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 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.
As the arbitration deadline passed Friday, the Rays avoided arbitration hearings by signing Jeff Niemann, Ryan Roberts, Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce all to one year deals.
Niemann, who was injured most of last season, will earn $3 million in 2013. Joyce will make $2.45 million, which is nearly $2 million more than what he made last season. Ryan Roberts will receive $2.95 million, and Sam Fuld will get $750 thousand.
Tampa Bay fortunately won’t have deal with any arbitration hearings this February, as David Price and Sean Rodriguez already agreed to one-year contracts weeks ago.
Other Rays News and Notes:
- The Rays are searching for a center fielder, says ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Stark even suggested that Tampa could be a possible landing spot for the free agent market’s current top prize Michael Bourn. The only centerfielders on the market right now are Scott Podsednik and Grady Sizemore, with Arizona’s Gerardo Parra potentially on the trading block. Desmond Jennings is the team’s starting centerfielder at the moment, and it will likely be that way on Opening Day.
- Troy Renck of the Denver Post also tuned in on the Rays’ centerfield search. He suggested that Dexter Fowler could make up a potential trade package, considering that Denver likes Jeremy Hellickson.
- FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi takes an in-depth look at Price’s new contract.
- The Rays continue to show interest in re-signing reliever Kyle Farnsworth.
- The Rays hosted their annual prospect development camp last week.
As the contract tender deadline passed Friday night, the Rays had two rather tough decisions to make in whether to tender OF Ben Francisco’s and INF Ryan Roberts’ contracts. Of the eight eligible Rays at the deadline, Francisco was the only one to be non-tendered.
Roberts—who is expected to make around $3 million in 2013—will head to arbitration along with a group of five other Rays which includes David Price, Jeff Niemann, Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez.
The Rays continued their busy weekend Saturday, making their first trade of the offseason. Tampa swapped reliever Burke Badenhop with Brewers minor league prospect OF Raul Mondesi Jr.
Badenhop posted a 3.03 ERA through 62.1 IP in the Rays’ bullpen in 2012.
More Rays News and Notes:
- Here’s the the link to MLBTradeRumors.com’s Projected Arbitration Salaries.
- Also over at MLBTR, a list of all the AL non-tenders. The list includes slugging 1B/3B/DH Mark Reynolds, which already has many speculating that the Rays may very possibly pursue him. Reynolds batted .221/.335/.429 with 23 homers and 69 RBI with the Orioles this season.
- According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Rays are open to dealing David Price for the right offer right now as a trade seems ‘inevitable’. Olney also notes that executives around the league believe he will be traded in the next year and that Tampa Bay is not close to signing an extension with him. The Price trade rumors have heated up recently as insiders such as Olney point out the fact that Rays are probably not going to be able to afford re-signing the Cy Young award-winner when he becomes a free agent in 2015.
- MLBDailyDish.com has more on the topic.
- The Pirates signed Russell Martin to a two-year deal.
It’s been an extremely disappointing week for the Tampa Bay Rays. After losing seven of their last eight in the midst of the AL playoff race, they now find themselves with their backs firmly against the wall and at the verge of elimination.
So, as the 2012 season continues to near a upsetting end, who’s to blame for this late season collapse?
The Rays’ September failures have been a team effort, but their are five players who have just been flat-out awful this month.
Matt Moore appeared to have hit his stride this season after struggling during the early part of the year, but unfortunately those struggles have comeback to haunt him here in September when the Rays least need it.
Moore has has made three starts this month and none of them have been good ones. He suffered the loss in all three, and compiled a 7.43 ERA.
His fastball velocity has been down lately, which is likely a big reason for the poor outings.
Jeff Keppinger has probably been the Rays’ most consistent hitter all season long. The .317/.361/.419 hitter has hit just .246 with a .220 wOBA and 0 extra-base hits in September.
He’s also seen his strikeout percentage rise to 8.5%.
The Rays depend on Matt Joyce to be one of the top bats in the middle of their lineup, and he has not lived up to that expectation recently.
In the last 30 days, Joyce has hit just .182/.289/.288 with just a single home run and eight RBI while posting a low wRC+ of 60. In those 76 plate appearances he’s hit just five extra-base hits—a huge reason why the Rays’ offense has been anemic as it is lately.
It’s been a disappointing season the whole way through for DH Luke Scott. Lately he’s been especially bad though, having his worst month since his franchise record 0-41 skid back in July.
Scott has hit .182/.200/.341 with just one HR and four RBI in his last 45 PA. Any team with a DH who’s putting up those kind of numbers probably isn’t going to have such a great offense, and that’s been the case for the Rays this year.
