This past July was a month to remember for the Tampa Bay Rays. They posted a franchise-best 21-5 record in the month, hitting for a 115 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) as a team (3rd in MLB) and combined for seven complete games from four different starters in the rotation.
The Rays’ hot stretch has not only put them into playoff position, but it gives them the second-best record in the AL (best before last night’s loss) entering August.
Let’s take a look at how each player contributed to the Rays’ remarkable July run.
James Loney: A
James Loney continues to give the Rays consistent production at first base. He posted an impressive .325/.356/.422 slash line in July while playing terrific defense at first.
Ben Zobrist: A
Zobrist had a huge month offensively in June and didn’t dissappoint in July either. He put up a very strong 119 wRC+ (which equals Loney’s mark) and—like the rest of the team in the past month—was rock solid defensively.
Sean Rodriguez: A-
Rodriguez enjoyed what was the best statistical month of his career in July, batting .326/.383/.419 over 49 plate appearances. The strong numbers from S-Rod are likely nothing more than a fluke (his .467 BABIP is a key indicator), but hopefully it’s a sign of things to come for the Rays’ utility man.
Yunel Escobar: A+
Yunel Escobar has been such a valuable player for the Rays all season, but he has really broken out offensively in the last month. Escobar’s .351 wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) in July is second best amongst all AL shortstops. When it comes to defense I think it’s pretty clear how great Escobar has been this month, as well as all year long.
Evan Longoria: D+
It’s amazing that Tampa Bay managed to go 21-5 in July with their best player slumping the way he was. Longoria hit .194 with just 11 RBI, but the Rays were still somehow able to score plenty of runs. I do, however, think Longo earns a D+ here because of his usual Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner.
Kelly Johnson: A
After an ice cold June, Johnson responded in a big way in July. He had just 57 PA’s, but really made the most out of them, posting a 172 wRC+.
Sam Fuld: D+
I was a pretty unproductive month in what has been a rather unproductive season (-0.3 WAR) for Sam Fuld. He had 30 PA’s in July and hit .250. The game-saving play he made last week in Fenway Park was a memorable one, though.
Desmond Jennings: A
Desmond Jennings’ production at the top of the Rays’ lineup was a huge part of the team’s July success. He hit for a 117 wRC+ and went 7 for 8 in stolen base attempts.
Wil Myers: A+
Wil Myers’ June call-up to the big leagues is really what triggered this great run for the Rays. He leads the league in batting average post All-Star break (.447) and enjoyed an outstanding July, putting up a 166 wRC+ and knocking in 18 runs.
Matt Joyce: D-
Things have gone downhill for Matt Joyce in the second half of the season. His numbers for July aren’t pretty; a .222/.344/.241 line without a single home run and just two RBI.
Luke Scott: A+
Luke Scott’s red-hot bat really carried the Rays earlier in the month and won them a handful of games. Scott posted a 160 wRC+ in July with nine extra-base hits (four home runs).
The Starting Rotation
David Price: A+
David Price came off the DL July 2nd looking to return to his 2012 Cy Young form. He appears to be even better now, as he was nothing short of incredible in July. In six starts, he tossed three complete games and five quality starts to go along with a 1.68 ERA, a .199 opponents’ average and an unrealistic 35.00 K/BB rate.
Jeremy Hellickson: B
In his five July starts, Hellickson went 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA and delivered three quality starts. He appeared to lack command in his last three outings, though, combining for seven walks.
Chris Archer: A+
Along with teammate Wil Myers, Chris Archer is making a great case for American League Rookie of the Year. He won all five of his starts in July, pitching two complete-game shutouts (the first two CG’s of his career) and posting a minuscule 0.73 ERA.
Matt Moore: A
Matt Moore also started five games in July, and besides for his last outing in New York, he was fantastic. He finished the month 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a 2.72 FIP which included a complete-game shutout in Fenway park. A sore elbow bothered Moore in his latest start, which has landed him on the 15-day DL
Roberto Hernandez: B
With his job in jeopardy—and likely still in jeopardy—from Alex Cobb’s return, Hernandez put together a solid performance in July. He posted a 3.94 ERA in five starts, which included a complete-game win Tuesday night.
Alex Torres: A
Ten scoreless innings for his month of July—can’t ask for much more than that. Torres ERA drops to 0.27 as his innings pitched total reaches 33.0.
Cesar Ramos: D
Ramos pitched just seven innings in July and allowed five earned runs. He only made one appearance that wasn’t low leverage and actually picked up a win in extra innings.
Kyle Farnsworth: D-
The end of Kyle Farnsworth’s 15-season MLB career appears to be very near. Farnsworth pitched only 5.2 innings in July and gave up four earned runs.
Jamey Wright: D-
Wright is another low-leverage reliever in this Rays bullpen who struggled in July. He allowed five runs in just 7.1 IP.
Jake McGee: B-
McGee surrendered three earned runs in 8.2 IP last month. He did post an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12-2, though.
Joel Peralta: B+
Outside of one lead-blowing three-run homer given up in Houston early in the month, Peralta hasn’t allowed a single run. He also picked up seven holds in July.
