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
The Rays capped off spring training in Tropicana Field Saturday afternoon, tying the Tigers 3-3.
Matt Moore, who has struggled throughout the spring, had a much improved start in this game. He pitched four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, one walk and struck out five.
All of Tampa’s offense came from three solo home runs off the bats of Ryan Roberts, James Loney and Sean Rodriguez.
Five of the Rays’ seven relievers made appearances Saturday, each of them tossing one inning each. Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney all had scoreless outings. Jamey Wright allowed two runs on two hits and Jake McGee gave up a run on two hits.
The Rays finish Grapefruit League play with a 15-17-2 record. Their next game is Opening Day at the Trop versus the Baltimore Orioles, David Price will make the first pitch of the season at 3:10 ET.
Here’s a full boxscore of Saturday’s exhibition.
Rays News and Notes:
- Luke Scott has been placed on the DL, and is out for a minimum of 2-3 weeks with a strained right calf. The Rays will announce his replacement today, with Brandon Guyer possibly the favorite for the job.
- Buster Posey and Justin Verlander both inked huge contracts Saturday. Verlander’s record deal just reaffirms that the Rays won’t be able to afford David Price long term, Buster Olney tweets.
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.
Following a rain out Wednesday night in Fort Myers versus Minnesota, the Rays returned to action losing to Toronto Thursday afternoon by a score 3-1.
Evan Longoria returned to the lineup, going 1-2 with a double and a walk.
Bats were very quiet throughout the entire game for Tampa Bay, as the lineup compiled just one run on six hits. James Loney knocked in the only run of the day, hitting an RBI single in a 2-for-3 effort.
On the hill for the Rays was Roberto Hernandez, who turned in an excellent outing. Hernandez tossed six solid innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out two and walking none.
Hernandez has been battling Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation all spring, and Joe Maddon said that he’ll make his decision who gets the job after Niemann pitches tomorrow.
Relievers Jamey Wright, Joel Peralta and Jake McGee all made one-inning appearances Thursday. Wright and Peralta both surrendered solo homers, and McGee had a scoreless frame.
Here’s a full boxscore of the game.
Rays News and Notes:
- Fernando Rodney returned to Rays camp earlier today (along with Jose Molina) after spending most of his spring with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Rodney said he feels great and is “ready to go” for the season. He’s scheduled to pitch in two exhibitions; March 27th and March 30th.
- More Fernando Rodney: The Process Report analyzes the possibility of Rodney tipping his pitches.
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 were on the losing side of a 9-2 rout Saturday afternoon, dropping their eighth Grapefruit League game of the spring to the Red Sox.
Roberto Hernandez got the start, and obviously a crucial one for him as he battles Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation. Hernandez allowed 2 [earned] runs on 6 hits, a walk and 5 strikeouts.
Relievers Jake McGee and Jamey Wright also made appearances in this game, both giving up a run in one inning each.
Not much to talk about offensively from this ballgame. Leslie Anderson, who’s now hitting .425, continued his red-hot spring with a 3-3 day.
Sean Rodriguez went 2-2, hitting a homer to provide Tampa with their two only runs.
Speaking of S-Rod, the Rays’ utility man was involved in what nearly led to a bench-clearing brawl. After being hit by a pitch by Alfredo Aceves and then being barked at, tempers flared. Here’s Rodriguez’s take on the incident.
Here’s a full boxscore of Saturday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- Wil Myers, Brandon Guyer, Tim Beckham, Robinson Chirinos, Hak-Ju Lee, Josh Lueke, Juan Sandoval, Wil Inman and J.D. Martin were all optioned back down to the minor leagues in the Rays’ latest rounds of cuts.
- Matt Moore was much improved in his start during the Rays’ 3-1 win over the Phillies Friday. Moore didn’t give up a single earned run on 3 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts through 5 innings. Stephen Vogt gave the Rays the victory with a walk-off homer in the 10th inning.
- World Baseball Classic news: The United States were eliminated from the tournament by Puerto Rico Friday night after a heart-breaking 4-3 loss. Ben Zobrist went 0-2 in the game with an RBI walk, finishing the Classic 3-for-11. The Dominican Republic clinched the top seed Saturday afternoon with a 2-0 win over Puerto Rico, and Fernando Rodney picked up his fifth save of the tournament. Puerto Rico advances to face Japan in the semifinals while D.R. will square off against the Netherlands.
- After being rejected by both Chipper Jones and Derek Lee, the New York Yankees have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch.
- Before Friday’s game against Philadelphia, 65 members of the Rays organization shaved their head in an annual event to raise awareness and funds for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The Phillies’ Michael Young also participated in the event.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports Sam Fuld (hamstring) won’t be returning for another 4-5 days.