clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Know Your Enemy: Tampa Bay Rays

The 2x reigning AL East Champions will look to make it 3 years in a row

Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Rays have won the AL East the last two seasons, capturing the best record in all of the American League with a 40-20 mark in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, and then doing so again last year with a 100-62 mark. The 100 wins was certainly far better than what most people were expecting out of them, as Fangraphs had them winning just 84 games, while PECOTA was a little more optimistic at 86. I figured they’d beat those projections, but closer to 90 wins, not 100. But they outshone the rest of the AL, putting up a league best +206 run differential.

Unfortunately for them, their good fortune ended at the end of the regular season. They lost out to the Red Sox in the ALDS, winning just the first game of the five game series. But they’re a very similar club this year to that one, and will once again try to win the deep AL East.


Notable Departures:

Hitters: Nelson Cruz (DH), Joey Wendle (INF), Jordan Luplow (OF), Mike Brosseau (INF).

Pitchers: Brent Honeywell Jr. (RP), Oliver Drake (RP), Adam Conley (RP), Cody Reed (RP), David Robertson (RP), Donder Blitzen (RP), Ryan Sherriff (RP), Collin McHugh (RP), Chris Archer (SP), Michael Wacha (SP).

Notable Additions:

Hitters: No one? Luke Raley (OF/1B) I guess would maybe count as a Major League addition.

Pitchers: Corey Kluber (SP), Brooks Raley (RP - somehow not related to Luke), Jason Adam (RP), 14 relievers who have never had success in the Majors before but will have 8.2 shutout innings with 14 strikeouts this summer before getting claimed on waivers by some other team and disappearing into the cosmos (RP).


Position Players:

Catchers:

Mike Zunino had a re-breakout season behind the plate last year, and will likely get the bulk of the catching opportunities again this year. After three seasons of well below average hitting, Zunino found his power stroke in 2021, hitting .216/.301/.559 (134 wRC+), coming in second on the team with 33 home runs. He’ll continue to bring his solid defense with him, but it was his offensive output last year that really helped push this team to the top.

Backing up Zunino will be former top prospect Francisco Mejía. Mejía had himself a strong season as well, hitting .260/.322/.416 (108 wRC+) and would be in line for a lot more playing time were he on pretty much any other team. But he will once again play second fiddle for the Rays, getting into roughly 80 games or so once again.

First Base/Third Base:

Ji-Man Choi will likely get the bulk of the starts at first base when there’s a righty on the mound for the opponent. Choi hit for a solid .229/.348/.411 (117 wRC+) line last year, getting 188 of his 258 plate appearances against right handed pitching. He was hampered throughout the season with knee, groin and hamstring injuries, so don’t be surprised if he misses time again this year.

Getting the playing time at first base against lefties is probably going to be Yandy Díaz. Díaz played 81 games at first last year, also putting together a high OBP line of .256/.353/.387 (111 wRC+). When he’s not covering at first base, Díaz will probably still get a lot of starts at third base.

When Díaz is at first base, expect to see Taylor Walls and Vidal Bruján get some time at third base, and elsewhere around the infield. Walls came up early in the season last year and played a solid SS for a bit before Wander Franco arrived. He’s a solid SS, but he’s not Franco level, and therefore has been relegated to a utility role. That’s a similar story for Bruján as well, as he is one of the best second base prospects in the game, but is blocked by one of the best second basemen in the game, and will be getting a lot of utility work in.

Second Base:

As mentioned, the Rays have one of the best second basemen in baseball in Brandon Lowe (rhymes with “wow”). Lowe led the Rays with a 137 wRC+, putting up a .247/.340/.523 line across 615 PA. His 39 home runs also led the team, and he is once again poised to lead the Rays’ offense. His defense is perhaps the only weak spot to his game, and if Bruján can establish himself at the Major League level this year, Lowe could be moved to a different position or different organization entirely.

Shortstop:

At the shortstop position, the Rays are set for an exceptionally long time with young phenom Wander Franco. After topping all prospect lists last year, Franco made good in a 70 game introduction, producing a very solid .288/.347/.463 (127 wRC+) as a 20 year old. Over the winter, he signed an 11 year, $182m contract that will continue to be a steal for the Rays until they decide to move on from him. But until that time, expect Franco to be the centre of this offense, putting together very strong seasons, with the potential for superstardom.

Left Field:

Randy Arozarena entered the 2021 season with a lot of hype thanks to a tremendous showing in the 2020 postseason, and was the odds on favourite to win the 2021 Rookie of the Year award. He held true to those predictions, taking home the award with a .274/.356/.459 (128 wRC+), including 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He also contributed strong defense when he was playing in LF, and will likely find himself strapped to that position fully in 2022. If he gets 120+ starts in LF, he’s practically a shoo-in for the Gold Glove Award to go along with another strong offensive season.

Centre Field:

The soon to be 32 year old Kevin Kiermaier is still in a Rays’ uniform, and seems destined to at least start the final year of his 6 guaranteed year contract with the only organization he has ever known. Kiermaier saw a bit of a renaissance with the bat last year, putting up a league average line for the first time since 2017, while once again playing fantastic defense in CF. He’s not quite as fast as he used to be, but his instincts and route running are still among the best in the game.

