Monday, July 20, 2020

Tampa Bay Rays 2020 Season Preview


       The Rays have earned themselves a reputation around baseball thanks to their typical offseason. They acquire low-budget players, the players have a good year, the team is surprisingly good, and then they spend the next offseason trading the surprise players in deals that don't look too good on the surface. While the past year has seen that, the Rays come into 2020 stronger than ever, and actually favorites for the first time in a long time.

        Offseason additions: 1B/OF Jose Martinez, OF Hunter Renfroe, OF Manuel Margot, OF Yoshi Tsutsugo, LHP Aaron Loup, OF Randy Arozarena, C Kevan Smith, RHP Dylan Covey.

        Offseason subtractions: OF Tommy Pham, RHP Emilio Pagan, OF Avisail Garcia, C Travis d'Arnaud, RHP Austin Pruitt, 1B Jesus Aguilar, OF Guillermo Heredia, IF Eric Sogard, IF Matt Duffy.

        Rotation
After a Cy Young season that looked impossible to repeat, Blake Snell proved that his Cy Young 2018 season might have been impossible to repeat. Snell had elbow surgery, limiting him to 23 starts, and while he had a career high 12.4 K/9 (147 strikeouts in 107 innings), Snell had a 4.29 ERA. Snell's curveball had an improved whiff rate of 53.9%. While Snell was struggling, Charlie Morton had the best season of his career at age 35. Morton made his second all-star game, finishing with a 3.05 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 194.2 innings. Morton had a league best 0.7 HR/9 with a 1.084 WHIP. Morton's curveball had a .149 average against, and a 2886 rpm. Tyler Glasnow was in the midst of a breakout season when he went on the IL with forearm tightness in early May. He returned for September, and allowed two runs in 12.1 innings. Altogether, Glasnow had a 1.78 ERA with 76 strikeouts and a 0.890 WHIP in 60.2 innings. Glasnow's pitch with the highest average against was his curveball, at .191. Yonny Chirinos earned his way out of having an opener and got to start some games. In 26 games (18 starts), Chirinos had a 3.85 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 133.1 innings, and a 7.6 H/9. Chirinos walked just 5.3% of batters. Like Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough has had someone open for him a lot. Yarbrough struck out 117 batters in 141.2 innings, with a 4.13 ERA. Yarbrough allowed an average exit velocity of 84.9 mph. After being acquired from Miami, Trevor Richards pitched in seven games, with a 1.93 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. He had a 4.50 ERA in 112 innings for the Marlins. He could win out the 5th starter job, or go in the bullpen after openers.

        Bullpen
While Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado closed out games for the Rays last year, Nick Anderson is the player that will likely take over from Emilio Pagan, who was traded to San Diego. As a 28 year old rookie, Anderson came over from Miami in the same deal as Richards. He struck out 41 batters in 21.1 innings with a 2.11 ERA last year for Tampa Bay. Combined with his Marlins stats, Anderson had 110 strikeouts in 65 innings, for a 15.2 K/9. Anderson's curveball had a 52% whiff rate. Castillo, who had eight saves last year, struck out 81 batters in 68.2 innings, with a 3.41 ERA. Castillo throws a sinker with an average velocity over 98 miles per hour, and with excessive movement. Alvarado was hampered by injuries, pitching just 30 innings. Alvarado had 39 strikeouts and a 4.80 ERA. Alvarado's issue was that he lost his control, with an 18.5 BB%, 7.5% higher than his already high 2018 number. Journeyman Chaz Roe has found a home in Tampa Bay. He pitched in 71 games last year, 10 more than he did for the Rays in 2018, and he only got two more outs. Roe had a 4.06 ERA with 65 strikeouts for an 11.5 K/9. Roe has a career H/9 of 7.7, and a slider with a 2953 rpm spin rate. Lefty Colin Poche, who the Rays acquired in 2018 from Arizona in the Steven Souza Jr. three team deal, had 72 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Poche had two saves, and allowed only 33 hits, for a 5.7 H/9. Poche had an xBA against of just .170. Oliver Drake pitched for five teams in 2018, but only one last year. Drake had a 3.21 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 56 innings. Drake is one of seven Rays with a K/9 over 11.0 last year. After being added to the 40-man roster, Aaron Loup is expected to make the team. Loup has appeared in at least 55 games in five different seasons, mainly for Toronto, although he only pitched in 3.1 innings last year. Loup has a career ERA of 3.45, with an 8.4 K/9. Don't be surprised if Loup throws to lefties more than 66% of the time. Andrew Kittredge allowed an average exit velocity of 86.9 mph last year, and allowed groundballs exactly half of the time. Kittredge had a 4.17 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. Peter Fairbanks could make the team. Fairbanks debuted for the Rangers last year before being traded midseason to Tampa Bay. Combined, he struck out 28 in 21 innings with a 6.86 ERA. Jalen Beeks has starting experience and he can be a bulk guy. Beeks had a 4.31 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 104.1 innings last year.

