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
When the Tampa Bay Rays signed veteran catcher Jose Molina to a two-year deal worth $3.3 million following the 2011 season, they actually got much more than what the 37-year-old’s numbers show.
However, where Molina’s value lies is in a part of catching that isn’t calculated: The art of framing pitches.
Although he may not be the superstar that his younger brother Yadier is, framing pitches is one thing that Jose does better than both of his brothers. In fact, he’s probably been the best at it in all of baseball over the past years.
His pitch-framing wizardry has made a significant impact with the Rays as well as other teams he’s played with throughout his 14-year career. Tampa had the best pitching staff in the MLB in 2012, ranking first in ERA, FIP, strikeouts and strike percentage. Molina, who caught 102 games for the Rays last year, more than likely had something to do with this historic success.
Here’s some examples of Molina’s special talent:
As you can see, frustrating opposing batters and making umpires look bad is something that Molina has a knack for.
Molina’s excellency in framing pitches does not only make him a valuable catcher, but it also can contribute to a pitcher’s success.
Fernando Rodney is one pitcher that comes to mind. With Molina behind the plate for over half the innings he pitched last season, Rodney’s called strike percentage went up 4.44% from the previous season (without Molina). There were obviously multiple factors that played a part in Rodney’s career year in 2012, but Molina was probably one of them.
Two more examples come from when Molina was with the Yankees; Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina both in 2008. Rivera had arguably the best season of his great career with Molina catching most of his innings. His CLDSTR% increased 4.36% that year from 2007.
Molina was also behind the plate for all but 10 innings pitched by Mussina during his impressive 20-win season. Mussina, who was pitching the last year of his career at age 39, saw his CLDSTR% go up 3.86% from his disappointing 2007 campaign.
Now in 2013, what I’ve observed is that Molina’s glovework helping out sinkerballers Alex Cobb and Roberto Hernandez. Both starters are dependent on throwing quality pitches low in the zone. With Molina catching, that strikezone widens a bit, which Joe Maddon has clearly taken into consideration.
Cobb is off to a great start to the season, while Hernandez—despite some ugly numbers—is having an encouraging start with some positive signs towards a turnaround year for him. Molina has caught most of the time for Cobb and Hernandez, while Jose Lobaton has received more playing time with David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson on the mound.
In conclusion, Jose Molina is living proof of how much a catcher can positively affect a pitcher and even an entire pitching staff. He may not be good at blocking balls or even throwing out baserunners (at this point in his career), but framing pitches is one asset he’ll likely never lose as long as he’s in the league.
The Rays extended their Grapefruit League winning streak to five Wednesday afternoon with a 8-2 victory over the Pirates in Bradenton.
Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson both made their spring debuts. Niemann pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, and Hellickson followed with a scoreless outing of his own—allowing three hits, no walks and striking out two through 1 2/3 innings pitched.
MLB Future Game southpaws Felipe Rivero and Enny Romero both made appearances in this game. Rivero allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings and Romero tossed one scoreless inning.
Offensive notables from yesterday include prospect Tim Beckham, Luke Scott and Jose Molina, who all had good games at the plate. Beckham went 2-2 with a double and a triple, Scott also went 2-2 with an RBI, and Molina went 2-3 with an RBI as well.
Here’s a full boxscore of the game.
Rays News and Notes:
- The Rays return to Port Charlotte to take on the Tigers today at 1:05. Lots to watch for today as Evan Longoria returns to the lineup, Luke Scott make his first start in the outfield since 2011, Matt Moore makes his spring training debut (in relief), and the ESPN Baseball Tonight bus stops by Rays camp. Here’s today’s lineup.
- MLBTradeRumors.com put together an offseason review of the Rays.
With Day 1 of the MLB Winter Meetings already behind us and Day 2 now in progress, Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays have shown that they’re not going to hesitate to pursue players on the free agent or trade market. After being involved in a flurry of rumors on Monday, it looks as if the Rays could be pretty active this week in Nashville.
With a handful of possible trade possibilites on the table and multiple teams contacting the Rays, here are five things the club should try to do over these next few days.
Trade Jeremy Hellickson or James Shields
The chances the Rays trade either one of the two talented starters seem very likely at the moment. As important as these two top-tier arms are to the Rays’ rotation, trading one of the two (not both) would make a lot of sense for a couple of reasons.
Tampa has a surplus of starting pitching and is in serious need of offensive help, and both Shields and Hellickson are currently at very high value on the market. In addition, if the Rays were to trade Shields, it would be one less huge salary to pay (that they can hardly afford anyway).
Trading either Hellickson or Shields (or David Price) is really their only way of acquiring a star-quality player or top prospect caliber talent this winter. Knowing that Rays will probably trade one of them should make the next couple of days pretty exciting.