The wheels have seemingly fell off Joel Peralta here late in the the season. The Rays’ set-up man is 0-2 in with a 5.79 ERA in the last 30 days, putting a big dent in a Tampa Bay bullpen that has been strong all year long.
Luke Scott, who has been sidelined with an oblique strain since July, is expected to be activated from the disabled list and rejoin the Rays this week. Scott, a designated hitter, probably wouldn’t be an everyday starter when he initially returns to roster as Evan Longoria is currently in the DH role.
Until the Rays decide Longoria’s hamstring is healthy enough to play third base again, Scott will likely platoon with Longo and serve as a pinch hitter.
The main question to be asked here is who will the Rays option down to make room for Scott on the 25-man roster. Sean Rodriguez—currently batting just .209/.275/.325— definitely seems like the most likely answer at the moment. The only other option really is Ryan Roberts, but the Rays are probably going to hang on to him because he provides more offensive production that Rodriguez. With the rosters expanding to 40 men on September 1, however, this minor league trip should only be a temporary one for Rodriguez.
Another thing to keep an eye on is how the Rays’ infield situation will work out once the roster move is made. Joe Maddon experimentally started Ben Zobrist at shortstop (first time since 2009) for four of the last five games, which strengthened the Rays’ offense by keeping the weaker bats of Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson—the Rays’ only other options at short—out of the lineup.
Hopefully there is more to this ‘experiment’, and Zobrist could see a lot more playing time at shortstop throughout the rest of the season. If he can hold up defensively at short—which he has done so far—the Rays can finally be able to put out the best possible lineup game after game. Monday night was a big step forward for Zobrist to become the Rays’ permanent shortstop for the rest of the year. He got the start with Alex Cobb—the most groundball-heavy starter in the rotation—pitching and performed well again.
So if Zorilla does end up making the transition back to short, his original position, how would the infield shape up once Scott returns? Jeff Keppinger could man third base while Ryan Roberts takes over second, or vice versa, and Elliot Johnson would be on the bench like he has been lately.
Against left-handed starters, however, the field could have a bit of a different look. Keppinger could possibly play first instead of Pena, who Maddon is apparently planning to start less against lefties. Elliot Johnson could get the start at short if Joe decides not to start Joyce, because Zobrist would have to play right field.
We could see all these possibilities happen in the next couple of weeks, but things will be different when Longoria eventually returns to the hot corner. Against right-handers the infield would be the same except either Roberts or Keppinger would play second with Longoria at third. Against lefties Keppinger would probably start at DH instead of Scott, and Roberts would get the start at second. And once the rosters expand in September, Pena (and possibly Joyce) could be relieved of their duties at their respective positions against left-handers.
We know how Joe Maddon and the Rays love their matchups, so don’t be surprised to see any of these possibilities.
In conclusion, Zobrist becoming the Rays’ main shortstop is the key for them fitting as many key bats into the lineup as possible per game. Defense is obviously crucial as the shortstop position, but with Johnson owning a .970 fielding percentage and Rodriguez having a .959 percentage (both below the league average) at short, the move couldn’t be much of a downgrade.
It’s going to be really nice to see the Rays go from having maybe the worst shortstop combo in baseball to having a middle-of-the-order switch hitter as their shortstop.
The first half of the Rays’ 2012 season was a tale of injuries. The Rays were simply a team that could not catch a break in the first half, battling through injury after injury to keep themselves afloat in the tough AL East division.
‘Disappointment’ could be a word used to describe the first half of the year, but considering all the adversity and misfortune surrounding them, the Rays’ could have been in a much worse position then they are now at the All-Star break. Fourteen players have spent time on the disabled list this season, including seven out of the nine hitters in the starting lineup [and Jeff Keppinger], two starting pitchers and 2011’s closer (Kyle Farnsworth).
The Rays got off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season, but then quickly faded in the second quarter as their numerous injuries started to catch up with them. The were hit with a huge blow when team leader Evan Longoria went down with a hamstring injury, and have obviously not been the same team offensively or defensively ever since. Then Matt Joyce—the team’s second-biggest run producer—hit the DL nearly three weeks before the All-Star break, weakening the offense to an even worse situation.
At the end of the day, the Rays aren’t exactly too thrilled with where they’re at in the standings at the midseason point, but they have to be pretty satisfied with their position considering the fact that they currently stand only a half-game out of a playoff spot. There’s still plenty of regular season ahead of us, and if anybody can make a second-half turnaround, it’s the Rays.
Let’s take a look at some surprises, disappointments, numbers and team awards from the first half.
