This past July was a month to remember for the Tampa Bay Rays. They posted a franchise-best 21-5 record in the month, hitting for a 115 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) as a team (3rd in MLB) and combined for seven complete games from four different starters in the rotation.
The Rays’ hot stretch has not only put them into playoff position, but it gives them the second-best record in the AL (best before last night’s loss) entering August.
Let’s take a look at how each player contributed to the Rays’ remarkable July run.
James Loney: A
James Loney continues to give the Rays consistent production at first base. He posted an impressive .325/.356/.422 slash line in July while playing terrific defense at first.
Ben Zobrist: A
Zobrist had a huge month offensively in June and didn’t dissappoint in July either. He put up a very strong 119 wRC+ (which equals Loney’s mark) and—like the rest of the team in the past month—was rock solid defensively.
Sean Rodriguez: A-
Rodriguez enjoyed what was the best statistical month of his career in July, batting .326/.383/.419 over 49 plate appearances. The strong numbers from S-Rod are likely nothing more than a fluke (his .467 BABIP is a key indicator), but hopefully it’s a sign of things to come for the Rays’ utility man.
Yunel Escobar: A+
Yunel Escobar has been such a valuable player for the Rays all season, but he has really broken out offensively in the last month. Escobar’s .351 wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) in July is second best amongst all AL shortstops. When it comes to defense I think it’s pretty clear how great Escobar has been this month, as well as all year long.
Evan Longoria: D+
It’s amazing that Tampa Bay managed to go 21-5 in July with their best player slumping the way he was. Longoria hit .194 with just 11 RBI, but the Rays were still somehow able to score plenty of runs. I do, however, think Longo earns a D+ here because of his usual Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner.
Kelly Johnson: A
After an ice cold June, Johnson responded in a big way in July. He had just 57 PA’s, but really made the most out of them, posting a 172 wRC+.
Sam Fuld: D+
I was a pretty unproductive month in what has been a rather unproductive season (-0.3 WAR) for Sam Fuld. He had 30 PA’s in July and hit .250. The game-saving play he made last week in Fenway Park was a memorable one, though.
Desmond Jennings: A
Desmond Jennings’ production at the top of the Rays’ lineup was a huge part of the team’s July success. He hit for a 117 wRC+ and went 7 for 8 in stolen base attempts.
Wil Myers: A+
Wil Myers’ June call-up to the big leagues is really what triggered this great run for the Rays. He leads the league in batting average post All-Star break (.447) and enjoyed an outstanding July, putting up a 166 wRC+ and knocking in 18 runs.
Matt Joyce: D-
Things have gone downhill for Matt Joyce in the second half of the season. His numbers for July aren’t pretty; a .222/.344/.241 line without a single home run and just two RBI.
Luke Scott: A+
Luke Scott’s red-hot bat really carried the Rays earlier in the month and won them a handful of games. Scott posted a 160 wRC+ in July with nine extra-base hits (four home runs).
The Starting Rotation
David Price: A+
David Price came off the DL July 2nd looking to return to his 2012 Cy Young form. He appears to be even better now, as he was nothing short of incredible in July. In six starts, he tossed three complete games and five quality starts to go along with a 1.68 ERA, a .199 opponents’ average and an unrealistic 35.00 K/BB rate.
Jeremy Hellickson: B
In his five July starts, Hellickson went 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA and delivered three quality starts. He appeared to lack command in his last three outings, though, combining for seven walks.
Chris Archer: A+
Along with teammate Wil Myers, Chris Archer is making a great case for American League Rookie of the Year. He won all five of his starts in July, pitching two complete-game shutouts (the first two CG’s of his career) and posting a minuscule 0.73 ERA.
Matt Moore: A
Matt Moore also started five games in July, and besides for his last outing in New York, he was fantastic. He finished the month 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a 2.72 FIP which included a complete-game shutout in Fenway park. A sore elbow bothered Moore in his latest start, which has landed him on the 15-day DL
Roberto Hernandez: B
With his job in jeopardy—and likely still in jeopardy—from Alex Cobb’s return, Hernandez put together a solid performance in July. He posted a 3.94 ERA in five starts, which included a complete-game win Tuesday night.
Alex Torres: A
Ten scoreless innings for his month of July—can’t ask for much more than that. Torres ERA drops to 0.27 as his innings pitched total reaches 33.0.
