In a time where teams who do not see a path to perennial playoff appearances go the route of dismantling (i.e. “tanking”) in order to rebuild, the Tampa Bay Rays continue to mix and match parts looking to strike lightning in a bottle. One month into the new season and the Rays are off to a slow start, but is there a reason to panic?
Ideally, you see an upward progression in your young players who could take the next step to an elite level. But overall there was no reason to think this team was more than an 80-85–win team.
The front office made a concerted effort to improve the offense. They saw their lack of power in 2015 as a glaring weakness and addressed that by adding Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, and Steve Pearce.
Despite their 10-12 April record, not only is there no reason to panic, but in a volatile American League East, the Rays, by season’s end, could see themselves in position to play October baseball.
Let see how each part of the team did this last month.
The most disappointing part of the team has been the offense. Yes, they were able to hit a lot more home runs (27 in April 2016 vs. 19 in April 2015) but many have come with no men on base. The team’s .293 on-base percentage was the second-worst in the American League, and that has to change. They are also at/near the bottom of the league in runs, walks, and batting average.
By comparison, in the first month of last season, the team offense was very similar and they were able to post a 12-10 record despite some key injuries to the starting lineup.
The new acquisitions have not helped as Morrison, Brad Miller, and Hank Conger have barely hit my weight, let alone their own. One can be optimistic and think there is only one way they can go from there.
Also, last year the team faced similar offensive April droughts as they used Allan Dykstra at first base (.129 batting average) and Rene Rivera at catcher (.129), and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was almost run out of town after hitting only .212.
On the bright side this season, there was one offensive star in Logan Forsythe. Forsythe started off slowly while acclimating himself to the leadoff spot, but he hit a few key home runs and finished the month with a .341/.426/.610 batting line for a 1.035 OPS.
Starting Pitching: A
In complete contrast, the pitching staff has performed admirably despite Chris Archer, the anointed ace, getting off to a horrible start. Believed to have the best starting staff in the American League East, a pivotal question was how deep these young arms could go into games.
Looking to go deeper in games, the starters were able to average nearly six innings per start. That should help out the bullpen and maybe avoid a summer swoon as they did in 2015. The starters boasted a 10.03 K/9 and had one of the best BB/9 rates of 2.23. Overall they posted a 3.47 ERA, 3.37 FIP, and 3.35 xFIP. All improvements from last year at this time.
But one thing plagued the starters: the home run. In many of their starts, giving up the home run has been their one mistake in an otherwise outstanding start. The starting staffs HR/FB rate was a dismal 11.9 percent in April.
The clear starting pitching standout was Drew Smyly. In five starts, he posted a 2.60 ERA and averaged a tick under seven innings per start, with a WHIP of 0.692 and K/9 of 10.6. I would not be surprised if Smyly was in the Cy Young race in September.
Another shining light in April was the bullpen. Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, and Kevin Jepsen (all now traded) made up the three-headed monster last year that teams now covet. They would have nothing close to that entering this season.
After an impressive late-season switch to the bullpen, Alex Colome seemed primed to take over as the closer. Xavier Cedeno looked to follow up on his outstanding 2015 campaign. Finally, because of no need for a fifth starter early in the season, Erasmo Ramirez would provide some depth to the pen.
Of course, there are not a lot of wins and saves for the hurlers, but a look at the numbers in comparison to last April shows they may not only be improving, they could be the reason this team turns it around in the coming months.
The collective group posted a 7-2 record with five saves and an impressive 2.98 ERA. More importantly, they had a BB/9 of 2.71 and an outstanding left-on-base percentage of 84.8. That was 10 points higher than last year at the same time.
Individually, Ramirez was the star as he posted a 1.65 ERA, walking only one batter in 16.1 IP in relief. He also held opponents to a .196 batting average and .339 slugging percentage. With budding star Blake Snell on the horizon and Alex Cobb due to come back in late July or early August, it will be tempting to leave Ramirez in the bullpen.
Overall Grade: C-
This is definitely a Jekyll-and-Hyde team right now. The best thing the front office can do is continue with their plan and show some patience. There will be no big names added to this roster, so this is the team moving forward. May will be tough as they will have 10 home games and 16 on the road.