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 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.
“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-
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
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
The Rays evened their Grapefruit League record to 15-15 Tuesday, losing to Philadelphia in Clearwater.
Roberto Hernandez, who was making his final start in the tight battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation with Jeff Niemann, had a rough outing. Hernandez started the day with four great innings to start off, but then collapsed in both the fifth and sixth innings.
He was scoreless in those first four innings, and was doing a very nice job enticing groundballs. He gave up nine runs in his final two innings, finishing the day this ugly line: 6 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, BB, 0 K.
Tuesday’s lineup, which featured just two Opening Day players, was very quiet throughout the ballgame. The offense compiled just three hits, the only run coming from Sean Rodriguez’s RBI double in the third inning.
Click here for a full boxscore.
The Rays pretty much set their Opening Day roster Tuesday. They optioned down Brandon Gomes, leaving the final two bullpen spots to Jamey Wright and Niemann/Hernandez.
Here’s a look at the 25-man roster to start the regular season and roster moves from yesterday over at TampaBay.com.
Rays News and Notes:
- The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will be coming to a conclusion either today or tomorrow, as Jeff Niemann makes his final start of the spring this afternoon against the Blue Jays in Port Charlotte.
- The Rays beat the Pirates 6-2 Monday. Matt Moore had another shaky start in that one.
- Luke Scott could be sidelined a few days with a tightness in his right calf. It’s nice to hear that it’s not the same left hamstring issue that’s been bothering him, but it’s also upsetting to see that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy with the Rays yet for an extended period of time. As of now it looks like missing Opening Day isn’t a concern.
- Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer will throw out the first pitch for Opening Day.
- David Price is seen on the cover of one of six Sports Illustrated regional baseball preview issues. The issue features the Rays, and SI writers seem to really like them this year in their pre-season predictions.
The Rays improved their Grapefruit League record to 14-9, routing Detroit 11-5 Tuesday afternoon in Lakeland.
Bats were on fire all day long for Tampa Bay, as the Rays compiled 11 runs on 12 hits.
Luke Scott had the most impressive game, going 2-4 with a grand slam, a double and a walk. He also played four innings in right field, and fared well there.
Other notable performances offensively included Shelley Duncan (two-run homer) and Chris Gimenez (2-3 with RBI).
Jeremy Hellickson took the mound for the Rays against what was a preview of Detroit’s Opening Day lineup. Helly had a strong outing—definitely the strongest one of the spring. He gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and no walks in 6 innings pitched (83 pitches). All three runs came in the first two innings, but then Hellickson found his groove and settled in.
Brandon Gomes also made an appearance in this ballgame. Gomes allowed his first two runs of the spring after giving up a two-run blast during his one inning of work.
Here’s a full boxscore of Tuesday’s game.
The Rays travel to Fort Myers Wednesday to take on the Twins.
Rays News and Notes:
- The World Baseball Classic is over, and the Dominican Republic have been crowned champions, beating Puerto Rico by a score of 3-0. D.R. finished the tournament 8-0 (first team ever to finish the WBC undefeated), Fernando Rodney saving seven of the eight victories. With the help of his lucky plantain, which he had in both the semifinal and final in San Francisco, Rodney was able to close out what was a scoreless tournament for him last night. The conclusion of the Classic is a relief for Rays fans. Tampa’s star closer didn’t get much rest and pitched a lot (most for any reliever in WBC history) in such an early point in the year, which concerned Joe Maddon. It’s just nice that it’s finally over.
- David Price made his scheduled minor-league start Monday, but had the outing cut short due to bad conditions. He ended up throwing just 37 pitches and then 34 more in an indoor cage. Price was frustrated by the weather, claiming that the conditions were dangerous for pitching.
- DRaysBay.com has a great piece explaining why Wil Myers likely won’t be called up before July.
- The Rays have a new ad campaign to get fans to the ballpark in 2013 built around the slogan ‘Welcome Home.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The latest Rays news and notes:
- The Rays defeated the Pirates last night 6-4. David Price got the start and looked sharp, allowing two runs through seven strong innings. Luke Scott and Elliot Johnson did most of the damage offensively. Scott went 2-4 with three RBI and a two-run homer, while Johnson went 2-4 with two RBI and two doubles. Click here for the full boxscore.
- Next up for the Rays is Philadelphia today at 1:05 ET in Clearwater. The game will be televised on ESPN.
- Bad news in terms of injury updates; B.J. Upton will start the season on the disabled list. Upton, who was in an outfield collision with Desmond Jennings two weeks ago, says his back is still tight. As for Jennings, he looks ready to go for Opening Day. It looks like wrist surgery is very likely for Sam Fuld next week, which would mean he could miss the first half of the season. Reid Brignac right foot injury is apparently healing, as he said he’ll fight through the pain and return to spring training action today.
- Joe Maddon announced the order of the Rays’ starting rotation yesterday, and it was exactly what most of us expected. Shields will pitch Opening Day, following by Price, Hellickson, Moore, and then Niemann.
- The Rays made their next round of cuts yesterday. Brandon Gomes, Marquis Fleming, Ryan Reid, and Chris Gimenez all were assigned to minor league camp. With Giminez off the big-league roster, that means Jose Lobaton will get the backup catcher gig.
- Bill Chastain of MLB.com previews the Rays’ farm system in 2012.
The latest Rays news and notes:
- The Rays have won two of their last five games, which also included a tie. Yesterday, the Rays lost to the Red Sox 5-0 in another frustrating offensive effort. Wade Davis had a rough start, allowing two earned runs and walking four batters in 2 2/3 innings of work. Offensively, the Rays collected seven hits and left 22 men on base. The Rays now fall to a 2-6 spring training record. Click here for a full boxscore.
- The Rays’ injuries continue to make forward progress. Evan Longoria (bruised hand) will likely play his first game today against the Pirates. David Price suffered a bizarre injury during Thursday’s game, hurting his neck while toweling off. Price will probably pitch his next scheduled start, but his between-starts bullpen session was pushed back to today. Yesterday he said he felt “almost normal.” Matt Moore (mild abdominal strain) seems to have fully healed, and is scheduled to start Tuesday. Brandon Gomes (offseason back surgery) is set to play today’s game, possibly along with Luke Scott (offseason shoulder surgery). Kyle Farnsworth, who’s being handled cautiously after elbow soreness last year, will make his debut Monday. The most concerning injury for the Rays is probably Sean Rodriguez’s sprained left index finger. Rodriguez will most likely return in the next few days, but he’ll have to play with pain for at least three more weeks.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that James Shields will be the Rays’ Opening Day starter.
- Reid Brignac now has a son, Reid Michael, who was born yesterday. The birth came less than a month after many found out that Brignac was dating Playboy model Lauren Anderson.
- Skipper Joe Maddon will shave his head for charity. Maddon will do the shaving publicly at Charlotte Sports Park before an upcoming game against the Phillies.