- Thursday, April 1, 2010 9:54 AM
- Written By: Andrew Simon
2009: 84-78, 3rd in AL East. Pythagorean record of 86-76.
Key Additions: RP Rafael Soriano, C Kelly Shoppach, 1B/3B Hank Blalock
Key Losses: 2B Akinori Iwamura, OF Gabe Gross, C Gregg Zaun, RPs Brian Shouse, Russ Springer and Chad Bradford
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 92-70, 2nd in AL East (Wild Card). CHONE – 88-74, 3rd. CAIRO – 93.1-68.9, 3rd.
Pitching: 2009 – 4.37 FIP (18th in MLB), 4.31 for starters, 4.48 for relievers
2010 – Matt Garza and James Shields should be solid at the top of the rotation, but it's hard to be sure of what the team will get from the talented but inexperienced trio of Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis. Soriano was a good addition to the bullpen, but J.P. Howell starting the year on the DL is a blow.
Hitting: 2009 – .343 wOBA (4th in MLB)
2010 – The Evan Longoria-Carl Crawford-Carlos Pena core is strong. Other than that, the Rays have some guys who probably will come back to Earth a bit (Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett) and some others whom they hope will rebound with the bat (B.J. Upton, Pat Burrell). Sean Rodriguez could be a breakout candidate.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 69.5 (2nd in MLB)
2010 – With guys like Zobrist and Rodriguez, who both can move around the field, the Rays benefit from having great roster flexibility. Plus, with fielders like Longoria, Bartlett, Crawford and Upton, they have a lot of defensive talent.
Reasons to Watch
1. Carl Crawford: Until a couple of years ago when they turned things around on the field and made that incredible run to the World Series, the Rays mostly were known for losing. If there was one positive they were associated with, it was Crawford, by far the best player in franchise history (that's meant as less of a backhanded compliment than it sounds like). Crawford is probably the best defensive left fielder in baseball and a well above average hitter with great speed and a little power. Yet 2009 likely will be his ninth and final season in Tampa Bay. Crawford will be an expensive free agent after this season, and the baseball calculus dictates the Rays go in a younger, cheaper direction (prospect Desmond Jennings). It's been fun watching Crawford bring a little life to The Trop over the past several years; Rays fans will have to enjoy it this season while they still can.
2. Ben Zobrist: For all of the great advances we have made in recent years in our understanding of baseball and our ability to analyze the game and project the future, sometimes events still take us very much by surprise. Case in point: Zobrist's 2009. Sure, Zobrist put up good minor league numbers and managed a solid stint with the big club in 2008. But it's not like people were falling all over themselves to proclaim as a future star a 28-year-old with a little more than 400 career major league plate appearances and no clear position. And yet, Zobrist busted out past anyone's expectations, leading all position players in wins above replacement. But what can he do for an encore? CHONE projects him to post 3.8 WAR in 2010, less than half of his 2009 total. Could Zobrist surprise again?
3. The young pitchers: The Rays play in the same division as baseball's best offense (the Yankees) and another very solid one (the Red Sox). As such, pitching is at a premium. This season, the Rays are counting on some young arms to come through and stabilize the rotation. There's 24-year-old lefty David Price, the first overall pick of the 2007 draft, who shined as a reliever in the 2008 playoffs but struggled last year as a starter. There's the 27-year-old, 6-foot-9 Jeff Niemann, the fourth overall pick in 2004, who is coming off a solid rookie campaign. And there's 24-year-old Wade Davis, a third-round pick in '04, who has all of 36 1/3 big league innings to his credit. Plus, 23-year-old former fourth-round pick Jeremy Hellickson will begin the year in the minors but figures to get a shot at some point. So who among this group will step us this season alongside Garza and Shields? At least a couple of them will have to if the Rays are going to get back to the playoffs.
Paint By Numbers: At 25 years old entering this season, B.J. Upton is still a young guy, even in baseball terms. The converted shortstop has become an excellent center fielder, and he's got a ton of speed and athleticism. The question is what has happened to his bat. A sky-high BABIP in 2007 probably set expectations for Upton at too high a level, but he also showed power and patience that season. In 2009, he slugged .373, and his 9.1 percent walk rate was significantly lower than his rate the previous two seasons. CHONE projects a solid rebound effort from Upton, back to about his 2008 level. That seems reasonable. ... Jason Bartlett led all qualified hitters with a 26% line drive rate last season while topping his previous career high by about four percentage points. His 14 home runs were five more than he had hit in his first 1,700 major league plate appearances. ... Catcher Dioner Navarro's .258 wOBA last season was the worst of any player with at least 300 plate appearances. Navarro suffered from -- among other things -- a .231 BABIP and a 4.4 percent walk rate.
Blog Jog: At DRaysBay, Tommy Rancel compares Joaquin Benoit and Mike Ekstrom, the two candidates for the team's final bullpen spot, while FreeZorilla discusses his fascination with catcher Nevin Ashley. ... The Professor at Rays Index wonders if Tampa is trying to get Hank Blalock to accept a minor league assignment. ... Michael Emdeyar at Rise of the Rays checks back on some questions he had at the beginning of the offseason.
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