Nearly ready to take the reigns in CF is top prospect Josh Lowe (this one pronounced like a normal person would pronounce that spelling, just ‘low’, and he’s also the brother of former Ray Nathaniel Lowe). Lowe is a power hitting lefty bat with good speed, but will be a significant step down defensively from Kiermaier, although that’s going to be true for pretty much anyone who follows Kiermaier’s tenure.

Right Field:

Perhaps the only quasi-weak spot in the Rays’ position player group is right fielder Manuel Margot. Margot is coming off a season where he hit .254/.313/.382 (95 wRC+), the only player with at least 250 PA who put up a below league average batting line in 2021. His defense will keep him in the lineup if the bat falters a bit more, but don’t be surprised to see him lose some starts as Austin Meadows slides to the OF and other players DH. This is Margot’s last year before Free Agency, and he’s very unlikely to be brought back. There’s also a very real chance they try to move him before the trade deadline too, and try to get a prospect for him before he departs.

Designated Hitter:

Although there have been rumours of the Rays trying to move him as well, Austin Meadows is still a Ray and will continue to torment the Jays. While his bat was well short of his 2019 line, he still hit at a .234/.315/.458 (113 wRC+) clip in 2021. He also had a .249 BABIP, by far the lowest of his career, so don’t be surprised to see his numbers improve in 2022. He’s slated to get a bunch of DH time now that Nelson Cruz is no longer on the team, but don’t be surprised to still see him get a bunch of days off against left handed starters.


Pitching Staff:

Starters:

The Rays have a group of very strong starting pitchers currently on the Injured List. Tyler Glasnow went for Tommy John surgery last August, and is likely out for the year. Shane Baz went for surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow, and likely out for at least the next month. Brendan McKay went for the dreaded Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery last November, and that comes with a whole lot of uncertainty about his future. Yonny Chirinos had Tommy John Surgery in August of 2020, and then fractured his elbow last fall. His return still seems up in the air, but it doesn’t sound like his return is imminent.

On the healthy side of things, the Rays still have a bunch of talent. Fronting the rotation and likely getting the ball on opening day will be left hander Shane McClanahan. McClanahan pitched to a 3.43 ERA and 3.31 FIP over 123.1 innings last year, striking out an impressive 141 batters along the way. He won’t pitch deep into games, but he’ll be very strong when he’s in there.

Drew Rasmussen found his way into the rotation the last couple months of the season, and really thrived there. On the season he had a 2.84 ERA and 3.09 FIP over 76.0 innings, and was just as strong in the rotation. While his starts typically went just 4 or 5 innings, he allowed 0 runs three times, 1 run five times and 2 runs in his other two starts. For consistency’s sake, and for keeping his team in the game, he was really good in his shorter outings.

Corey Kluber brings veteran presents to the middle of the rotation. Kluber made his way back to the rotation last year with the Yankees, where he made 16 starts throwing 80 innings, great progress for the 35 year old after getting just 8 starts combined in 2019 and 2020. He won’t be the two time Cy Young award winner he was with Cleveland, but the Rays will probably be happy if they can get the same 3.83 ERA over 80 innings the Yankees got out of him last year.

The soft-tossing Ryan Yarbrough will once again find himself starting a bunch of games this year. His gimmick is perhaps getting solved though, as he had a career high 5.11 ERA last year over 155 innings. However, his two biggest selling features, limiting hard contact and limiting walks, were still strong despite the poor results. His average “fastball” was down to a career low of 86.7 mph last year as well, and eventually that number will get low enough to stop being effective.

Rounding out the rotation to start the season will be Luis Patiño, a young fireballer who has a sky high ceiling. He didn’t approach that ceiling in his first full year with the Rays, pitching to a 4.31 ERA and 4.51 FIP over 77.1 innings, but if he does figure it out, he will be another pain on the Rays’ roster.

Bullpen:

The Rays will continue to do Rays’ things with their bullpen, where they call up a guy who has had middling success elsewhere, ride him for 10-20 innings until his arm falls off, then move on to the next guy. Last year, they had 12 different pitchers give them between 5 and 30 innings, and a total of 37 different guys pitch out of the bullpen at some point.

Look for Andrew Kittredge and Pete Fairbanks to get a good chunk of the important innings, with other guys like JT Chargois, Brooks Raley, Matt Wisler and JP Feyereisen to get into a bunch of games as well.


2022 Outlook

There is so much depth and talent throughout this lineup that I think they’re the biggest threat to a Blue Jays’ Division Title. Somehow Fangraphs is predicting just 86 wins and a 4th place finish, while PECOTA is also right there but have them third. I expect at least 94 wins out of them, and second place in AL East.

Maybe their starting pitching falls apart, and their bullpen carousel doesn’t find the success that it has the last couple years. But I wouldn’t bet against that, and fully expect the Rays to find their way to the playoffs once again.


Poll

The Rays will win

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    86 or fewer games
    (21 votes)
  • 60%
    87-93 games
    (114 votes)
  • 27%
    94 or more games
    (52 votes)
187 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Rays will finish in __ place in the AL East

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    First
    (22 votes)
  • 62%
    Second
    (116 votes)
  • 17%
    Third
    (33 votes)
  • 7%
    Fourth
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Fifth
    (1 vote)
186 votes total Vote Now