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Right back in there again, toe-to-toe with the Yankees and Red Sox.

After all the drama and hoopla of last September and their last minute scramble into the playoffs (winning seven of their last eight games), the Rays as usual didnít spend a whole lot this winter. They did though bring in a few interesting veterans: Sluggers Carlos Pena and Luke Scott, Infielder Jeff Keppinger, Catcher Jose Molina and Reliever Fernando Rodney.

Molina has been a career backup, but now he will get his chance to start every day behind the plate. He doesnít hit very well and, being a Molina, runs about as well as most of his teammates would if they had their legs tied together. What he appears to do quite magnificently though is frame pitches. According to Max Marchiís research at The Hardball Times, Molina has put up some incredible numbers in the RV stat Marchi uses to evaluate framing skills, indeed in 2010 he led all catchers despite only playing 56 games. Marchi concludes on Molina ďÖthe prorated three to four wins he would produce in 130 games behind the dish would need to be regressed somewhat, but it's hard to believe he does not contribute an extra win per season thanks to his framing ability.Ē We know the Rays front office is always looking for an edge, and it seems highly likely this ability was a big factor in their bringing Molina into the organization.

Molinaís abilities behind the plate will only enhance a stellar defensive club. The Rays defense led the league last year in UZR/150 and were miles ahead of the pack in Baseball Prospectusí Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rating. This year should be no different, Carlos Pena has an excellent defensive reputation and a full year of Desmond Jennings isnít going to hurt either. What is noticeable about the Rays is that all their part time players seem to be well above average defensively, the like of Sam Fuld, Justin Ruggiano and Dan Johnson can all pick it with the best of them.

Offensively the Rays were a little below average in the AL last year and will probably be so again. Evan Longaria is obviously their best hitter and he should again receive solid support from Ben Zobrist and the under-rated Matt Joyce. The concern will be replacing the solid contribution of Casey Kotchman, who last year gave them a .378 OBP from first base. Carlos Pena will hit for some power but, with his propensity to strikeout, he hasnít put up an OBP much over .350 since 2008. Rays fans should also be watching Luke Scott with a wary eye as the season begins, he has put up some solid seasons in his career, but heís 34 and coming off a season where he managed just a .703 OPS and a .220 average. Balancing these possible problem areas though are the potential bright spots, a full season from Desmond Jennings in Left and Sean Rodriguez at Shortstop, and less at-bats for the offensively challenged Sam Fuld and Reid Brignac. They should be able to score 700 runs again as they did last year, and with their defence thatís all theyíll need to be put themselves in the playoff picture.

The Rays rotation is their strength, and with the addition of Matt Moore at the expense of Wade Davis it should be considerably better than last year. Moore will join David Price and James Shields at the top of the Rays rotation. Price saw his ERA jump up to 3.49 last year, but his K/9 and BB/9 were actually better than in 2010 when he had a 2.72 ERA. He had some trouble with home runs last year, but fangraphs gave him the best WAR total (4.7) of his career. Heís 26 this year and should be one of the top handful of pitchers in the AL. Moore of course might be even better, tipped as a future ace by pretty well everyone who writes or comments on baseball prospects, he might not throw quite as hard as Price but has significantly better control. His debut at the end of last season was pretty spectacular, particularly his eleven strikeout debut start against the Yankees. James Shields had his best season last year (after a disappointing 2010) and finished third in the Cy Young voting. He somehow morphed into a Complete Game specialist. Prior to last year, he had five in his career, then last year eleven Ė that was more than Doc! He went the full distance in one in three of his starts. How much of this was him pitching better or changing his approach and how much a willingness by his manager to leave him in to avoid going to a dodgy bullpen I donít know. What I do know is Shields was a legitimate ace last year, and should be again this year even if he does regress a little towards the mean. That should be the best front three in the AL, although Angelís fans might disagree. Jeremy Hellickson, the AL Rookie of the Year, is in the #4 slot with Jeff Neimann set to win a training camp battle with Wade Davis for the fifth spot.

The Rays bullpen was comfortably the worst component of the team last year Ė despite an excellent season from their closer Karl Farnsworth. Fangraphs had the group third to last in the big leagues in FIP and xFIP. The Rays will be looking for better performances from their lefties Jake McGee and J.P Howell (who struggled in his first season back from shoulder surgery last year) and another solid year from the veteran setup-man Joel Peralta. The new man in the Ďpen is Fernando Rodney, and Iím having trouble understanding why the Rays brought him in, he hasnít had an ERA under 4 since 2006 and his peripheral stats have been nothing to write home about either Ė particularly last year when he walked more hitters than he struck out. Heís had some tidy Innings Pitched totals in a couple of his years in Anaheim though, so perhaps the Raysí just want him to eat some low-leverage Innings. This is not a unit thatís going to make hitters lose any sleep, and if things do go wrong for the Rays itís likely to be the bullpen that causes the problems.

Looking to the future the Rays much vaunted farm system is still in surprisingly decent shape, given that the likes of Moore, Jennings and McGee have graduated to the big league team recently. John Sickels has ranked them seventh for 2012, just behind the Royals. There arenít as many Ďimpactí guys down there as there might have been in the past, but look for top prospect Hak-Ju Lee, by all accounts a top class defender, to be the starting Shortstop next year.

