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
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:
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:
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.
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 evened their Grapefruit League record to 15-15 Tuesday, losing to Philadelphia in Clearwater.
Roberto Hernandez, who was making his final start in the tight battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation with Jeff Niemann, had a rough outing. Hernandez started the day with four great innings to start off, but then collapsed in both the fifth and sixth innings.
He was scoreless in those first four innings, and was doing a very nice job enticing groundballs. He gave up nine runs in his final two innings, finishing the day this ugly line: 6 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, BB, 0 K.
Tuesday’s lineup, which featured just two Opening Day players, was very quiet throughout the ballgame. The offense compiled just three hits, the only run coming from Sean Rodriguez’s RBI double in the third inning.
Click here for a full boxscore.
The Rays pretty much set their Opening Day roster Tuesday. They optioned down Brandon Gomes, leaving the final two bullpen spots to Jamey Wright and Niemann/Hernandez.
Here’s a look at the 25-man roster to start the regular season and roster moves from yesterday over at TampaBay.com.
Rays News and Notes:
- The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will be coming to a conclusion either today or tomorrow, as Jeff Niemann makes his final start of the spring this afternoon against the Blue Jays in Port Charlotte.
- The Rays beat the Pirates 6-2 Monday. Matt Moore had another shaky start in that one.
- Luke Scott could be sidelined a few days with a tightness in his right calf. It’s nice to hear that it’s not the same left hamstring issue that’s been bothering him, but it’s also upsetting to see that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy with the Rays yet for an extended period of time. As of now it looks like missing Opening Day isn’t a concern.
- Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer will throw out the first pitch for Opening Day.
- David Price is seen on the cover of one of six Sports Illustrated regional baseball preview issues. The issue features the Rays, and SI writers seem to really like them this year in their pre-season predictions.
The Rays lost their fifth straight Grapefruit Game Sunday afternoon in Tampa, falling to the Yankees 7-6 in 10 innings.
Jeremy Hellickson worked seven innings (95 pitches), allowing 4 runs on 8 hits while walking two and striking out just one batter. Although he was knocked around a bit, it was nice to see some good efficiency in this outing and him being able to get through seven innings.
It hasn’t been a good spring for Helly, who currently owns a 5.03 ERA in 19.2 IP, but it shouldn’t be too much of a concern, especially considering what an awful spring he had in 2012 (9.00 ERA in 20 IP).
Reliever Jamey Wright followed Hellickson with two innings. Wright gave up two runs—a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis (his second of the day)—and also walked two.
The best performances at the plate came from Desmond Jennings (2-4, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI), Ben Zobrist (4-5, RBI) and Matt Joyce (2-4, RBI and SB).
Low-level minor league prospects Drew Vettleson and Jake Hager both made their Grapefruit League debuts in this game. Vettleson went 0-2, but Hager hit a game-tying RBI double in his only at bat, down to his last strike with two outs in the ninth.
Right-hander Josh Lueke came on for the Rays in the bottom of the tenth. The first batter he faced was Ronnier Mustelier, who belted a walk-off dinger to left field.
Here’s a full boxscore of Sunday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- The deadline for the Rays to decide whether or not to keep Jamey Wright on the 25-man roster or not is Tuesday. It looks like Joe Maddon will keep him, and Wright will be in the Tampa’s bullpen for Opening Day. The 38-year-old right-hander says he just needs a bit more time to get his sinker down. The sinkerball, of course, is the groundball specialist’s bread and butter.
- Sam Fuld (hamstring tightness) went 2-6 in a minor-league spring training game Sunday. Fuld said he felt “100 percent” and is ready to return. He should be rejoining the Rays in the Grapefruit League within the next few days.
- Also down in minor league camp, Wil Myers has been sidelined for a few days with a minor right wrist injury, said to be just soreness. Tim Beckham has also been experiencing wrist soreness, and is scheduled to return soon.
- The Yankees, who have a decent-sized portion of their team on the DL, are reportedly on the verge of acquiring Vernon Wells in a trade from the Los Angeles Angels.
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 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.