Cesar Ramos: D
Ramos pitched just seven innings in July and allowed five earned runs. He only made one appearance that wasn’t low leverage and actually picked up a win in extra innings.
Kyle Farnsworth: D-
The end of Kyle Farnsworth’s 15-season MLB career appears to be very near. Farnsworth pitched only 5.2 innings in July and gave up four earned runs.
Jamey Wright: D-
Wright is another low-leverage reliever in this Rays bullpen who struggled in July. He allowed five runs in just 7.1 IP.
Jake McGee: B-
McGee surrendered three earned runs in 8.2 IP last month. He did post an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12-2, though.
Joel Peralta: B+
Outside of one lead-blowing three-run homer given up in Houston early in the month, Peralta hasn’t allowed a single run. He also picked up seven holds in July.
Fernando Rodney: A
Things have really come together for Rodney since June. Tampa Bay’s closer was nine-for-nine in save opportunities in July and let up just two runs.
Things have really come together for the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the past month. With yesterday’s big win in Boston, they’ve won six straight games and a franchise-record 21 of their last 25.
Let’s take a look at how the Rays came from being last place in the AL East to just a half game out of first place and having the third best record in baseball.
Great starting pitching has propelled the Rays into the great position they’re in right now. Despite Alex Cobb’s absence, David Price’s return to ace form, Chris Archer’s impressive pitching and turnarounds from Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have the Tampa Bay’s rotation looking like its 2012 self.
Rays starting pitching has delivered a remarkable 17 quality starts in its last 19 games.
Price has been terrific since his return from the disabled list, tossing two complete games while posting a stellar 1.97 ERA and allowing just one walk in four starts (32.0 IP). Moore is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last six starts and Archer is enjoying a very strong rookie year, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.14 ERA in his last nine outings.
It hasn’t just been the starting pitching that has improved in the Rays’ winning stretch. The bullpen, which was the team’s weak spot earlier this season, has been solid as of late, blowing just one lead during the stretch.
When you have consistent production from your offense to go along with excellent pitching you’re going to win a lot of games. The Rays have done exactly that, putting up an impressive .282/.351/.436 slash line with a 120 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) in July as a team.
Over half of the lineup has produced well offensively during the stretch, but nobody’s been as hot as Desmond Jennings (.378 wOBA in last 30 days) and Luke Scott (.448 wOBA).
The Rays’ offense, which is tied second in all of baseball by wRC+ (112) has been outstanding all season, so we can expect to see this success from the lineup continue as the season progresses. If Jennings can continue to do such a great job of getting on base at the top of the lineup, this offense could soon emerge as baseball’s best.
The Rays’ defense this year has probably been the best in team history, which is a big deal considering that it’s a franchise that prides itself on solid defense. Tampa Bay is second in the American League in UZR (26.9) and second in the MLB in fielding percentage (.990).
During the 25-game stretch, the Rays have committed just five errors. They have possibly the best fielding infield in baseball, as well as some great range in the outfield with Desmond Jennings and Sam Fuld.
The Rays are fielding to their potential, and now that they’re pitching like they can it’s clear that they’ve really hit their stride here in July.
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.
As the first half of the 2013 MLB season nears an end, let’s look back at what went right and what went wrong for the Tampa Bay Rays after almost three months of baseball.
It’s been a frustrating first half for the Rays for multiple reasons, but at 42-39, they’re still very much in competition.
Here are the main winners and losers from the first half of the Rays’ season.
Winner: The offense
The Rays’ offense has been amongst the best in all of baseball this season. Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the MLB in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) at 109 and ninth in the league in runs (375).
The lineup, which has managed to stay healthy, has really clicked for Joe Maddon’s club. Evan Longoria (.388 wOBA and 47 RBI) has swung the bat very well, along with Matt Joyce (.348 wOBA) and James Loney (.361 wOBA). Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson and Desmond Jennings have also been key contributors.
With Wil Myers now in the meat of this impressive lineup, Tampa’s offensive could be even more dangerous in the second half.
Loser: David Price
It’s been a lousy 2013 for David Price coming off a Cy Young award-winning season last year. The Rays’ ace posted a 1-4 record with a 5.24 ERA and 4.03 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) through nine starts before hitting the DL with a tricep strain last month.