Overall, a slightly better team than last year. Going from Wade Davis to Matt Moore in the rotation should be a huge advantage and if the bullpen can hold up weíll again see the Rays giving the big spenders in the division all they can handle. I see them back in the playoffs with something a little north of 90 wins. I think the Yankees will be too tough for them again, but I donít think Boston is better than this bunch. 2nd.

2012 Tampa Bay Rays Preview | 10 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
greenfrog - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 11:22 AM EDT (#253269) #
Niemann confirmed as the Rays' 5th starter (over Davis):

http://www.rotoworld.com/player/mlb/1231/jeff-niemann
John Northey - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 11:54 AM EDT (#253273) #
Thought I'd check the Ray's all time in the standings.

As the Devil Rays: 5th place 10 years in a row with 90+ losses every single season. Ugh. Baltimore's current status.

As the Rays: 2 1sts, 1 2nd, 1 3rd. 90+ wins 3 times, 84 wins the other. Sweet.

So if we rename the Blue Jays to the Jays will they start on a 90+ win run? :)

Realistically what is the key? I'd say pitching health. Starts by #6 in raw start totals and beyond by year
2011: 14
2010: 8
2009: 24 (2 guys)
2008: 9

The big 5 in 2008: Shields, Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, Garza, Kazmir.
Big 5 in 2011: Shields, Price, Hellickson, Wade Davis, Niemann.

Just one guy lasted the entire time frame. A guy drafted in the 16th round (!) One cannot use the A's argument here - that the GM got lucky with a big 3 or something and then couldn't replicate it.

For comparison the Jays starts by post-top 5...
2011: 46
2010: 33
2009: 35
2008: 23 (just 3 guys)

Guess which of those 4 years had the best record and which of the 4 years for the Rays had the worst?

I think we just found the #1 reason the Rays have been the darling of the AL East for the past 4 years and the Jays have not. If you can A) keep your starting pitchers healthy and B) have them be reasonably effective you will be successful.
Richard S.S. - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 01:34 PM EDT (#253276) #

So let me get this straight:

1)The no-name bullpen could be decent or could no-good.   Especially since a highly touted Peralta (sucked badly) was released.

2)The Offense has questions at Catcher(s), 1B, OF to name a few.

3)The Team must depend on it's kids.   This is sounding familiar.

And, you have this Team finishing 2nd.  Nonsense, it will only happen if Toronto is finishing first.

hypobole - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 01:52 PM EDT (#253278) #
Richard, you are getting it nowhere close to straight.
MatO - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 02:06 PM EDT (#253279) #
Peralta was released?
Mike Green - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 02:54 PM EDT (#253280) #
The Rays are hard to evaluate.  The team FIP and xIP last year were both a smidge above 4 (just about league average).  Team defence was key to their success.  Do I think that a club with Molina, Zobrist, Rodriguez and Upton at the key defensive positions will again have far and away the best defence in the league?  No.  Longoria is great defensively and Desmond Jennings is very good, but  I think that there are subtle losses (Rodriguez vs. Brignac, Kotchman vs. Pena) and general aging at work. 

I say that Moore and Price both pitch very well and get the sparkling ERAs to go with it, but that Shields, Hellickson and Niemann all see their ERAs increase by a run or more, and the Rays end up in the high 80s in wins. 

Richard S.S. - Tuesday, March 27 2012 @ 06:51 PM EDT (#253303) #
I thought I saw news of Peralta being turfed because of poor performance, my appologies for this as I can't find what I found before, I stand corrected.
Timbuck2 - Thursday, March 29 2012 @ 12:07 PM EDT (#253421) #
Who's Karl Farnsworth?
Chuck - Thursday, March 29 2012 @ 03:05 PM EDT (#253434) #

Who's Karl Farnsworth?

Kyle's much more impressive twin brother. The unevil twin.

 

uglyone - Wednesday, April 04 2012 @ 06:32 PM EDT (#253876) #
I think the Rays should be at least as good as last year, maybe better.

I really like the fact that they get to move Davis out of the rotation, especially to replace him with a kid as good as Moore. That should be a nice upgrade, though it might be balanced a bit with a regression from Hellickson.

Their bullpen looks less than impressive, but that was true last year as well. Maddon is a genius at using his relievers perfectly, and with that starting staff he can pick his spots with them pretty easily.

I don't love their offense, but at the same time I certainly like this year's 1B/DH candidates Pena and Scott way better than last year's pair of Johnson/Damon. Of course, Kotchman came up and surprised so the chance of a significant upgrade there isn't great. I'm also weirded out by the fact that they're actually going to go with Jose Molina as their starting catcher, with no MLB quality backup behind him. Pretty bizarre move from a very smart team, IMO. On the other hand, they won't be wasting nearly as many at bats on a useless Brignac this year, either.

Overall, I see a similar team as last year for the Rays, but with a decent chance at being better.
2012 Tampa Bay Rays Preview | 10 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.