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I awoke this morning to find that my newspaper was not, as I am accustomed, on my front step.

Or rather, one very small piece of it was. Since my newspaper delivery unit has not yet (apparently) been programmed to realize that high winds can blow an unsecured pile of newsprint all over Christendom, I faced the unattractive prospect of walking up and down the street collecting my Hamilton Spectator (Tuesday edition) from my neighbours' front yards.

Instead, I left my erstwhile paper to its windblown fate and bought a National Post (variety is the spice of life) at the newsagent's in the train station on my way to work. And what should I see on the front page of the appallingly named "Arts & Life" section, but a huge banner headline trumpeting...


Menudo, you see, are back, with a whole new lineup, and are apparently better than ever. To one who has, over the last 25 years, seen several ever-shifting incarnations of this Puerto Rican pop music phenomenon it is comforting to see that the torch still burns bright. It also provides the ideal metaphor for the 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. For like our fine-feathered teen popsters, the Devil Rays are indeed back, indeed with a revamped lineup, and are indeed apparently better than ever. But amidst all this sunny optimism, there is a fly in the ointment.

Because you see, exactly like Menudo, the Devil Rays totally suck ass, have always sucked ass, and are likely to continue to suck ass well into the future. Indeed.

So much for the new dawn.

2003 Wrap

63 wins, 99 losses715 runs scored, 12th in AL
5th and last in AL East852 runs allowed, 11th in AL
Pythagorean record : 68-94

2004 Offseason

Players AcquiredPlayers Lost
Danys BaezMarlon Anderson
John HalamaTravis Lee
Mark HendricksonRey Ordonez
Trever MillerBen Grieve
Damian MossJoe Kennedy
Brook FordyceBrandon Backe
Geoff BlumAdam Piatt
Rob Fick
Tino Martinez
Rey Sanchez
Jose Cruz, Jr.
Eduardo Perez
Fred McGriff (minor league contract)
A thousand or so washed-up veterans


The Devil Rays finished 2003 at 66 runs below average by the Runs Created method, and scored 28 runs fewer than RC would predict, indicating that they were slightly unlucky (or poor in the clutch). The blame for Tampa's offensive struggles can be mostly thrown on the bench. Tampa's nine primary starters generally did not hit well (all figures are RCAA):

Huff +36
Lee +9
Lugo +2
Baldelli -3
Anderson -6
Crawford -11
Martin -11
Rolls -12
Hall -19

For a total of -16 runs. But the Tampa bench and part-timers were uniquely awful... only one player managed even a league-average offensive performance - the redoubtable Rey Ordonez. Ben Grieve, Jared Sandberg, and Jason Tyner all had offensive winning percentages over .450, but the rest of the bench was terrible. Javier Valentin, Damion Easley, and a changing cast of thousands (or more properly, cast-off of thousands) totalled nearly 50 runs below average between them, sinking the Devil Rays offense. That's a lot of negative production for a group of players without much playing time.

The Rays have gone out into the market and addressed their offensive weakness aggressively. The Rays' offense was bad from top to bottom except for Aubrey Huff, so it made sense to address as many problems as the budget would allow while being mindful of the fact that Josh Hamilton and Jonny Gomes and a still-improving Carl Crawford are a short way away from contributing yet. Jose Cruz, Jr. is a fine addition to the team and should bolster the middle of the lineup.

The very worst offensive sinkholes in the Devil Rays lineup will be gone, but the jury must remain out on whether the replacements will simply be old wine in new bottles. Hall and Martin and Valentin and Easley were all terrible, and will all be gone, but the prospect of at-bats going to Brook Fordyce, Rey Sanchez, Geoff Blum, and Rob Fick instead isn't the most encouraging thought. If Tino Martinez finally succumbs to old age and turns in a poor performance at the plate, the Devil Rays may well be worse offensively in 2004 than they were in 2003.

Around the infield, the offense is in big trouble. Tino Martinez isn't the hitter he once was, and if he slips in his age-36 year it could get ugly. Rey Sanchez is a big offensive donut at second base, and while Julio Lugo hit very well last year (an extremely astute free pickup by Chuck LaMar) he can't carry much weight in an offense. Damian Rolls still hasn't hit much at the major league level, with just a .301 OBP in 213 major league games.

New addition Jose Cruz Jr. will help protect Aubrey Huff's big bat in the DH slot, but without a breakout season or two the Devil Rays will struggle to score more runs.


