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 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 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.
With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.
Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.
If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.
Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.
C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott
Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.
The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.
Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.
C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld
Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.
Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.
I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.
1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann
Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.
The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.
It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.
Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright
Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.
With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.
Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.
As the MLB offseason gradually comes to a conclusion and spring training nears, Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays know exactly what their priorities are this spring in order to put the best roster possible on the field for Opening Day.
With a handful of new names on the team this season, Maddon will have his share of tough choices to make when roster cuts and decisions come around in late March.
Here are the five main things that will be on Maddon’s spring training to-do list.
Put the Rotation Together
The Rays are heading into another season with a terrific starting rotation, which is both very deep and talented.
The three frontline starters are clear at the moment: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. After that, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer, and possibly even the newly-acquired Jake Odorizzi and Roberto Hernandez are all options to be the back two starters in the rotation.
Spring training performance is obviously going to play a large factor in deciding which pitchers make the rotation. Still, though, Maddon is going to have some very tough decisions to make before finalizing the roster at the end of March.
Tampa has the keys for another successful bullpen in 2013. GM Andrew Friedman did his job picking up all the essential arms needed, now all Joe Maddon has to do is put the ‘pen together for Opening Day.
Right now the sure locks are Fernando Rodney (who will most likely take over the closer role), Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth. Lefty specialist Cesar Ramos and former starter Roberto Hernandez are other possible candidates, along with recent acquisitions Juan Carlos Oviedo and Jamey Wright.
The Rays are going to have only seven relievers on their Opening Day roster, so one of those eight won’t make the cut.
We can expect to see some great bullpen competition this spring in Port Charlotte, and it should be very interesting to see how the new veteran arms impact the team.
Figuring out the Second Base Situation
One position on the diamond definitely not lacking depth for the Rays this year is second base. Tampa Bay recently signed Kelly Johnson to a one-year deal to be their starting second basemen, but they still have two other second basemen on the depth chart without Ben Zobrist (who will reportedly still play “a lot” of second base).
Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez are still on the roster, and there are a few things that Maddon can do to make this work.
It’s likely that Rodriguez—assuming that he makes the 25-man roster—will play very little second base and be used more as a backup shortstop/pinch runner. Ryan Roberts would backup Johnson at second, but also be used at third and as a pinch hitter.
The Rays seem to be already planning on having Johnson fill in a little in the outfield as well, so Zobrist will probably get his share of playing time at second too.
Deciding What to Do With Wil Myers
Top prospect Wil Myers will be the Rays’ biggest storyline during spring training, and should bring a pretty good amount of attention to Port Charlotte.
As of now, the starting outfield looks like it will be Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist. The one outfield bench spot is up for grabs, but the Rays won’t want to start their No. 1 prospect’s season on the bench at the young age of 22.
Unless Myers goes on an absolute tear this spring, he’ll be starting the season with Triple-A Durham. But if he shines bright enough in the Grapefruit League, don’t be surprised to see Maddon stick him in the Opening Day lineup.
Ordering the Lineup
In recent years, the Rays have put out maybe the most inconsistent lineup in all of baseball. It seems like Joe Maddon manages to put together a different lineup every single game and has tried out ever possible order and combination possible.
Don’t expect to see much different in 2013. However, Maddon will still be on a mission to find which players he’s going to put in different parts of the lineup and what kind of pattern he might try to experiment with in April.
The Tampa Bay Rays continued their free agent signing spree Monday, agreeing with second baseman Kelly Johnson for a one-year deal. Johnson, 30, has posted a .255/.338/.429 career line during his seven seasons in the majors with Atlanta, Arizona, and Toronto.
He had an excellent season in 2010 with the Diamondbacks, posting a .378 wOBA with 26 homers and 71 RBI, as well as a UZR of 7.1. Unfortunately, however, he’s seen a decline over the past two years. Johnson hit for a wOBA of just .299 while performing poorly defensively as well, posting a low -6.9 UZR last season with the Blue Jays.
So how does Tampa’s latest acquisition effect the roster?
Johnson would presumably start at second base to return to his 2011/2012 double-play combination with Yunel Escobar, which means Ben Zobrist will be the team’s starting right fielder. However, Ken Rosenthal reports that Zobrist will still play “a lot” at second and Johnson will likely fill in at the corner outfield positions at times.
Although Johnson is a left-handed batter, he hits lefties just as well as righties, making an interesting and unclear situation at second with Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez still on the roster. One assumption we can make from this signing, though, is that Wil Myers will most likely start the year with Triple-A Durham.
Rays News and Notes:
- Here’s Johnson’s first reaction to joining to the team.
- Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Rays have been released over at FanGraphs.com.
- Jason Hanselman has some good articles recently over at his rejuvenated Dock of the Rays site.
- Baseball America released their annual organization prospect rankings, and had the Rays fourth in overall talent. They also ranked the Rays’ top 10 prospects.
- DRaysBay.com has completed their writers’ top 30 prospect rankings for 2013.
- Shadow of Stadium’s Twitter account had plenty of interesting Rays stadium updates today.