Not trade David Price
The Rays have made it clear that they’re willing to trade away Cy Young award-winner David Price for the right offer, taking into account the 29-year-old phenom’s upcoming pricey contract issues. In a recent article on ESPN.com, columnist Buster Olney points out the fact that Price may very possibly be traded sometime in the next year as the Rays are probably not going to be able to afford him eventually.
Although his value may be at its career peek right now, I think dealing Price this offseason would be a mistake. The Rays could use the offensive boost, but the core of the franchise is still pitching and defense, and trading away a player like Price would potentially be too big of loss for the team.
Put Alex Colome, Alex Torres, Alex Cobb and Wade Davis on the trade block
Believe it or not, the Rays could actually enter the 2013 season with a much better better offense without trading one of their three top starters. Being so deep in the starting pitching department, the Rays have major-league ready starters that aren’t even being used to their full potential and a handful of talented pitching prospects that they could afford giving away.
If the Rays can keep the same ridiculously good starting rotation they had this year and at the same time put together a better offense for next season, they’re going to be one very serious contender in 2013.
With prospects like Colome and Torres, and MLB-ready starters like Davis and Cobb, the Rays have the opportunity to do so.
Acquire Asdrubal Cabrera or Jason Kubel
The shortstop position has been a weak area for the Rays for two years now, and picking up a star shortstop like Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera would be a very nice solution to the problem. The 27-year-old is one of baseball’s best offensive shortstops, posting a wOBA of over .330 and a wRC+ of over 110 for the past two seasons.
The Indians are looking for three to four— preferably four—prospects in exchange for him (per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer). The Rays have the pieces to make a deal like this happen, and Cleveland could really use some young starting pitching talent.
Over in Arizona, Justin Upton has been the main talk in Diamondbacks trade rumors so far this offseason, but now sources are saying that they may be shopping OF Jason Kubel instead. According to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com, the Rays are one of multiple teams that could be a possible suitor for the veteran slugger.
Kubel had himself a very nice 2012 season, posting a .352 wOBA while hitting 30 homers and 90 RBI. Not only would Kubel add depth to the Rays’ outfield, but he would also be a perfect fit for the DH role.
Sign a catcher
One big area of need to address on Tampa’s roster is without a doubt at the catcher position. The four catchers that the Rays used this this year combined for an RBI total of just 65 without one reaching a wOBA as high as .290. Defensively, the four weren’t very good either.
The two main catchers on the roster (who were the team’s two catchers in 2012 as well) are Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton. Molina had a poor season offensively last year, but did well throwing out baserunners and framing pitches, essentially helping out the pitching staff throughout the year. The main problem with Molina is that he’s 37, and can’t really provide the Rays with many innings.
Therefore, the team’s backup catcher is a crucial role. Lobaton is in that position right now, and he’s not the kind of guy the Rays would [or at least should] like playing 65+ games for them. Lobaton posted a .222/.323/.317 line last year with very little power while throwing out just 16% of would-be base-stealers.
Whether it’s via the trade market or free agent market, the Rays really need to sign a backstop this winter.
Entering the offseason, James Shields was expected to be the No. 1 trade rumor name of the Rays’ plethora of starting pitchers. Right now it doesn’t appear that way, however, as Jeremy Hellickson has drawn more interest than anybody else in the rotation so far (per Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com). No team has yet to publicly announced that they’re pursuing Helly, but things could get interesting at the GM meeting this week.
As the MLB award season continues, more Rays players continue to take home hardware. David Price—who makes a strong case for the AL Cy Young Award (announced next week)—was chosen as the AL’s top pitcher by the players (Players Choice Awards) on Monday.
Also in award news, Jose Molina was named the Rays’ top defensive player by Wilson.
More Rays News and Notes:
- As expected, the Rays made their one-year qualifying offer ($13.3 million) to B.J. Upton last Friday.
- The Rays re-signed Joel Peralta for a two-year deal worth $6 million. The agreement includes a $2.5 million option for 2015.
- Bleacher Report looks at five potential teams that could trade for Hellickson.
- Minor League free agents have been announced. A handful of Rays players are featured on the list.
MLB announced the winners of the Gold Glove award yesterday, which featured two finalists from the Rays (Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson). Hellickson would win for the pitching position, which was also won by Jake Peavy as the two tied in the voting.
Here’s a list of all the winners, which unfortunately included terrible choices for centerfield in both the AL and NL (Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen).
In other Rays news, it looks as if the Rays will pick up the 2013 option on James Shields ($10.25 million) and Jose Molina ($1.8 million). Molina will be returning to Tampa Bay next season but Shields may not, as a blockbuster trade is still a realistic option for the Rays.
More News and Notes:
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.