Defensively, the Devil Rays are relatively indifferent, with a few strengths and a few weaknesses. One thing that appeared to hurt the club in 2003 was the constantly shifting cast of infielders, but generally the defense heading into 2003 is solid, with three plus defenders in Lugo, Crawford and Cruz, plus Rocco Baldelli - a talented centerfielder who hasn't quite put it together yet. The problem is that the Devil Rays have so many problems in other areas that defense should be the last thing to address.

The starting outfield of Cruz, Baldelli, and Crawford will catch quite a few flies into the gap and should help out the pitching staff. The likely infield of Rolls, Lugo, Sanchez, and Martinez should be solid, more so up the middle than on the corners. Toby Hall isn't a great defender behind the plate, but can get the job done, and his throwing is really quite good.


The Rays pitching staff was actually a pleasant surprise in 2003, as a staff that had threatened to be the worst in baseball actually managed to hold its own, finishing 11th in the league but a long way from the basement. The biggest surprise was not even that the staff prospered (relatively speaking, and with one notable exception) but that the Devil Rays' pitcher development strategy (throw thousands of young arms at the wall and see if any stick to it) finally paid some dividends. After chewing up and spitting out dozens of young pitchers in the franchise's six short years, the Devil Rays got excellent starting performances from Jorge Sosa, Victor Zambrano and Jeremi Gonzalez. Another young pitcher, Doug Waechter, had some very impressive performances in a brief cameo and gave every indication of having rotation potential.

Of course, along the way the Devil Rays' opposition ate their way through young starters like Yogi Bear through a picnic basket. Dewon Brazelton (1-6, 6.89), Nick Bierbrodt (0-2, 9.68), and Jason Standridge (0-5, 6.37) all spent time in the rotation being shelled, and veterans Jim Parque (1-1, 11.94), Steve Parris (0-3, 6.18) and Rob Bell (5-4, 5.52) had no more success.

Finally, there was the talented young lefty Joe Kennedy, who suffered disaster after disaster en route to a 3-12 season and a 6.13 ERA. Now dispatched to Colorado to be replaced by "Lurch" Hendrickson, Kennedy's sudden loss of effectiveness (both his hit and home run rates soared) put the biggest damper on the staff, as he was run out time and again in an attempt to put him back on an even keel.

The worst Devil Rays pitchers are gone, long gone in some cases. Their replacements are coming off of better years, but there is a lurking menace behind that sunny outlook. Almost without exception, the Devil Rays' pitchers are coming off career seasons, and even young players snap back from career years at least as often as consolidate them.

Tampa Bay's projected staff, with 2003 ERA and career figures:

Zambrano 4.21 - 4.48
Gonzalez 3.91 - 4.41
Sosa 4.62 - 5.01
Hendrickson 5.51 - 4.94
Waechter 3.31 - 3.31 in 6 career games (career minor league ERA of 4.08)

If this rotation can stay healthy and together, they might be the best pitching top-to-bottom pitching staff that this horrible franchise has ever seen. The problem is that the rotation still isn't very good. There is no #1 or #2 starter, except in name only, and Victor Zambrano is liable to fall apart at any time because he's so wild. Having led the AL in walks, HBP, and wild pitches is a sure sign that you could use a little more control, and if that is your best pitcher all is not necessarily as it should be. Also, the fact that those top three pitchers had better figures in 2003 than the rest of their short careers may well have been a fluke, which would mean problems for the year ahead.

In the bullpen, the 2003 Devil Rays got some great performances and can hope for more of the same in 2004. Two of the faces are actually new, with Al Levine's 2.90 ERA having decamped to St. Louis, and Danys Baez and Trever Miller arriving from Cleveland and Toronto. I think this is a net gain for the Devil Rays (Levine being unlikely to recapture lightning in a bottle); though it is still unlikely for the team to repeat its excellent bullpen performance in any case, you'd rather have the guys who did it for you than a bunch of guys who were indifferent elsewhere. The pen was solid top to bottom, and the Rays' bullpen will be young, cheap, and improving. Travis Harper, Lance Carter, and Jesus Colome are all relatively inexperienced, and while they're not young guys by any stretch (this year they will be 28, 29, and 27 respectively) they are all solid already and may improve as they learn the demands of big-league pitching, and learn the hitters as well. Chad Gaudin, on the other hand is young, and has great potential.

