Tagged: Evan Longoria

Tampa Bay Rays Grades For Every Player in July

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.

 

The Infielders

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.

 

The Outfielders:

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.

 

The Bullpen

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.

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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

Four Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of Rays Division Title

It’s been a rough start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anemic offense has been the theme of the first two weeks of the season, which shows in the Rays’ 5-9 last-place record.

But of course, it’s still very early, and anything can happen in the next 149 games. Life in the AL East is never easy, however, as the Rays have plenty obstacles to overcome in duration of the season if they want to be crowned division champs in October.

Without further adieu, here are the four biggest barriers for the Rays standing in the way of a division title.

Heavy Competition

The Rays have their work cut out for them this year, as they compete in what is maybe the toughest divisions in all of sports.

The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are all potential playoff teams in 2013. Each one of them is a definite threat to a division title, but the Rays have a good enough team to compete with all four of these talented clubs.

There are a few things we’ve learned about Tampa Bay’s competitors after the first two weeks of the season. If one thing’s for sure, the Yankees are no team to overlook. Despite having a huge chunk of their roster out with injury, the Yanks stand at a surprising 8-5, as they’ve been finding ways to win ballgames while on the mend.

Once they get the rest of their team back—which includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda—they should be very dangerous.

The Red Sox didn’t come into the season with high expectations at all, but have started off the season very strongly with a first-place 10-4 record. Boston’s rotation was supposed to be the team’s main weak spot, but has shockingly been outstanding thus far. Their rotation has been by far the best in the division and probably the best in the American League, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 3.45 FIP.

The Orioles have began to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. They’ve played solid baseball and appear to have a pretty well-rounded team. The O’s are a team to watch out for if Chris Davis continues to put up big-time numbers at the DH spot.

As for Blue Jays, it’s been a disappointing start for them. As bad as they look right now, they’re a team that can turn things around quickly with that star-studded roster. Jose Reyes’ ankle injury, however, will be a big blow for them until he returns after the All-Star break.

The Offense

The Rays’ offense has been flat-out awful in the first two weeks of the regular season. With a wOBA of .277 and a wRC+ of 77, they are currently the worst hitting team in the American League.

Outside of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, who’ve all had solid starts to the year, nobody in the lineup has given the Rays any kind of significant production offensively.

Lack of power is one of the main issues for Tampa Bay, as they’ve posted just a .113 ISO. Another major concern is the how much runners the Rays are stranding on base. They’ve had a very tough time getting the man in, hitting just .192 with RISP.

Although the offense is very worrying for Rays fans at the moment, there is an optimistic way of looking at it: It will more than likely only get better from here.

Designated hitter Luke Scott has been out with a calf injury since spring training and has yet to play this season. Once he gets back, the lineup will surely be more potent with Scott in and Sam Fuld out.

As the season progresses, the Rays will also get a boost from their minor league system. Wil Myers should be terrific addition later in the year, and Brandon Guyer could also contribute.

Injuries 

In 2012, the injury bug was the largest barrier that stood in the way of a third division title for the Rays. Evan Longoria’s hamstring tear highlighted a plethora of injuries suffered by a very banged-up ball club.

So far this season, the Rays have done a pretty good job avoiding the DL. Luke Scott is the only player who has missed any time at all this year due to injury.

For this team to function properly, the entire team is going to have to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. I don’t see the Rays winning the division as a possibility if they’re hit with injury issues again.

Prospect Development

Tampa Bay has a handful of prospects who could be a key part of the team later this season.

Wil Myers, who is arguably baseball’s top hitting prospect, may be the Rays’ X-factor once he’s called up to the majors. He appears to be about ready for The Show, but it’s possible he won’t make his MLB debut until July due to financial reasons.

Whenever he is called up, his immediate impact will be crucial, especially with the lineup as weak as it is.

Outfielder Brandon Guyer and middle infielders Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham are other position player prospects who could all see big league action this year. All three have the potential to bolster both the Rays’ offensive and defensive depth down the stretch.

the Rays have probably more pitchers on the verge of breaking into the majors this season than they do hitters. Chris Archer—the organization’s top upper-level pitching prospect—looks to be ready to take over a spot in the rotation once the time comes. This time, he’ll likely stay there for good.