Fernando Rodney: A
Things have really come together for Rodney since June. Tampa Bay’s closer was nine-for-nine in save opportunities in July and let up just two runs.
Things have really come together for the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the past month. With yesterday’s big win in Boston, they’ve won six straight games and a franchise-record 21 of their last 25.
Let’s take a look at how the Rays came from being last place in the AL East to just a half game out of first place and having the third best record in baseball.
Great starting pitching has propelled the Rays into the great position they’re in right now. Despite Alex Cobb’s absence, David Price’s return to ace form, Chris Archer’s impressive pitching and turnarounds from Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have the Tampa Bay’s rotation looking like its 2012 self.
Rays starting pitching has delivered a remarkable 17 quality starts in its last 19 games.
Price has been terrific since his return from the disabled list, tossing two complete games while posting a stellar 1.97 ERA and allowing just one walk in four starts (32.0 IP). Moore is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last six starts and Archer is enjoying a very strong rookie year, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.14 ERA in his last nine outings.
It hasn’t just been the starting pitching that has improved in the Rays’ winning stretch. The bullpen, which was the team’s weak spot earlier this season, has been solid as of late, blowing just one lead during the stretch.
When you have consistent production from your offense to go along with excellent pitching you’re going to win a lot of games. The Rays have done exactly that, putting up an impressive .282/.351/.436 slash line with a 120 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) in July as a team.
Over half of the lineup has produced well offensively during the stretch, but nobody’s been as hot as Desmond Jennings (.378 wOBA in last 30 days) and Luke Scott (.448 wOBA).
The Rays’ offense, which is tied second in all of baseball by wRC+ (112) has been outstanding all season, so we can expect to see this success from the lineup continue as the season progresses. If Jennings can continue to do such a great job of getting on base at the top of the lineup, this offense could soon emerge as baseball’s best.
The Rays’ defense this year has probably been the best in team history, which is a big deal considering that it’s a franchise that prides itself on solid defense. Tampa Bay is second in the American League in UZR (26.9) and second in the MLB in fielding percentage (.990).
During the 25-game stretch, the Rays have committed just five errors. They have possibly the best fielding infield in baseball, as well as some great range in the outfield with Desmond Jennings and Sam Fuld.
The Rays are fielding to their potential, and now that they’re pitching like they can it’s clear that they’ve really hit their stride here in July.
Just two weeks away from the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays have clearly emerged as contenders in the AL East, standing atop the Wild Card race and just 2.5 games out of first place in the division.
Like usual, GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays probably won’t make much noise at the deadline, but it is likely that we see at least one minor trade later this month.
Here’s my ranking for the organization’s top four best bargaining chips.
4. Ryan Roberts
Ryan Roberts is one of the most likely trade candidates for the Rays at the deadline. With the team healthy and the offense functioning well, Tampa Bay simply does not have a spot for him on the roster, which is why he’s currently playing in Triple-A.
If the Rays do try to make a move at the deadline, expect to see them shopping Roberts.
3. Enny Romero
One of the Rays’ top pitching prospects, Enny Romero was just selected to his second consecutive All-Star Futures Game earlier this week. The 22-year-old left-hander has exciting potential and has looked good this year with Class AA Montgomery.
With the emergence of Chris Archer, Alex Torres, Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi, could Romero be a possible trade candidate?
I don’t expect to see Friedman even attempt to trade him, but if he does decide to dig deep for prospects, this may be a good time to deal Romero with his stock pretty high.
2. Kelly Johnson
Could Kelly Johnson be a potential trade target for clubs seeking a bat and some depth? The 31-year-old is enjoying a strong comeback year in Tampa Bay, posting a .762 OPS with a 113 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and a 1.8 WAR.
Since his contract is expiring at the end of the year, Andrew Friedman may listen to some offers for Johnson but I doubt he’ll pull the trigger. He’s a key part of a team that plans on competing in October, so I don’t think it would be the right choice to deal an important piece like Johnson.
1. Roberto Hernandez
Roberto Hernandez’s numbers this season in the back end of the Rays’ rotation aren’t too pretty: 5-10 with a 4.90 ERA and a 4.58 FIP. However, Hernandez has shown some flashes of his All-Star Fausto Carmona days, posting a career-high 3.36 K/BB rate.
With rookie Chris Archer appearing to be more than capable of pitching in the Rays’ rotation and Alex Cobb returning soon, the Rays may look into trading Hernandez, who will be a free agent after this season.
If the Rays decide to hang on to him, he might find himself with a role in the bullpen.
The second half of the 2013 regular season is underway. Five and a half games out of first place in the AL East and three games behind in the Wild Card race, the Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of work to do these next three months.
Without further delay, take a look at my five bold predictions for the second half of the season.
Good pitching will return to Tampa Bay
After posting historically good numbers in 2012, the Rays’ pitching staff was surprisingly mediocre in the first half of the season. Reigning Cy Young award-winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez and most of the bullpen struggled in the first half.