The Devil Rays' chances at hitting a team-record 70 wins all come down to pitching. If the starters can stay healthy and the deadwood stays out this year, they have a reasonable shot. Otherwise, (and this is more likely), it will be deja vu all over again.


Honestly, it is very difficult to say much that's useful or intelligent about the Devil Rays that is also in any way original. This franchise has never topped 70 wins; never finished out of the basement; only once finished better than 29 games out of first; and has finished 34, 48, and 38 games out of first in the last three years. The problems the franchise has had boil down to three: they have had bad hitters; they have had bad pitchers; and they have been incompetently led.

Last year, in a Devil Rays preview for Baseball Primer, David Peng and I discussed a "to-do" list of fifteen points for the Devil Rays manager and GM. That list, boiled down to its essentials, was a call to play the young players, blood the prospects, throw the dead wood in the trash, and take it on the chin if necessary while remaining positive and trying to source talent from anywhere and everywhere to plug gaps.

The incredible thing was that the Devil Rays just about did it right. Their management did (literally) nearly the best they could - and the team lost 99 games. And it's not going to get much better. The Devil Rays could be the most improved team in the AL East (though I'd vote for Baltimore by a hair over Tampa and Toronto) and still finish last by miles, maybe as much as 20 games out of fourth. Will the fans keep coming back, or will they abandon this team to its fate in droves? At a certain point, the lure of promising young players goes out, and while Rocco Baldelli is a talent, he's not a future Willie Mays, and he's easily the best young player the Devil Rays have (ever) produced. For the future, when the group of talented young prospects reaches their prime in three or four years, the Devil Rays may challenge for the playoffs. For the present, it won't happen. Lou Piniella thinks the Devil Rays won't finish last - "that's for sure". He's dead wrong.

The Devil Rays will fight it out with their shadow for fifth place in the AL East. So it goes.
2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Preview | 28 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
_Matthew E - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 01:08 PM EST (#31188) #
Nicely done.

Do the Rays have any help on the way from the minors? I know they've got a couple of big-time prospects in Upton and, um, that other guy.
Craig B - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 01:22 PM EST (#31189) #
I wasn't really thinking of B.J. Upton and Delmon Young, since they're so far away from contributing. They are huge talents though.

Jonny Gomes will help eventually - I think he can really hit - but may struggle up the ladder since he has trouble making consistent contact. Joey Gathright will also be useful, but I think he's a fourth outfielder type at best. He certainly won't be able to budge Baldelli off center with his offense.

The D-Rays have some young pitchers who could help. Seth McClung has a nice repertoire. Jon Switzer is a name on everyone's lips. Chad Gaudin, who I talked about briefly, is probably going to end up as a reliever relying on his plus-plus slider, but he's so young (21 I thik) that anything can happen.

Pete LaForest is a bat. His catching is still a problem, and I think he really screwed up his future with the organization with his visa problems (not his fault, but the D-Rays aren't that well-run to understand something like that), but he can hit. The fact they won't give him a chance and insist on signing Brook Fordyce is a sign they are trying to win with defense (like signing Blum and Tino and Cruz and Sanchez) and that just Does Not Work.
_Ryan01 - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 01:36 PM EST (#31190) #
Josh Hamilton won't be playing at all again this year. He's been suspended for a year for violating the league's drug policy for the fourth time. We're not talking about a little pot here either, suspensions are only given for a group of drugs deemed "more serious than marijuana". ie drugs such as "cocaine, LSD, opiates, Ecstasy, the "date rape" drug GHB and PCP."

This will make it 2 1/2 years since the 1999 first overall pick Hamilton last played baseball after injuries in 2002 and "personal problems" last season. How is that Josh Beckett kid doing these days, anyways? Poor D-rays.
_Mick - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 01:45 PM EST (#31191) #
Why do you say Toby Hall "will ... be gone"? I hadn't heard anything about that.
Coach - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 01:50 PM EST (#31192) #
Nice job, Craig. I wonder if Piniella likes Menudo.

As if there weren't enough reasons already to loathe the Rays (I'm thinking of the 11 times they beat the Jays last year, some in bizarre fashion) they have acquired Robert F*ck, whose classless attack on a defenseless first baseman in last year's playoffs puts him just below his old pal Jeff Weaver on my list of favourite players. F*ck might help your fantasy team, though. Lou will love him.

