so far for Tampa Bay. They missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 84 wins that year, so Rays fans hope their team is not going down a similar path.

After the first 40 games of the 2013 season, here’s a graded evaluation of the Rays’ offense, starting rotation, bullpen and defense.

The Offense

The Rays currently have the third best offense in Major League Baseball with a wRC+ of 108.

Evan Longoria and James Loney have both enjoyed red-hot starts to the season. Longoria has posted a .417 wOBA and Loney is leading the league in batting at .367.

Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have both been pleasant surprises. Johnson’s posted a 119 wRC+ and Rodriguez has looked like a much-improved hitter, putting up a .326 wOBA in 60 plate appearances.

Below’s a chart of every player’ wOBA compared to their preseason projections (Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections):

Overall Grade: A-

With statistically one of the league’s best offenses, I thought the Rays deserved a high grade here. The difference between an A- and an A+ for me was the first two weeks of the season where the offense was anemic. Since late April, however, the lineup has been scorching hot.

The Rotation

“Disappointing” is the best word to describe the Rays’ starting rotation at the first quarter mark. Tampa’s starters have posted a collective 4.05 ERA (16th in MLB) and a 4.22 FIP (18th in MLB).

Shockingly, the starting pitching struggles have stemmed from the rotation’s front two: David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. Price—who’s now on the 15-day DL—is 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through nine starts and Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA through eight.

There has been two bright spots in the rotation, however, as youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have both shined. Moore is an impressive 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.56 K/9, while Cobb is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a rotation-leading WAR of 0.9.

Roberto Hernandez has been nothing more than decent in his first seven starts. He’s 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA, but he’s actually looked pretty encouraging. His career-high 8.65 K/9 rate, 3.43 SIERA and 3.45 xFIP are possibly signs of a comeback year for Hernandez.

Overall Grade: C-

The Bullpen

What was expected to be one of the better bullpens in baseball as turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Tampa’s ‘pen ranks fourth worst in the league in ERA (4.67) and sixth worst in FIP (4.04).

Closer Fernando Rodney has been suprisingly lousy so far, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities to go along with a 5.28 ERA and a pair of losses. Jake McGee (8.80 ERA), Kyle Farnsworth (6.52 ERA), Jamey Wright (4.24 ERA) and Brandon Gomes (5.40 ERA) have all struggled as well.

The Rays have held leads in 34 of their 40 games this season, and have blown countless leads late in games. The bullpen is simply going to have to improve if the Rays want a shot at competing in October.

Overall Grade: D

The Defense

As expected, the Rays are one of baseballs’ strongest fielding teams. They’re tied sixth in the league in UZR at 8.6. Other notable numbers include Tampa’s 9.7 RngR, -0.3 ErrR and -1 DRS.

They have the best defensive corner-infield combo in the game with Evan Longoria and James Loney, Longoria, as usual, has been nothing short of amazing this season, leading the team with a 3.8 UZR as he continues to play like a Gold Glove caliber third baseman.

In the outfield, Desmond Jennings has done a fine job adjusting to centerfield, posting a 3.2 UZR. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce haven’t done a very good job in the corners, but Fuld still covers plenty of ground and Kelly Johnson has bolstered the outfield defense a bit.

Johnson’s also played very well at second base thus far, owning a 0.8 UZR at the position.

At shortstop, Yunel Escobar has proven to be the defensive upgrade he was signed for. He gives the Rays the adequate-fielding everyday shortstop they haven’t had since Jason Bartlett in 2010.

As for the Rays’ catching tandem, both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have been below average in terms of throwing out runners and blocking pitching. It’s obviously a big minus for the overall defense, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Molina is the best framing catcher in the game.

Overall Grade: B

Jose Molina’s Hidden Value

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When the Tampa Bay Rays signed veteran catcher Jose Molina to a two-year deal worth $3.3 million following the 2011 season, they actually got much more than what the 37-year-old’s numbers show.