       Catchers
The 3rd overall pick in 2012, Mike Zunino's first year in Tampa Bay was a disaster. He hit nine home runs, his lowest since 2013, and had a .165 average with a .544 OPS. Zunino is an above average defender. The big catching question with the Rays is about Zunino's backup, after Travis d'Arnaud departed. Michael Perez, and Kevan Smith are in a battle, although Perez has the advantage, and Smith can go on the three-man taxi squad. Perez, one of the few left handed hitting catchers, has played in 46 games over the last two seasons for Tampa Bay. He hit 13 home runs with an .833 OPS at AAA, and a .672 OPS at the major league level.

       Infielders
Ji-Man Choi became a fan favorite in Tampa Bay, as the 250 pound first baseman hit 19 home runs with a .261 average and an OPS of .822. He has the first base job, although Jose Martinez could see a lot of time there. While he will likely start on the bench, Martinez can play the corner outfield, and has a career average of .298 with an .821 OPS. He has a hard hit percentage of 41.1% in his career. Brandon Lowe made the all-star team, although a leg injury cost him the chance to play in the game and in most of the second half. Lowe hit 17 home runs in 82 games with five stolen bases, plus an .850 OPS, finishing 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. Lowe isn't a great fielder, with -4 outs above average at second base. Willy Adames, who was acquired back in 2014 as an 18 year old in the David Price trade, hit 20 home runs, but only had a .317 OBP, causing his OPS to be low at .735. Adames only stole four bases, but at 28.3 ft/s, he has a good sprint speed. Yandy Diaz hits the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph, both in 2019 and his career. He played in only 79 games, but hit 14 home runs, with a .267 average and an OPS of .816. Diaz's exit velocity against fastballs was 93.4 mph. Joey Wendle can play every infield position, besides first. After a good rookie season with a .300 average, Wendle hit just .231 with an OPS of .633, plus three home runs and eight stolen bases. Wendle has decent speed, with a 28.6 ft/s sprint speed. Daniel Robertson, a 1st rounder in 2012, has been a utility infielder for the Rays over the last three years. Robertson was good in 2018, with a .262 average and a .797 OPS, but he struggled in 2019. Robertson finished with a .213 average, plus a .607 OPS. The Rays might not keep Robertson, as he can be a right handed Wendle.

       Outfielders
Austin Meadows might not be healthy, returning from COVID, and he will likely DH to start out the year. Meadows was great in 2019, hitting 33 home runs, 12 stolen bases, a .291 average and an OPS of .922. Meadows was an all-star, but he isn't a great defender, with -2 outs above average last year. The Rays traded Tommy Pham to San Diego for Hunter Renfroe, a trade that wasn't very well received. Renfroe hit a career high 33 home runs last year, but had a .216 average with 154 strikeouts. Renfroe is a good defender, with six outs above average. Kevin Kiermaier won his third Gold Glove, and hit 14 home runs with 19 stolen bases, but he isn't a great hitter. Kiermaier has a career OPS of .723. Kiermaier had a 29.4 ft/s sprint speed, and 17 outs above average. Yoshi Tsutsugo comes over from Japan, where he hit 29 home runs with an .899 OPS last year, although his numbers were worse than his previous two season. Tsutsugo can back-up Diaz at third, and play right field. Renfroe's ex-teammate, Manuel Margot, joins him in Tampa Bay, being acquired for Pagan. Margot is similar to Kiermaier, a player with good speed and gold glove potential. Margot hit 12 home runs with 20 stolen bases, plus a .691 OPS for San Diego. Margot had 10 outs above average. He is entering his 4th full season, and he is still only 25.

       Projected Lineup
DH Austin Meadows (L)
2B Brandon Lowe (L)
3B Yandy Diaz (R)
LF Hunter Renfroe (R)
RF Yoshi Tsutsugo (L)
1B Ji-Man Choi (L)
SS Willy Adames (R)
CF Kevin Kiermaier (L)
C Mike Zunino (R)

       Projected Rotation
Blake Snell (L)
Charlie Morton (R)
Tyler Glasnow (R)
Yonny Chirinos (R)
Ryan Yarbrough (L)

       Projected Bullpen
Nick Anderson, closer (R)
Diego Castillo (R)
Jose Alvarado (L)
Chaz Roe (R)
Colin Poche (L)
Oliver Drake (R)
Trevor Richards (R)
Jalen Beeks (L)
Andrew Kittredge (R)
Aaron Loup (L)
Peter Fairbanks (R)

       Projected Bench
C Michael Perez (L)
1B/OF Jose Martinez (R)
IF Joey Wendle (L)
IF Daniel Robertson (R)
OF Manuel Margot (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
51-50 record, 2nd in AL East
Most home runs: Hunter Renfroe (21)
Highest batting average: Yandy Diaz (.327)
Highest OPS: Yandy Diaz (.851)
Best ERA, starters: Blake Snell (3.36)
Best ERA, relievers: Jose Alvarado (0.88)
Most innings pitched: Charlie Morton (122.1)
Most strikeouts: Blake Snell (147)
Best K/9: Nick Anderson (15.3)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 37-23
2018: 28-32
2017: 29-31
2016: 28-32
2015: 32-28

        Prediction
The Rays aren't underrated anymore. Sure, they have some underrated players, but the baseball world has accepted the Rays as a very good team. Their bullpen might be top-3 in the league, they have three really good starters and their lineup is good. The Rays will make the playoffs in 2020, as a Wild Card team, finishing 2nd in the AL East behind the Yankees.

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