LaForest would be huge for Team Canada; I hope he's in AAA when the time comes and they let him go to the Olympics.
_Mick - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 01:56 PM EST (#31193) #
Below Jeff Weaver???

Coach, where does that rank on the Rocker-Choiunard-Cordero Index?
Craig B - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:06 PM EST (#31194) #
Why do you say Toby Hall "will ... be gone"? I hadn't heard anything about that.

That's a mistake. Thanks for catching it, Mick.
Coach - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:13 PM EST (#31195) #
Rocker is the baseline, Mick. In a F*ck at-bat vs. Weaver, I'd be hoping for a HBP and a fight, so they're all pretty close.
_Rob - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:24 PM EST (#31196) #
I faced the unattractive prospect of walking up and down the street collecting my Hamilton Spectator

Not hardly as unattractive as actually reading it.
Especially the GO (Buy Another Newspaper) Section.
_Cristian - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:25 PM EST (#31197) #
If Rocker is the baseline, then I suppose Ben Christenson is damn near unmentionable.
Craig B - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:27 PM EST (#31198) #
Not hardly as unattractive as actually reading it.
Especially the GO (Buy Another Newspaper) Section.

Now you all may think that Rob is just making a joke here, but it really is an awful newspaper. Especially the sports, and the non-local news. Though they are trying.
_Craig S. - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 02:48 PM EST (#31199) #
I just visited back home for the first time a while, and I accidentally bought the Hamilton Spectator on Saturday (didn't look at the cover, assumed it was the Globe). Their sports section seemed awfully text-heavy, with plenty of writing for the sake either of filling space or providing the writer with some strange pleasure.

Maybe I'm becoming Americanized, but some pictures and graphics would have been nice. Failing that, I would settle for articles that get information across in a more concise fashion. It really was a mess.
_Jay - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 04:04 PM EST (#31200) #
That is probably the fairest preview I've seen of the Rays yet this year. But what the hell is up with this comment...

the Devil Rays totally suck ass, have always sucked ass, and are likely to continue to suck ass well into the future.

Yeah, they sucked ass to the tune of beating the Jays 11 out of the 19 games they faced each other last year.
_Matthew E - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 04:13 PM EST (#31201) #
Jay: Yeah, but, unfortunately for the Rays, the season is 143 games longer than that.
Mike Green - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 04:41 PM EST (#31202) #
What interests me most about the Rays is not their present, but their future. Do they have a chance to be competitive in 2006/2007?

The offensive core could be Huff, Upton, Gomes, Young, Baldelli and Crawford. That looks like the basis of a good offence to me. Who will be the second and third basemen? I am not aware of any front-line pitching prospects in the system either. It looks to me that their chances of being competitive are low. They are more likely to like the Cleveland Indians of the mid 80s.

Finally, a word about Baldelli. Announcers rave about his defence, but all of his defensive metrics are surprisingly below average. For a 21 year old centerfielder with good speed, this is a very bad sign. Forget Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio; at this stage, he'd be lucky to have a career roughly as good as Amos Otis (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Gitz - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 05:13 PM EST (#31203) #
What's the over/under on how many games the D-Rays win against the Blue Jays this year?

I start the bidding at 13 Toronto wins.
Craig B - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 05:16 PM EST (#31204) #
If I was fair in my preview, it was entirely unintentional. I despise the Devil Rays, and the franchise is the Raft of the Medusa of MLB.
_Matthew E - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 05:23 PM EST (#31205) #
What's the over/under on how many games the D-Rays win against the Blue Jays this year?

Let's shoot the works. I'll say the Jays go 17-2 against the Rays in '04. Sydney or the bush!

By the way, they're talking on Primer about some speculation that Jose Cruz Jr. won't make the Rays' 25-man roster come Opening Day.
Mike Green - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 05:33 PM EST (#31206) #
The D-Rays win 9 agains the Fighting Jays.

Craig, I can't quite fathom why you despise the D-Rays. It's kind of like kicking the homeless man sleeping on the pavement.

Loria, I understand. Reinsdorf, after the CBA negotiations and subsequent signing of Albert Belle, I also understand. But, the D-Rays' fans have to put up with a poor but improving team in a damn tough division.
_R Billie - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 05:50 PM EST (#31207) #
I don't know, maybe I'm totally deluded but I don't think the D-Rays will be all that terrible two or three years from now. And depending on some potential development from young starters like Brazelton and Zambrano, they could challenge for 70 wins this year. With Pinella in charge they will at the very least be a tight defensive team with all out effort.