Not only have Price’s early-season struggles and injury hurt the Rays, but they haven’t helped out his future trade value much either. On a more positive note, though, he is set to join the rotation this Tuesday.
If one thing’s for sure, the Rays are going to need Price back to to form in the second half if they want to compete in October.
Winner: James Loney
James Loney has enjoyed a nice comeback year with the Rays so far after disappointing 2012 season. Loney’s put up an impressive .314/.367/.474 line with 40 RBI and a 134 wRC+.
He’s been very productive defensively as well, posting a 2.9 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).
Loser: Jeff Niemann
The Jeff Niemann story is a very unfortunate one. It seems like every time the “Tall Texan” is about to break out into stardom, a big injury ruins his season.
The 30-year-old right-hander won’t throw a single pitch in 2013 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Niemann already lost his spot in the rotation in spring training to veteran Roberto Hernandez, so his future as a starter in Tampa Bay isn’t a very bright one, especially now with the emergence of Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Alex Torres.
Winner: Rookie pitchers
It’s been a good season for the Rays’ talented young crop of prospect pitchers. Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Alex Torres have all received some big league playing time this year thanks to injuries.
Archer, who proved he was Major League ready in 2012, has once again flashed his high potential this season. He owns a 4.40 ERA through six starts.
Colome has been solid in his big league debut this season, allowing just four earned runs in his first three starts with the Rays. He’s pitched 16 innings, striking out 12 batters but also walking nine.
Archer and Colome sure have been exciting, but neither have made as big of a splash as Torres. The 25-year-old southpaw has been ridiculously good out of the bullpen, allowing just one run in 23 innings while striking out 31 and walking seven. If Torres can continue to pitch lights out, he’ll find himself in a bigger role on the team.
Loser: The Bullpen
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has been a huge disappointment this year, blowing countless leads late in games after being nearly flawless last season. Rays relievers have posted a 3.79 ERA, which ranks 17th in the league.
Fernando Rodney has regressed significantly as well in 2012, blowing already five saves in 21 opportunities. However, Rodney—like the rest of the Rays’ bullpen—appears to be turning things around now as the ‘pen seems to be going into the second half on a high note.
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
We have a while to go before the MLB Hot Stove begins to heat up, but it’s never too early for Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman to start thinking of potential trade options for later this summer.
Despite trading away James Shields this past offseason, the Rays organization is still stacked with young pitching talent that could come in handy once the deadline approaches.
Let’s take a look at possible Rays trade chips with the most value.
There are many teams that could use a pitching prospect like hard-throwing right-hander Alex Colome more than the Rays. Colome, who is one of the top arms in the Rays farm system, probably would have already made his Major League debut with most other teams in the league.
The 24-year-old has a high ceiling for potential, which should make him an attractive trade piece if the Rays’ were to put him on the block. Colome has electric, frontline-starter type stuff including an excellent fastball and a good feel for his secondary pitches. Once he improves his command, he’ll definitely be MLB rotation worthy.
Colome is currently playing with Triple-A Durham, and is enjoying a solid start to the season. His numbers after six starts include a 2.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 15 walks over 31.2 innings pitched.
With already great pitching depth and a bright future starting pitching wise, dealing Colome while his value is pretty high may be a good idea for the Rays.
Enny Romero is another hard-throwing, high-upside pitching prospect in the Rays minor league system. The 22-year-old southpaw, like Alex Colome, also has very exciting stuff.
He should be an effective Major League starter once he refines his mechanics and command.
Being one of the better pitching prospects in the game, he’ll likely be able to reel in a decent amount of offensive talent if he were traded. Romero, who’s off to a slow start to the year with Double-A Montgomery, seems to be at least a full year away from making a big league impact as he continues to develop in the minors.
Chances are, of course, that the Rays will hang on to Romero, but trading him is definitely an interesting thought.
Jeremy Hellickson drew a lot of interest last winter, and there’s no question that a handful of teams would still love to have a consistent and solid starter like him in their rotation
After a shaky start to the season (4.79 ERA in seven starts), his value has gone down a bit, but the Rays still may look into trading Hellickson before the deadline or possibly even after the season. He hasn’t been somebody bouncing around trade rumors lately, but he could be a potential trade target in the future.
