Tagged: James Loney

Tampa Bay Rays’ Biggest Winners and Losers in the First Half of the Season

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 Plusat 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.

Re-Grading Every Rays Offseason Acquisition

It was a productive offseason for general manager Andrew Friedman, as he significantly bolstered the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense and organizational depth.

The Rays made headlines this winter when they pulled off a huge blockbuster with Kansas City, trading away James Shields and Wade Davis for a talented haul of prospects which included Wil Myers. Tampa Bay also filled in some crucial holes on their roster via free agency, signing James Loney to play first base and Yunel Escobar for shortstop.

Of course, some acquisitions haven’t turned out to be as good as others, but at the end of the day it was a successful offseason for the Rays.

Here’s my updated evaluation and grading on every offseason signee.

*Take note that only players on the 25-man active roster are included. I also excluded players who were re-signed (Kyle Farnsworth and Luke Scott) from this article.

Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson has been arguably the best free-agent acquisition for the Rays, well exceeding expectations so far this season. Johnson, who had not very productive 2011 and 2012 seasons, has rebounded in a huge way in 2013.

He’s posted a .275/.340/.515 slash line with 10 homers, 35 RBI and a 134 wRC+. Johnson has been strong defensively as well, compiling a 2.4 UZR after putting up a -6.9 UZR last season.

It’s safe to say that he’s well worth the $2.45 million that he’s being paid in his one-year deal.

Grade: A+

Roberto Hernandez

When the Rays lost James Shields and Wade Davis in the Wil Myers blockbuster, Andrew Friedman felt that it was necessary to pick up an additional arm that can contribute to the starting rotation and/or bullpen. He went out and signed veteran sinkerballer Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million.

After 10 starts with the Rays, Hernandez has posted a 4.87 ERA with a 4.69 FIP and 7.85 K/9. Nobody really expected him to return to frontline-starter form, but if he keeps up this kind of performance he’ll eventually be demoted from the rotation to either a bullpen spot or the minor leagues.

With the emergence of Alex Torres, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, Hernandez’s job is definitely in jeopardy. If Hernandez can’t maintain his rotation spot, hopefully he can make a positive contribution to the bullpen with his groundball services.

Grade: C-

James Loney

After a down year with the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2012, the Rays didn’t know how much production they would get out of James Loney this season. So far he’s been more than a best-case scenario, batting .324/.390/.516 with a very impressive 150 wRC+.

The $2 million that the Rays are paying their starting first baseman this year is more than a bargain.

Loney has not only outperformed Carlos Pena offensively as Tampa Bay’s first baseman, but he’s also provided a lot of value defensively, as he’s been one of the better fielding first basemen in the league for a while. He’s been a key part of both the Rays’ improved offense and defense in 2013.

Grade: A+

Yunel Escobar

Acquiring Yunel Escobar was another smart pick-up by Andrew Friedman this offseason. Adding Escobar was a great decision in all respects; the Rays only gave away a Single-A [not-top] prospect in the trade for him and also have the veteran shortstop under a reasonable $5 million contract through 2015.

Although Escobar hasn’t been very productive offensively (currently owns a .299 wOBA, which is actually higher than projected and not too bad for a shortstop), he’s been extremely valuable to this Rays team.

In the previous two seasons, the Rays couldn’t get any kind of stable production from the shortstop position, tooling around with different mediocre-at-best players such as Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac. With Escobar, the Rays no longer have that problem.

For the first time since 2010, Tampa Bay has a defensively-solid everyday shortstop.

Grade: A+

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

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.

Rays Fall to Jays 3-1, Fifth Starter Decision Coming Soon

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.

Scott Hurt as Rays Beat Twins 7-2

The Rays defeated the Twins Sunday afternoon by a score of 7-2, improving their Grapefruit League record to 7-3.

David Price was on the hill for Tampa, and looked very sharp in his three scoreless innings allowing just one hit and striking out five without a walk (29 of his 41 pitches were strikes).

Three potential Opening Day relievers also made appearances in this game. Jamey Wright gave up a run in one inning, followed by Joel Peralta and Jake McGee who pitched one scoreless inning each.

The offensive got the job done as well, as the Rays compiled seven runs on 10 hits.

Some big hits in this game came from Kelly Johnson (two-run double) and from Chris Gimenez (two-run homer and sacrifice fly). Matt Joyce and James Loney also had an RBI hit each.