However, things appear to be turning in the right direction going into the second half. Jeremy Hellickson has been sharp in his last three starts, Matt Moore looks to have returned to his early-season form and the bullpen has been excellent as of late.
Also, David Price is returning to the rotation tonight and Alex Cobb—who led the rotation earlier this season—should return after the All-Star break.
Matt Moore will have excellent second half
It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season for Matt Moore so far. The phenom southpaw was outstanding in April and May, but had three straight bad starts in June before returning to form in his last three starts.
Moore’s fastball velocity has been down all year, but he’s done great work with his offspeed stuff and is still unhittable when he commands his pitches. He really looks poised for a huge second half.
The Rays will trade either Ryan Roberts or Roberto Hernandez before the deadline
As usual, I don’t expect GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays to make a lot of noise at the trade deadline later this month, but I do expect to see one small trade.
Ryan Roberts is definitely a possibility. With Wil Myers now in the majors, the Rays don’t really have a spot for Roberts on the roster, especially with the offense performing so well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt for some relief pitching help.
Roberto Hernandez is another potential candidate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and there are a few teams in the league that could really use his services. With Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Alex Torres and Jake Odorizzi, the Rays could certainly afford to trade Hernandez.
Wil Myers will make big push for AL Rookie of the Year
With just 14 games played, it may be a little early for the “Wil Myers for Rookie of the Year” talks, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the second half.
Myers’ transition into the big leagues has been a pretty smooth one, as he’s swung the bat well posting a .345 wOBA. As of right now he’s not one of the top candidates, but I think he’ll prove in the following months why he was considered the top hitting prospect in baseball.
The Rays will clinch a playoff spot
Can the Rays return to the postseason in 2013? It won’t be easy with Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees in the same division, as well as the Athletics or Rangers as likely serious contenders for a Wild Card spot.
If the “Tampa Bay Rays pitching” returns—which I think it will—and the offensive remains productive, I believe this team will be playing in October.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 2010 MLB Draft was not a very memorable one for the Tampa Bay Rays. In a draft that included big league stars such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey and Chris Sale, the Rays selected three high school bats in the first round (two of them first-round compensation picks).
So far, only one of Tampa’s draft picks that year—Derek Dietrich of the Miami Marlins (the Rays’ fifth pick, taken 79th overall)—have reached the big leagues.
As we approach the 2013 Draft, here’s a look at the current progress of the Rays’ top three draft picks from 2010.
Josh Sale, 1st round (17th overall)
The Rays are experiencing a bad case of deja vu with Josh Sale. It’s not the first time a left-handed power-hitting outfielder drafted in the first round named Josh has disappointed the organization by making poor choices off the field. Sale’s upside isn’t considered to be as high as former Devil Rays bust Josh Hamilton’s, but there still is a high ceiling of potential for him.
Sale struggled in his first pro season with Rookie League Princeton, batting just .210/.289/.346 with four home runs in 60 games. He was much improved in 2012 with Class A Bowling Green, hitting .264/.391/.464 with 10 homers in 74 games.
Sale’s 2012 and 2013 season were shortened due to a 50-game suspension after testing positive for meth and amphetamines.
Now this year, right when he was ready to be reactivated and join Class A+ Charlotte after serving his suspension, has found himself in trouble again. Sale was suspended indefinitely yesterday for an inappropriate status he posted on his Facebook page earlier this week.
#Rays suspend prospect OF Josh Sale indefinitely for conduct detrimental to organization
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) May 29, 2013
Let’s hope that Sale starts to take a wiser path this season and avoids becoming another first-round bust for the Rays.
Justin O’Conner, 1st round (31st overall)
In an organization that is very weak at the catcher position, backstop Justin O’Conner (drafted as shortstop) is making slow and steady progress through the lower levels of the Rays’ farm system.
O’Conner began pro ball in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, and is now with Class A Bowling Green after moving up a single level each year.
Defensively, scouts seem to like the 21-year-old as he has a strong arm and a skill set probably good enough to stay at the position long term. The Rays are still waiting for O’Conner to get it going with the bat, however, as he’s struggled at the plate throughout his minor league career
He was drafted in the first round partially for his raw power, but has yet to tap into it completely. In 188 career games, O’Conner has posted to .207/.274/.355 with 18 homers. Both his hitting mechanics and plate approach need a lot of work.
O’Conner has shown the flashes of potential offensively, but he’s simply going to have to hit better consistently in order to continue to make progress.
Drew Vettleson, 1st round (42nd overall)
Drew Vettleson joined Josh Sale as another left-handed hitting high school outfielder out of Washington state to be drafted by the Rays in the first round.
The 21-year-old has an impressively well-rounded toolset, and is considered one of the organization’s top prospects (ranked tenth by MLB.com).
He enjoyed a strong season with Bowling Green last year, batting .275/.340/.432 with 15 homers, 69 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 132 games.
Vettleson currently plays right field for Class A+ Charlotte, and is currently hitting just .258/.291/.403 through 47 games. Strangely, he’s managed to commit 10 errors so far in 2013.