One reason for this is the fact that the 2011 Rookie of the Year and 2012 Gold Glove award-winner is a client of Scott Boras. Therefore, signing Hellickson to a long-term deal will be challenge for Tampa Bay and their small budget. Also worth noting is that he’ll be eligible for arbitration after the 2013 season.
A Hellickson deal should be able to draw some quality bats and/or an impressive prospect package. Don’t expect to see another Wil Myers-James Shields type blockbuster obviously, but nonetheless a swap that can make a large impact on two organizations.
David Price has been the center of both Rays and MLB trade rumors since spring training. It’s become clear that the Rays aren’t going to be able to afford the reigning Cy Young award-winner long term, and the league anticipates to see Price on the market when his value’s at its peak.
If one thing’s for sure, his trade value’s not where it was before the season started. He’s suffered an awful start to the year, posting a 6.25 ERA over his first seven starts. He simply doesn’t look like the same pitcher; velocity has dropped significantly and opposing batters are hitting him hard.
Hopefully it’s nothing more than some early season rust, and Price will maintain his status amongst baseball’s top trade candidates. Assuming that Price bounces back, the Rays will be receiving a talent-packed haul of prospects whenever they decide to pull the trigger on dealing their 27-year-old ace.
Last month, I proposed a few possible trade packages that I thought were good enough to pry Price away from Tampa Bay.
A David Price trade is pretty much inevitable; the question is when and with which team.
The reigning Cy Young award-winner could leave Tampa as early as this summer if the Rays fall out of contention, but could possibly stick around for two or even three more years. My guess is that he’s dealt this offseason, but when GM Andrew Friedman decides to pull the trigger depends any many factors.
After mammoth contracts signed by other elite pitchers recently (Zack Greinke, Justin Verander and Felix Hernandez), the Rays clearly won’t be able to afford Price long-term, which is why it’s time for the Rays to search for potential trade suitors.
Here are a few potential trade packages that should be able to pry Price from Tampa Bay.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals definitely have the capability to acquire David Price with the extremely deep farm system that they have.
The question is whether the Red Birds will want to take a huge chunk out of their talented pool of prospects, giving up some depth that they might need in the future.
Their top prospect list is highlighted by phenoms Oscar Taveras and Shelby Miller, but the Cardinals might not need to trade away either of the two in order to get Price. Matt Adams—who’s had a terrific start to his MLB career this season as St. Louis’ first baseman—is one player who needs to be included in this deal.
Right-handers Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha could also both be possibilities, as well as Triple-A second baseman Kolten Wong.
Here are two different Rays-Cardinals trades that I think would be fair:
Price to St. Louis in exchange for OF Oscar Taveras, 2B Kolten Wong and RHP Seth Blair or Price to St. Louis for Wong, 1B Matt Adams and RHP Michael Wacha.
Rangers everyday shortstop Elvis Andrus also inked a massive eight-year extension recently.
Like St. Louis, Texas has a stacked organization that should be able to bring them a superstar even of Price’s caliber via trade. So even if they decide to hang on to Profar, they probably could still put together a deal.
Touted Triple-A slugging prospect Mike Olt has already been subject of many trade rumors this offseason. His high offensive potential is something that should be very appealing for the Rays.
Tampa’s also going to want a high-ceiling arm in the package. Southpaw Martin Perez, another top prospect whose name has come up in multiple trade rumors, is a good fit.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro is one prospect that should be essential for this deal, as the Rays could really use a talented backstop like him in an organization that seriously lacks it.
Again, here are two different trades that might work:
Price to Texas in exchange for SS Jurickson Profar, C Jorge Alfaro and RHP C.J. Edwards or Price to Texas for 3B Mike Olt, C Jorge Alfaro, LHP Martin Perez and OF Roland Guzman.
Yet another organization loaded with minor league talent, the Cubs have a very impressive trio of top prospects to offer in shortstop Javier Baez, outfielder Albert Almora and outfielder Jorge Soler.
Right-handed pitching prospects Arodys Vizcaino, Dillon Maples and Pierce Johnson are all potential pieces to consider in a Price-to-Cubs trade.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach is another player the Rays would like to include in the package. He’s a good well-rounded hitter with great plate discipline and raw power.
Here’s a swap that I think the Rays would go for:
Price to the Cubs in exchange for SS Javier Baez, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, Dan Vogelbach and OF Jae-Hoon Ha.