Evan Longoria was back in the lineup for this game, and hit a double in three at-bats. Wil Myers had a triple in two at-bats.

It wasn’t all positives Sunday, however, as DH Luke Scott caused some concern after exiting the game with a tight hamstring. He hopes to be back in “a couple of days”, but it definitely still worries Rays fans considering how injury-plagued Scott was in 2012. He missed a pretty good amount of time last season due to the same injury.

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

Tampa Bay Rays Offseason Outlook

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As the Fall Classic concludes and the 2012 baseball season comes to an end, it’s time to look forward into what the winter has in store for the Rays. Like last offseason, Andrew Friedman and the Rays will have some tough choices to make before players report to spring training.

First in line in Tampa’s offseason priorities is their club options, which must all be dealt with this week. Out of the four on the list, the only sure ‘yes’ is Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million). Next is Luke Scott, who hit just .229/.285/.439 with 14 homers and 55 RBI in 344 plate appearances this season. With that kind of production at DH and his lack of ability to stay healthy, the chances of the Rays bringing him back in 2013 for $6 million are very slim.

The Rays hold a $10.25 million on veteran James Shields, who will be one of the main storylines throughout the winter. If they decide not to pick up the option—which is very likely—than they’ll immediately look for suitable deals for a blockbuster trade. As much as the organization prides themselves on excellent starting pitching, they really could use some young offensive talent as well.

The toughest club option decision for the Rays will be Jose Molina. The 37-year-old catcher did a nice job with the pitching staff but didn’t produce well offensively (.284 wOBA through 274 PA’s). At $1.5 million, don’t be surprised to see the Rays exercise his option in order to bring his veteran presence back to the roster.

As for Tampa’s free agents this offseason, the list includes B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Ryan Roberts, Jeff Keppinger and J.P. Howell. It looks like the Rays will part ways with Upton after his many years of service, which means they’ll have one less outfielder in 2013. There is a question to as if the Rays will give Upton a qualifying offer (one year for $13.3 million), however, which would land them a compensatory draft pick if he declines. If the Rays do go ahead and extend a qualifying offer, chances are he’ll turn it down and hit the market in pursuit of a huge long-term team.

Carlos Pena—who hit an MLB-worst .197 with just 19 homers and 61 RBI—is another big name who will likely be missing from the lineup in 2013, meaning the Rays will likely shop the market again this winter for first basemen.

As for the rest of the FA’s, all have a pretty decent chance of returning next season. The Rays would love to bring back Jeff Keppinger after his suprisingly good 2012 season. Keppinger can play three different positions in the infield while serving as an excellent contact hitter who can get the job done at the plate. After hitting .325 last season in his 418 plate appearances, he should be able to earn more than the $1.5 million he made last year.

Ryan Roberts is another player that can provide some infield versatility as well as some power in his bat, and the Rays will probably work on re-signing him as well.

As for the bullpen, it will be interesting to see how they handle free agents Peralta, Farnsworth and Howell. I think it’s safe to say Howell will be back in the ‘pen next season after the fine comeback year he had, posting an ERA a tad over 3 in over 50 innings of work. As for Farnsworth and Peralta though, both are much more of a question mark at the age of 36.

The next offseason topic to talk about is how the Rays will adress their areas of need. The three main holes on the roster are at first base, catcher and DH. They’ll probably seek some help in the outfield, shortstop and in the bullpen as well.

Ben Zobrist made a smooth transition to shortstop towards the end of the year, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Rays decide to make him their starting shortstop next season or continue to search outside the organization. Either way, we can expect to see the Rays sign another middle infielder, such as a Jeff Keppinger or Ryan Roberts type player.

With James Shields and numerous talented pitching prospects, the Rays have the necessary pieces to make a trade that could fill up some of the gaps on the roster. 1B Ike Davis, SS Elvis Andrus, SS Yunel Escobar, C J.P. Arencibia, 1B Eric Hosmer and INF Jed Lowrie are all players who will probably be up for trade this winter.

There are a handful of FA options as well. James Loney seems to be a very realistic possibility at the moment. If the Red Sox decide not resign him—which is about a 50/50 chance—then he would definitely become an affordable option for the Rays at first base. 2B Skip Schumaker, INF Stephen Drew, 1B/DH Lance Berkman, OF Coco Crisp, RP Matt Capps, RP Ryan Madson and INF Maicer Izturis are other names to keep an eye on as well.