If you look at Molina’s 2012 stats—81 wRC+, 0.8 WAR, 4 rSB and a -4.22 RPP—he doesn’t seem like a very valuable player at all on paper. His career stats aren’t much better either.

However, where Molina’s value lies is in a part of catching that isn’t calculated: The art of framing pitches.

Although he may not be the superstar that his younger brother Yadier is, framing pitches is one thing that Jose does better than both of his brothers. In fact, he’s probably been the best at it in all of baseball over the past years.

His pitch-framing wizardry has made a significant impact with the Rays as well as other teams he’s played with throughout his 14-year career. Tampa had the best pitching staff in the MLB in 2012, ranking first in ERA, FIP, strikeouts and strike percentage. Molina, who caught 102 games for the Rays last year, more than likely had something to do with this historic success.

Here’s some examples of Molina’s special talent:

As you can see, frustrating opposing batters and making umpires look bad is something that Molina has a knack for.

Molina’s excellency in framing pitches does not only make him a valuable catcher, but it also can contribute to a pitcher’s success.

Fernando Rodney is one pitcher that comes to mind. With Molina behind the plate for over half the innings he pitched last season, Rodney’s called strike percentage went up 4.44% from the previous season (without Molina). There were obviously multiple factors that played a part in Rodney’s career year in 2012, but Molina was probably one of them.

Two more examples come from when Molina was with the Yankees; Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina both in 2008. Rivera had arguably the best season of his great career with Molina catching most of his innings. His CLDSTR% increased 4.36% that year from 2007.

Molina was also behind the plate for all but 10 innings pitched by Mussina during his impressive 20-win season. Mussina, who was pitching the last year of his career at age 39, saw his CLDSTR% go up 3.86% from his disappointing 2007 campaign.

Now in 2013, what I’ve observed is that Molina’s glovework helping out sinkerballers Alex Cobb and Roberto Hernandez. Both starters are dependent on throwing quality pitches low in the zone. With Molina catching, that strikezone widens a bit, which Joe Maddon has clearly taken into consideration.

Cobb is off to a great start to the season, while Hernandez—despite some ugly numbers—is having an encouraging start with some positive signs towards a turnaround year for him. Molina has caught most of the time for Cobb and Hernandez, while Jose Lobaton has received more playing time with David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson on the mound.

In conclusion, Jose Molina is living proof of how much a catcher can positively affect a pitcher and even an entire pitching staff. He may not be good at blocking balls or even throwing out baserunners (at this point in his career), but framing pitches is one asset he’ll likely never lose as long as he’s in the league.

Cobb Impressive as Rays Beat Orioles 4-1

The Rays got back to their winning ways Saturday afternoon, defeating the O’s 4-1 in Port Charlotte to improve their Grapefruit League record to 6-3.

Alex Cobb started for Tampa Bay, and looked very sharp in his outing. He allowed just one hit while striking out five batters without a walk through his three scoreless innings.

Fernando Rodney and Brandon Gomes followed up with one scoreless inning each. Gomes found himself in a bit of trouble after allowing two hits, but escaped the jam with the help of two big strikeouts.

Prospect Alex Torres also contributed to the bullpen’s effort, tossing two scoreless innings late in the game.

On the offensive side of things, Rays fans enjoyed their share of power in this ballgame. All four runs were scored on long balls; Yunel Escobar with a two-run blast and Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez with the solo shots.

Evan Longoria returned to the lineup, making his second start of the spring. He finished the day 0-2 with a walk and a run.

Click here for a full boxscore of yesterday’s game. And here’s a boxscore of the Rays’ 5-4 loss to Toronto on Friday and of their 11-2 loss on Thursday to the Tigers.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays made their first round of cuts this spring.
  • Evan Longoria’s baby has been released from the hospital.
  • Rays prospect Leonardo Reginatto is making noise in the World Baseball Classic with Team Brazil. The 22-year-old, who has spent the past two seasons with Class A- Hudson Valley, is 4-7 with two RBI and two doubles after his first two games of the tournament.

