With the Rays season officially over, I thought it might be fun to think about how the Rays will look in 2011. I am a Rad Sox fan living in Tampa, and one of those rare creatures who have a partial Rays Season Ticket. I pay less for 22 games (including parking) than I would for three games at Fenway, by the way. And yet all around me and my son are empty seats when we go to the Rays. Except, of course, when the Red Sox and the Yankees are in town.
So I am going to look at the Rays in three parts: the Lineup, the Starting pitching and the Bullpen.
I should add that the 2010 Rays were the strangest team I have ever seen. They were 32-12 over the first 46, then played 10 games over .500 the rest of the way.
Entering the 2010 season I thought the Rays were better at short, third and left than the Red Sox, and about equal at first, second and DH. Based on the 2010 statistics, you can argue that the Rays would have only one player better than the Red Sox had if the Sox were healthy. Youklis was far better than Pena (Pena lead the AL in HR's in 2009), Zobrist and Bartlett regressed significantly from 2009, and we all know what happened with Beltre. Pat Burrell was run out town to San Francisco (where he promptly hit like he did in Philly).
If Ortiz, Beltre and Martinez are retained, the 2011 Red Sox are going to be substantially better at the plate than the Rays. In fact, I do not think a single Rays position player could start for the Red Sox (with the possible exception of Longoria).
And yet somehow the Rays were third in the Majors in Run scored despite a lineup that often had 2 players who hit less than .200 and 6 who hit less than .250. It should be noted that the good pitching shut down the Rays, and the Rays had more occasions were they had 6 hits or fewer than any other divisional winner in over 15 years.
As I said, they are the strangest team I have ever seen.
To go through the lineup, I will use last night's. The Rays don't really have a set lineup (they used over 130), but last night's will do.
Bartlett (SS) - will be back. Major fall off from 2009 when he hit .320.
Zobrist (rf) - will be back. Hit 27 HR and slugged over .500 in 2009. Major fall off in 2010. Zobrist may play first if Pena is not signed.
CC (lf) - gone. Desmond Jennings, the best positional player in the Rays system will replace him. Desmond is essentially a young CC (CC hit with more power than people think) but there is no way Desmond in 2011 is going to be CC in 2010.
Longoria (3b) - will be back. Power numbers were a little off in 2010. A hell of a player, but he may not be the superstar the Rays were hoping he was 2 years ago.
Pena (1b) - gone? In Tampa it is widely assumed he will be gone. But is there really a market for someone who hit below .200, and whose batting average has declined in every year since 2007? Zobrist may play first in his absence. Who would play right in that case? I have no idea. Do you need a job?
Upton (cf) will be back. BJ Upton is the Rays incarnate. From 2007 to the first half of 2010, he hit for a lower OPS and BA in every half season than the previous one. Upton is an awesome fielder, steals bases and has some power. He also strikes out a ton, and watching him try to hit a curve can be a vomit inducing experience.
And yet his war is 4.3. And he doesn't come close to hitting .250.
Dan Johnson/Willie Aybar/anyone else the Rays can find on the street (DH) - will back. Does anyone want any of these guys? Maybe the Red Sox should get Dan Johnson (since he only hits home runs against them) but I have no idea who will be the DH next year.
Stoppach (C) - Will be back. This is a platoon with Jaso. Jaso is the better hitter, and if he improves defensively he could be the everyday player in 2011.
Rodriguez (2b) - Will be back. In the minors he hit with power, so the Rays are hoping he develops in 2011. Shares time with Brigniac. It would not shock me to see Bartlett moved, and for Rodriguez to move to short.
There is no replacing CC. If Pena goes the Rays will have one 20+ Home Run hitter, and no one other than Longoria who hit better than .280. The hope for the Rays is that Zobrist and Bartlett return to their 2009 form, and the young players develop. If that happens they could be equal to the 2010 Rays offensively. The truth is at some positions it would be hard for the Rays to be worse.
Outside of Price, every Rays pitcher's second half was substantially worse than their first. Everyone is back. My guess is they will be at least as good as last year: it is a young and deep staff.
Price -Cy Young candidate. I wonder if the fact that he allowed two guys to score from second on ground ball outs in Game 5 of the ALDS will bother him, but I digress.
Garza - Great stuff, but he winds up often being less that the sum of his parts.
Shields - Serious decline in second half. He may be gone given that Hellickson, the best Rays proposect (thought to be equal to Price) is ready.
Davis - Good first year as a rookie. Struggles with control sometimes, but a hell of a fourth starter.
Niemann - In the first half only Price was better. In the second half his ERA was over 7 - though he may have been hurt.
In 2010 the Rays had the second highest save conversion rate in the Majors. They blew 16 saves, the Red Sox blew 22. The Red Sox finished 7 games behind Tampa.
Both Sorianno and Benoit are gone. Benoit was actually better than Sorianno (his whip was .68 and his ERA was 1.34) , though Sorianno was lights out as well.
There is no other area where Tampa will regress in 2011 more than in the pen. While former closer JP Howell is expected to recover from an injury and good pieces remain, this is likely to go from strength to weekness. In 2009 the Rays didn't compete down the stretch in large measure due to their pen. The same thing could very well happen in 2011.