The development of these Triple-A prospects will definitely come to play in this year’s pennant race. They Rays might need as many minor league contributions as they can get in order to win the AL East.

Jake McGee’s Ugly Outing Spoils Opener as Rays Fall to O’s 7-4

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A tough loss spoiled what was great Opening Day atmosphere at a sold-out Tropicana Field Tuesday afternoon.

Cy Young award winner David Price took the mound against former Ray Jason Hammel. It wasn’t one of Price’s better starts, as he struggled with command throughout the game.

Matt Wieters—who was one of three Orioles hitters to have big games offensively—started the scoring with a two-run homer in the first inning.

Although those were the only two runs Price would allow, he didn’t exactly settle in after the first. He managed to get through only six innings (100 pitches), and finished the day with 7 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts. Great defense behind him, most notably from Evan Longoria who made three outstanding plays at third, helped out Price a lot in this ballgame.

Overall, it was a pretty solid start from Price, who kept his team in the game throughout. The three issues he had were with efficiency, some mislocation—which led to a handful of hard-hit balls—and velocity. It shouldn’t be a concern, though, as it was his first start of the season.

Offensively, the Tampa’s bats were worryingly quiet in the first three innings. They put together only one single, which was the only runner to reach until the fourth.

Ben Zobrist, who had that only hit, opened up the scoring for the Rays with a solo dinger to right, making it a one-run ballgame. All the way up until the sixth, Hammel was still flying through frames, on pace for a complete game in terms of pitch count.

The Rays were able to get to Hammel in the sixth. Kelly Johnson started off the rally with a leadoff walk, and then Desmond Jennings—who looked great all day at the plate—followed with an game-tying double down the third base line. After a Sam Fuld bunt, the Rays took the lead with a sac fly off the bat of Zobrist.

Jake McGee entered the game in relief of Price in seventh, looking to keep it a 3-2 game in Tampa’s favor. Unfortunately, it was the turning point in this game as things would unfold for McGee and the Rays.

McGee found himself in a jam: Two runners on with two outs and Adam Jones up to bat. Two high-velocity fastballs got him ahead in the count 0-2, leaving Jones—who hadn’t had success at all in the past against McGee—in a bad position. But McGee, who was struggling with command from the beginning of his outing, missed location very badly, giving Jones a fastball right down the middle:

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He took advantage, and raked the pitch into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, giving Baltimore a 4-3 lead.

After intentionally walking Matt Wieters, the lefty swinging Chris Davis was next to face McGee. With two men on, Davis crushed the first pitch he saw for a three-run blast, blowing the Orioles’ lead open to 7-3. He was served with a slow 91 MPH pitch in a terrible location:

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It was a day to forget for McGee, who is one of baseball’s best up-and-coming relievers, but simply didn’t have it Tuesday. He gave up five earned runs on four hits while recording just two outs in what was the worst performance of his big-league career. He allowed just 12 runs in the entire 2012 season (55.1 IP).

There wasn’t much action in this game after the seventh. Jamey Wright, who relieved McGee, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth without any damage. Cesar Ramos had a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Rays tacked on one more run via a Sam Fuld RBI groundout in the eighth, but weren’t able to get any kind of rally going against Baltimore’s strong bullpen.

Here’s some notable stat lines from Tuesday’s game:

  • D. Jennings: 2-4, 2 R, RBI, SB
  • B. Zobrist: 2-3, R, 2 RBI, HR
  • E. Longoria: 1-4
  • A. Jones: 3-5, 2 R, 2 RBI
  • M. Wieters: 2-3, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
  • Here’s a full boxscore

The Rays return to action tonight against the Orioles for Game 2 of this three-game series. Jeremy Hellickson will start against right-hander Wei-Yin Chen.

Rays Tie Baltimore in Opening Day Preview, Rotation to Be Set Today

The Rays tied the Orioles Thursday night 4-4 in 10 innings.

David Price was on the mound for his final start of the spring before opening up the season against the O’s Tuesday afternoon. He was limited to just four innings, but looked great, not allowing a single run. He also struck out three batters, while giving up just one hit and one walk.

The Rays’ lineup—which was mostly regulars—collected nine hits. Desmond Jennings had a 4-5 game with a stolen base and a run, and Evan Longoria went 2-for-3 with a long solo homer and an RBI single.