Ranking the Rays’ New-Look Rotation in the Tough AL East

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Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by great starting pitching over the past few years. Although the rotation has had a bit of a different look each season, the overall result has been positive year after year.

The secret to the Rays’ starting pitching success is homegrown talent, which is the reason why many are expecting the Rays’ rotation to have yet another excellent season in 2013. No organization develops young pitchers into quality major league starters like the Rays do.

In 2013, Tampa is faced with a new challenge: Replacing James Shields—an ace who provides the team with over 200 innings.

With Shields, the Rays had the best rotation in all of baseball last season. Without him, it’ll be very tough to be as dominant.

The starting five will be led by Cy Young Award winner David Price, followed by Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. The fifth spot in the rotation will be competed for by four pitchers—Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona), Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.

The Rays have eight starters in the mix that would make the starting rotation on almost all MLB clubs, and not many teams—if any—can say that.

Tampa Bay is not the only team in the AL East that’ll show off their arms in 2013, though, as the division will only get tougher this year. There are some exciting new starting pitching additions—most notably on the Blue Jays—that aren’t going to make Rays hitters’ lives any easier.

Without further delay, here’s my ranking of the five AL East rotations.

5. Boston Red Sox

Starting pitching has been by far Boston’s biggest weakness in recent years. They struggled mightily in the department last year, posting a 5.19 ERA and a 4.69 FIP.

The rotation will have to make up for the key loss of Josh Beckett, but will get some help from offseason acquisition Ryan Dempster. The Red Sox will also be without Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook this season, so starting pitching depth will probably be just as bad as it was last year.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jon Lester

2) Clay Buchholz

3) Ryan Dempster

4) Felix Doubront

5) John Lackey

As you can see, there’s a pretty wide range between this rotation’s ceiling and floor of potential.

If the front three pitch to their potential with some sort of consistency, the Sox could have a pretty good trio of starters. On the other hand, none of these starters had a good season in 2012 besides for Dempster, and even he fell apart after being traded to Texas mid-season and making his American League debut.

In addition, Boston’s rotation is an injury or two away from being in a very difficult situation due to their shallowness in the organization starting pitching wise.

The Red Sox really did not due enough this offseason to address their starting pitching issues. The only starter they signed is 35 years old, and is a lot more likely to go on a decline rather than improve.

If I’m GM Ben Cherington right now, I’m making a serious run at veteran Kyle Lohse, who still remains on the free agent market. Another option is trading away a bat for some young starting pitching talent.

4. New York Yankees

Like the Red Sox, starting pitching has been far from a strong point for the Yankees in the past years.

However, they have a great one-two punch in ace C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who both had excellent seasons last year. Both do a great job eating up innings (posting 200+ each in 2012) and racking up wins (combined for 31 in 2012).

Andy Pettitte joined the staff later in the season, and did a nice job putting up a 2.87 ERA through 75.1 innings pitched.

The Yanks didn’t get much production from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, though.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) C.C. Sabathia

2) Hiroki Kuroda

3) Andy Pettitte

4) Phil Hughes

5) Ivan Nova

The only two pitchers in this rotation that Yankees fans can really expect to have good years are Sabathia and Kuroda. Pettitte was very impressive in his comeback last season, but his age and recent injury history make him a big question mark.

The biggest concern for the Yankees regarding starting pitching is their depth, which is scary shallow. The only pitcher backing up the starting five is David Phelps, and they don’t have any good farm talent that can help them in the near future.

Michael Pineda would be a big part part of this rotation, but he won’t join the team until later in the year due to the same injury that shelved him for the entire 2012 season.

3. Baltimore Orioles

Starting pitching was definitely not one of the Baltimore’s strong suits during their Cinderella 2012 season. They depended heavily on their outstanding bullpen, which managed to get the job done when the rotation didn’t.

