Poor Rogers Hornsby.
All those winters staring out the window waiting for spring, and no Baseball Prospectus to help him pass the time.
We’re much more fortunate. Every year around the time pitchers and catchers report, the guide arrives, pacifying us with hundreds of pages of prescient predictions, sharp commentary and enlightening statistics.
I got my copy of the 2018 edition this week and was curious to learn what the BP team thought of the Tampa Bay Rays. Here are some of the highlights:
The Rays had the lowest contact rate in baseball last season.
In fact, their 73.5 contact percentage was the lowest by any team in any season since 2002, the earliest FanGraphs has data on plate discipline. The Rays’ lack of contact didn’t seem to hurt them much during the first half of the season. Their 428 runs ranked 11th. During the second half, however, their 266 runs were the fewest in baseball.
Why the decline? The Rays swung more often at pitches outside the strike zone during the second half and made contact on those pitches less often.
No team hit fewer combined doubles and triples than the Rays.
Each of the six teams that led baseball in combined doubles and triples made the playoffs (Astros, Indians, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Dodgers and Rockies). Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison led the team in doubles. Longoria and Morrison are gone, and Dickerson is on the trade block.
The Rays’ most valuable player will be Kevin Kiermaier.
In 2017, Kiermaier posted career highs in home runs (15), batting average (.276), on-base percentage (.338) and slugging percentage (.450). BP projects he will hit 15 home runs again this season and slash .258/.316/.416.
While they see him as the game’s best defensive center fielder, they wonder how much longer “The Outlaw” can continue sacrificing his limbs to turn hits into outs.
“John Dillinger died in a hail of gunfire, at 31. Kiermaier’s life should last much longer, but if he doesn’t moderate his playing style his baseball career could be cut short at about the same age.”
The team leader in home runs will be … Steven Souza Jr.
BP projects Souza will hit 24, Dickerson 23, Wilson Ramos 21 and Brad Miller 19.
Chris Archer is dominant for five or six innings. Then he turns into Mike Pelfrey.
Archer struggled during his third and fourth trips through the batting order, posting a 5.96 ERA last season, which ranked 96th out of 145 qualifying starters (minimum 20 innings pitched). BP attributes those struggles to his heavy reliance on two pitches — his fastball and slider. He threw a fastball or slider 92 percent of the time and mixed in a changeup 8 percent of the time. “No effort to develop his changeup has yet yielded the results necessary to turn the worm,” BP says. “Maybe this will be the year.”
BP projects that Archer will go 10-9, record 197 strikeouts and post a 3.55 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
The dropoff in production from Longoria to Matt Duffy won’t be as great as you think.
This assumes Duffy is healthy enough to reach 500-plus plate appearances (he missed all of last season because of a heel injury). After a workout earlier this week, he said he had “zero worries” and felt “outstanding.” At 27, there’s still time for him to prove his 2015 season with the Giants wasn’t a fluke.
This also assumes that Longoria’s power surge in 2016 (36 home runs) was an aberration and that as he enters his mid-30s he’ll be more of a contact hitter with occasional pop. His performance last season indicates as much. While he made contact at the highest rate of his career, he wasn’t a tougher out. Along with the increase in contact came an increase in ground balls.
BP’s forecast for Longoria: 17 home runs and a .261/.318/.427 slash line.
For Duffy: 10 home runs and a .268/.319/.386 slash line.
What about the infielder the Rays got in return for Longoria?
Scouts have a higher opinion of Christian Arroyo than BP, which projects eight home runs and a .246/.288/.375 line for the 23-year-old. “Between his promotion (to the major leagues) and a season-ending hand injury, he hit the ball on the ground too often and swung through too many sliders, becoming a near-automatic out once the count reached two strikes. With little left to prove in the minors, Arroyo will have to rework his approach through experience at the highest level, but most scouts remain bullish that his plus hit tool will eventually shine through.”
The Rays aren’t interesting now, but they might be in 2020 or 2021.
While the team at the moment might “look like something of a cold, impersonal corporation,” the future is bright. The Rays could return to contention not long after their young prospects have their braces taken off.
• Pitcher Brent Honeywell, 23: “On merit Honeywell was probably ready for the bigs by late 2017, but the Rays have rarely met a prospect they haven’t let marinate in the minors a little extra, which often has the fun side effect of delaying arbitration and free agency. Expect him up either a few weeks or a few months into the 2018 season, depending on how cost-conscious the team decides to be about his 2021 salary.”
• Outfielder Jesus Sanchez, 20: He’s not to be overlooked, BP says. “A teenager (in 2017), he hit for solid power in the Midwest League without strikeout problems. His frame leaves projection for even more pop, but he’s also a good athlete and a fine defensive corner outfielder.”
• Outfielder Garrett Whitley, 21: “He showed polish (last season) in his plate approach, on the bases and in the field. If he can iron out his contact issues as he progresses, he has star potential.”
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.