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

♦♦♦

Joe Maddon will make the decision on the fifth spot in the starting rotation this morning.

The Rays’ rotation order will also be announced today. Maddon has actually made up his mind on both already, but he’s not saying just yet. Roberto Hernandez appears to be the favorite for the job, despite having the worse spring.

Maddon has made it clear that he wants to get innings (preferably 7+) out of whoever wins the battle

One big hint pointing towards the likelihood of Hernandez getting the job is that the Rays are saying he’ll pitch three innings in a minor league game of the season. This could also possibly mean that  he’ll be the No. 3 starter rather than the No. 5.

Pretty interesting….we’ll see how it plays out later this morning.

Other Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays traded RHP Dane De La Rosa to the Angels for RHP Steve Geltz Thursday. 
  • TampaBay.com’s annual Meet the Rays video series has arrived!
  • Forbes ranked the Rays last in MLB Team Values.
  • David Price and Sam Fuld do the famous “Who’s on First?” :

Niemann Sharp as Rays Fall to Jays 6-1, 5th Starter Decision to Come Later in Week

The Rays lost Wednesday by a score of 6-1 in Port Charlotte, but the main headline of the day was Jeff Niemann, who was excellent in his final Grapefruit League start.

The Tall Texan tossed six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while walking none and striking out two.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation between Niemann and Roberto Hernandez is a very close one, and Joe Maddon’s decision may not come until Friday.

I think the right choice is to put Niemann in the rotation and Hernandez in the ‘pen, and I say that for a couple of reasons. Niemann has had the better spring statistically (2.92 ERA vs. 5.33 ERA) and Hernandez is better suited for the ‘pen, being a good groundball pitcher. Niemann has also proven that he’s a very effective starter when healthy, while Hernandez has been flat-out awful since 2008.

What do you guys think? :

♦♦♦

Back to the ballgame, not much news other than Niemann’s outing.

Both Fernando Rodney—making his first appearance since the World Baseball Classic—and Jake McGee had themselves a scoreless inning each.

The only Rays run was scored off a Yunel Escobar RBI triple, which was one of Escobar’s two hits of the day (finished game 2-2). Ryan Roberts also had had two hits, including a double (finished game 2-4).

Evan Longoria walked twice in three plate appearances, flying out in his only at bat.

Here’s for a full boxscore.

Rays Drop Fourth Straight, Five Reassigned and Cust Released

The Rays fell to the Minnesota Twins 6-4 Saturday afternoon, marking their fourth straight Grapefruit League loss.

David Price was on the mound for Tampa Bay, and had rather shaky outing. He escaped multiple jams, ending the day with 2 earned runs allowed on 9 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts over 5 innings (89 pitches). Price spoke about his start after the game, frustrated with his efficiency.

The two biggest offensive performances of the day came from Yunel Escobar (2-3, RBI) and Jose Lobaton (3-3, HR), who continues to be the favorite for the backup catcher job Opening Day

James Loney hit a run-scoring double and Evan Longoria also had a two-bagger. In the field, Longoria committed his first error of the spring, which cost the Rays a run in this ballgame.

Relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Cesar Ramos both made appearances Saturday out of the ‘pen. It wasn’t a good day at all for Farnsworth, who allowed a run in just 1/3 innings and had to be removed from the game after bruising his right middle finger while reaching for a groundball.

Ramos was perfect in his 2/3 inning pitched, striking out one.

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

Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays reassigned INF Cole Figueroa, INF Leslie Anderson, OF Rich Thompson, RHP Kirby Yates and RHP Dane De La Rosa to minor league camp Saturday in their latest round of cuts.
  • The Rays also released Jack Cust, who was signed just a little over a month ago.
  • Joe Maddon said he’ll make the fifth starter decision by the middle of next week. Jeff Niemann struggled in his last outing Friday, and his competition Roberto Hernandez was outstanding in his last start. This should be very interesting.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wonders if the Rays could use both Niemann and Hernandez in the rotation.
  • Injury update: Sam Fuld (hamstring tightness) will be ready for Opening Day. He’s looked good in recent minor-league spring training action lately, and is returning to Grapefruit League play today.
  • Meet the newest member of the Rays TV crew: Kelly Nash.
  • Here’s my list of the top 10 Cy Young candidates for 2013.