This year the Orioles’ staff could see an upgrade with the acquisition of Jair Jurrjens.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jason Hammel

2) Wei-Yin Chen

3) Chris Tillman

4) Miguel Gonzalez

5) Jair Jurrjens

The Orioles have a rotation that could have five solid starters. All of the front four above posted an ERA south of four last year.

As for the fifth spot, it will be competed for by seven different pitchers, and I’m predicting that Jiar Jurrjens wins the job. Jurrjens didn’t play much in 2012 due to injury, but we all saw the kind of damage he’s capable of doing after an ace-like 2011 campaign.

If he returns to full health this season, AL East hitters could be facing yet another menace on the mound.

Depth-wise, the O’s are actually in a pretty good state. Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could all fill in case someone in the starting five gets hurt or struggles. Phenom prospect Dylan Bundy could also contribute later in the season if needed.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays did more than any team in baseball to bolster their pitching staff this offseason, adding three big-name pitchers in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

Toronto fans have to be excited about their rotation this season, especially after having such a weak one last year. The Jays’ rotation was the AL East’s worst in 2012, finishing the year with a 4.82 ERA.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) R.A. Dickey

2) Brandon Morrow

3) Mark Buehrle

4) Josh Johnson

5) Ricky Romero

What Toronto has is a rotation of four pitchers (Dickey, Buehrle, Johnson and Romero) who have all been stars at some point in their career not so long ago. Even Brandon Morrow has shown he has star potential, and seems to be heading in that direction after an impressive 2012 season.

The front four of the starting five are expected to be solid in 2013, with Ricky Romero probably being the biggest question mark. Romero came into the 2012 season with sky-high expectations as the team’s ace, but ended up having an atrocious year going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA (MLB worst for starters with 20-plus starts).

If he can return even close to his 2011 form, nobody should be surprised to see the Jays emerge as the new Beasts of the East.

The Blue Jays’ rotation does have some depth to it as well, with J.A. Happ, Brett Cecil and Brad Lincoln serving as security starters.

1) Tampa Bay Rays

Numbers really tell the story of the Rays’ starting rotation in 2012. Tampa’s staff led the league in ERA (3.34), strikeouts (900) and opponents’ average (.234).

Projected Starting Rotation

1) David Price

2) Jeremy Hellickson

3) Matt Moore

4) Alex Cobb

5) Jeff Niemann/Roberto Hernandez

As I said before, it’s going to be tough for the Rays’ rotation to repeat their amazing performance from last season, especially without James Shields.

Although they may not have their workhorse anymore, what the Rays do have now is Chris Archer, Roberto Hernandez and Jake Odorizzi—who are all major league quality starters that they didn’t have in the beginning of last season.

With such great depth, Tampa Bay should be able to make up for the loss of Shields, and will likely put out one of the league’s best rotations once again.

Rays Down Red Sox 6-3

The Rays came through with another Grapefruit League victory Monday afternoon, defeating Boston in Port Charlotte by a score of 6-3.

Alex Cobb got the start for Tampa Bay, and didn’t look sharp in his two innings pitched. Cobb allowed two runs on four hits and one walk in his spring debut.

A trio of relievers expected to make the Opening Day bullpen, on the other hand, strutted much better stuff. Jamey Wright, Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee combined for four scoreless (and hitless) innings.

The Rays got the job done offensively as well. Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts both hit two-run doubles early in the game. Ben Zobrist tacked on another run with an RBI single in the fourth inning.

Prospect Hak-Ju Lee remained hitless, going 0-2, and committed both of the teams errors on the field.

Here’s a full boxscore of yesterday’s game.

Projections for the Rays’ Opening Day Roster

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With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.

Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.

If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.

Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.

Starting Lineup

C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott

Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.

The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.

Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.

Bench

C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld

Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.

Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.

I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.

Starting Rotation

1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann

Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.

It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.

Bullpen

Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright

Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.

With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.

Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.