Team average: .232 (28th in MLB)
Team on-base percentage: .314 (22nd in MLB)
Team wOBA: .305 (22nd in MLB)
Team runs per game: 4.22 (16th in MLB)
Team errors total: 71 (2nd highest in MLB)
Team ERA: 3.73 (10th in MLB)
Number of players that have landed on the DL: 14
Fernando Rodney has not only been the Rays’ most pleasant surprise of the 2012 season, but he has probably been the most pleasant surprise in all of baseball. Rodney has arguably been MLB’s best closer and reliever after the first half of the season. He’s 25 out of 26 in save opportunities and has posted a sparkling 0.93 ERA, earning him his first ever All-Star selection.
Absolutely nobody would have guessed the 35-year-old reliever—who was way past him prime entering the season—would have such an incredible year and become one of the team’s most valuable player, let alone the closer. Coming into spring training Rodney made it clear that he would fight for the closer role, and many simply laughed at his optimism. I think it’s well-known now that Fernando has gotten the last laugh.
Elliot Johnson has quietly been a somewhat productive hitter for the Rays this year. Johnson had very low expectations coming into the season, which he has definitely exceeded thus far.
He has posted a line of .275/.339/.386 with 22 RBI, a .328 wOBA and a 1.1 WAR. The stats don’t seems so great at first glance, but all four of the numbers listed are actually above the league average at the shortstop position. He has the third highest batting average on the team, and his fourth in wOBA and wRC+. As sad or funny as it is (depending on how you look at it), Johnson has been one of the Rays’ most consistent offensive players night after night.
Defensively, however, Johnson has struggled mightily. He owns a .960 fielding percentage at short with a -4.5 UZR and a -1 DRS.
Jeff Keppinger has been an excellent contact hitter for the Rays this season, and is the only Ray to hit over .300 so far (excluding Evan Longoria). His impressive .310/.362/.411 line and .339 wOBA is a surprise to most.
Keppinger hasn’t been exactly the team’s most productive player, but he is probably the most consistent base-hitter on the team.
Jose Molina stats pretty much tell the whole story for his disappointing 2012 season: A .190/.255/.321 line with four home runs and just 13 RBI. The Rays obviously signed him for his defense, but they never would have thought that he would create such a huge whole in the lineup like he has.
Defensively, Molina has done a pretty good job doing what he does best, throwing out baserunners. However, he hasn’t done well blocking balls, as he’s allowed three passed balls while rookie Jose Lobaton hasn’t committed a single one.
Luke Scott has not gave the Rays the production they expected when they signed him to a two-year deal worth $11 million last winter. He’s posted a very weak .205/.260/.409 line with 11 HR and somehow 42 RBI so far as the Rays’ DH this season.
His .205 ISO and RBI total of 42 suggest that he’s still hitting for power, but the 34-year-old slugger simply is not getting on base or hitting the ball enough. Scott’s 0-41 stretch that he had early this month pretty much sums up his first-half frustration.
Desmond Jennings has a pretty heavy burden being the Rays’ leadoff hitter ever since Opening Day, and has not exactly put up the adequate offensive numbers to be affective in that No. 1 spot in the lineup.
He’s posted a low .298 OBP with a poor .231 batting average. He’s also walked only 8.0% while putting up a high strikeout percentage of 21.3. Being the team’s biggest baserunning threat, getting Jennings on base is crucial for the Rays’ overall offensive success.
As long as Jennings continues to put up on-base percentages at .300 or under, the Rays are probably not going to be scoring too many runs.
1) Ben Zobrist
Ben Zobrist has not been the Rays’ best player by any means, but he has been the most valuable. He hit just .249 with 11 homers and 37 RBI, but he did post an impressive .371 OBP and .353 wOBA. Besides getting on base well, a big reason for his a high value is his ability to stay off the sidelines.
Out of the entire starting lineup, only he and Carlos Pena avoided the DL. With a team with as many injury issues as the Rays, just being on the field game after game is crucial for the team.
2) Fernando Rodney
I mentioned it earlier in the article; Fernando Rodney is likely baseball’s most dominant closer right now. I was very close to putting him atop the team MVP list over Zobrist, but Zorilla’s higher WAR gave him the edge.
To know that you’re chances of winning the game are extremely high every time you enter the final inning with the lead is really a special thing. The Rays have had that privilege in 2012 thanks to Rodney, who is really the reason the Rays have not completely fallen out of the AL East race right now.
3) David Price
As expected, David Price has lead the Rays’ talented rotation this year. The All-Star southpaw has had a great first half of the season, posting a 11-4 record with a 2.82 ERA and 105 strikeouts through 111.2 innings pitched. The numbers say it all for Price, who has lived up to all the expectations thus far in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Matt Joyce (.279/.387/.512, 11 HR, 34 RBI)