Or maybe my perception is driven by the fact that Damian Rolls hits like Albert Pujols against the Jays and their outfielders seem to make at least two highlight reel catches every series I've seen them play.
Coach - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 07:04 PM EST (#31208) #
Damian Rolls hits like Albert Pujols against the Jays

Yeah, and Julio Lugo turns into A-Rod. Maybe Lurch changing sides will make a difference. I'll say 12-7 Jays, making up for some fluky stuff last season. What's the over-under on beanballs and bench-clearings? The bullpens got extra sprint work done last year.

As hard as it is for the Jays to keep pace with two Goliaths, it's an even steeper climb for Tampa (or Baltimore) to get past three very strong East rivals. I can imagine the Rays passing the O's for fourth at some point, but no higher.
_Jay - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 09:00 PM EST (#31209) #
It is tough to see how you despise the Rays. Truthfully, that was a pretty fair assesment of their present situation.

The Rays future is tied to their 4-5 young pitchers. They aren't as highly regarded as McGowan, Bush, etc...but they aren't bad either in Waechter, Gaudin, Switzer, and hopefully Brazelton. If a couple of them make the jump, with the other young offensive players in the system, the Rays have a bright future.
Coach - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 10:33 PM EST (#31210) #
Coach, to what act of Robert Fick's are you referring? I can't recall anything he did in last year's playoffs.
Coach - Tuesday, March 23 2004 @ 11:06 PM EST (#31211) #
Now it looks like I'm talking to myself, but that last "Coach" isn't me.

F*ck was out by two and a half steps on a routine grounder, but with the first baseman (Karros, I believe) stretched to take the throw and certainly not expecting contact on a force play, F*ck cleverly tried to dislodge the ball by breaking his opponent's arm. He didn't quite succeed, but should have been tossed out of the game. That kind of stuff may be tolerated or even encouraged in the NHL -- I'm sure Don Cherry would have applauded it -- but there's no place for it in baseball. You can break up a double play with a hard slide or bowl over a catcher who's blocking the plate, but you don't leave the basepath to attack a defenseless player who is watching the ball. I repeat -- it was a force out at first; any deliberate contact by the batter-runner is improper.

Bobby Cox, his own manager, was absolutely appalled, and rightly so. I'm 100% certain that's why F*ck isn't a Brave any more. The guy can hit a little, but he's an immature, undisciplined jerk. Tampa is welcome to him.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 24 2004 @ 08:33 AM EST (#31212) #
The guy can hit a little, but he's an immature, undisciplined jerk

Nah, he's a pretty lousy hitter, especially for someone who plays no defense.
_3RunHomer - Wednesday, March 24 2004 @ 09:29 AM EST (#31213) #
Considering the decent pitchers in the bullpen (Harper, Carter, and Colome), the decision to pay Baez to close is typically dopey. Why won't a crappy team like this consider converting Baez back to starting? What could it hurt? Besides his arm.

Sydney or the bush!
_Smack - Wednesday, March 24 2004 @ 03:54 PM EST (#31214) #
Why wouldn't you try and beat out a routine grounder if you had the chance? Sure for a force out it seems strange, but if he was 2 steps behind, there would be no contest. The fact that he gave the extra effort, tried something new and surprised the other team is not wrong. Now Intentionally trying to hit a player to cause injury is wrong, but charging up in hopes of scaring the player into a mistake or jarring the ball lose can be vital in a game situation.. I think players should be more creative on the base paths, now there are other ways to do it but still, you cant compare baseball to hockey in such a manner. Even now, a clean hit or timely play is not chastised by the other team, but a dirty play will have consequences, some warranted, others not, such as the Bertuzzi hit, which by the way would have garnered no attention if he had not injured Moore. By the way, what will happen if an intentional pitch to the head kills a player? will that deter pitchers from their cheap tricks? Trying to hit a player in the upper body like Clemens has done in the past is much worse than Ficks attempt to get on base.

Anyways, since the worst retaliation in baseball is a bench clearing staredown, i doubt anything of this nature will happen.
Thomas - Sunday, September 26 2004 @ 04:29 PM EDT (#31215) #
The D-Rays win 9 agains the Fighting Jays.

As the teams split their 18 matches this year, give Mike Green a prize.
2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Preview | 28 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.