2006 Team Preview: Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Positional Players

You hear that? It's the start of baseball creeping closer and closer. How do I know? Because I realized I really need to get moving on team previews before I run out of days to post them on. Let's move on from the two Baltimore entries, and get started with Tampa Bay. But first, here's the Tampa Bay portion of the AL East roundtable I moderated for SB Nation. Enjoy that, then read on in this post.

In 2005, Tampa Bay seemed to gain momentum in the second half, turning into a completely different team. The problem of course was that this team still could not pitch. The hitting improved somewhat as the season progressed, mostly in the power department, but the pitching was mostly static. The team still improved its performance a great deal: As of July 15, the D-Rays record was 29-62. At the end of July, it was 40-66, and they finished the season at 67-95, a 38-33 finish after a 27-62 start. Here are the splits from those points (Opening Day to July 15, then that point until the end of the season) for both pitchers and hitters, courtest of David Pinto's Day by Day Database:

  • Hitters AVG/OBP/SLG
  • APR 4-JUL 15: .269/.326/.410
  • JUL 16-OCT 2: .279/.332/.443
  • Pitchers AVG/OBP/SLG Allowed
  • APR 4-JUL 15: .287/.365/.464
  • JUL 16-OCT 2: .272/.342/.445

There was improvement in the pitching line allowed, but it still is an awful way to go about your day. It was almost like the Devil Rays were facing the 2005 versions of Torii Hunter or Luis Gonzalez every at-bat; not an easy way to assure victory.

The offense did pick up some of their slack though, especially in the slugging department. There was an .018 point increase in average, a .006 increase in On-Base percentage, and a .033 increase in slugging. If you subtract some of the points from slugging because of the increase in batting average, you still come out to an attractive improvement on a team level. Considering the prospects coming up through the system rather soon, the Rays offense is only going to get better. But how much better in 2006 is the question facing us today, and I will attempt to answer it with a position by position comparison and breakdown.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. For those who saw the Orioles review on Wednesday, this next paragraph is going to be repetitive. For those who missed it, read on.

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Toby Hall .287/.315/.368; +0.65 pNRAA; +0.87 pNRAA/GP

2006: Toby Hall .258/.294/.357; -3.75 pNRAA; -3.41 pNRAA/GP

Toby Hall looks like he will regress to his pre-2005 form, which is not a good sign for Tampa Bay, since backup catcher Josh Paul (-14.16 projected pNRAA) is not an improvement, or a proper backup plan. Consider this: the average catcher had a .244 EqA in 2005, and Hall is not projected to reach that figure in 2006. He is also essentially league average defensively, so there is no extra credit brought to the table there. It is possible that Shawn Riggans can be brought in to replace Toby Hall at some point until a permanent solution can be had. We can thank John Sickels' 2006 Baseball Prospect Book for allowing me to pull that player completely out of thin air. Two team previews down and it has already served me as an informative resource. In fact, Sickels says he is a "sharp defensive catcher who occasionally hits well" if you want something concrete. If you don't already own a copy of John's book, do yourself a favor and order one.

First Base
2005: Travis Lee .272/.331/.426; +4.30 pNRAA; +5.54 pNRAA/GP
2005: Eduardo Perez .255/.368/.497; +2.45 pNRAA; +1.89 pNRAA/GP

2006: Travis Lee .265/.329/.420; +0.57 pNRAA; +0.53 pNRAA/GP

First base also has a return player in Travis Lee, although he will not have the assistance of Eduardo Perez this year, who moved on to Cleveland. Lee is a player who confuses me as an analyst. Thanks to his glove, he is a league average player. His bat is certainly not adequate enough for a first basemen, but he is well above average defensively. He is a player who only really hurts your roster if you are capable of finding a suitable replacement at a lower cost or with higher value. The Rays are in a situation where someone like Aubrey Huff or Jonny Gomes should be moving over to first base from the outfield to allow some of the younger players to develop (not that Gomes isn't young, but his fielding isn't exactly helping the already struggling pitching staff in the outfield). Lee is not really an attractive option to other teams unless he has an uncharacteristically good first half of the year, and something tells me the Rays might hold on to him if such a scenario developed.

Second Base
2005: Jorge Cantu .286/.311/.497; -3.01 pNRAA; -4.52 pNRAA/GP
2005: Nick Green .239/.329/.346; -12.52 pNRAA; -13.90 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jorge Cantu .272/.306/.464; +3.25 pNRAA; +4.65 pNRAA/GP

I know Jorge Cantu had a negative pNRAA in 2005, but I was happy with his season. His projected pNRAA for 2006 looks promising as well. If he could just add a sprinkle of plate discipline to his offensive game, he would be even more of a weapon for the D-Rays. Robinson Cano gets more press, but I'll take Cantu over him.

Third Base
2005: Alex Gonzalez .269/.323/.410; -14.19 pNRAA; -15.47 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jorge Cantu .286/.311/.497; -3.01 pNRAA; -4.52 pNRAA/GP
2005: Nick Green .239/.329/.346; -12.52 pNRAA; -13.90 pNRAA/GP

2006: Sean Burroughs .267/.320/.356; -3.83 pNRAA; -3.56 pNRAA/GP
2006: Russ Branyan +4.42 pNRAA; +1.86 pNRAA/GP
2006: Ty Wigginton +0.05 pNRAA; +0.05 pNRAA/GP

Cantu and Green split most of their seasons between second and third base, so I wanted to repost their statistics here as well. Alex Gonzalez was responsible for the majority of the damage though. The good news about Gonzalez at third base in 2005? B.J. Upton was not forced to move there. That would have been a mistake I think.

As far as 2006 is concerned, I think we know who I am rooting for to win the job. The thing with Russ Branyan is that he needs a platoon partner to face southpaws.

  • Branyan 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: .249/.366/.518 442 AB
  • Versus Lefties: .181/.233/.319 94 AB
  • Wigginton 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: .256/.314/.409 886 AB
  • Versus Lefties: .262/.338/.449 336 AB
  • Burroughs 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: .295/.356/.377 990 AB
  • Versus Lefties: .249/.305/.332 334 AB

Ty Wigginton might be up for the task, but there should be a better option in the organization. Maybe Nick Green (.318/.383/.441, 179 AB against lefties) is the answer. That would allow the team to lose Wigginton and Burroughs, clearing up roster space for other necessities. It is certainly a thought, rather than carrying four potential third basemen on the roster. I know a certain someone who agrees with me.

Jacob Larsen from DRays Bay has told me that Rays manager Joe Maddon wants Aubrey Huff to play third base this year. I would prefer him at first, but you know that already.

Shortstop
2005: Julio Lugo .295/.362/.403; +12.33 pNRAA; +19.49 pNRAA/GP

2006: Julio Lugo .277/.343/.389; +10.76 pNRAA; +15.50 pNRAA/GP

Julio Lugo is a valuable trading chip for the Rays, but he should not be moved until B.J. Upton is ready to take over at shortstop. He is one of the top shortstops in the league, which may speak more for the relative lack of quality shortstops around than for Lugo's prowess, although he is a fine ballplayer in his own right.

Left Field
2005: Carl Crawford .301/.331/.469; +0.92 pNRAA; +1.43 pNRAA/GP

2006: Carl Crawford .290/.324/.433; +4.71 pNRAA; +7.39 pNRAA/GP

Carl Crawford's EqA improved for the third straight year in 2005. Check out this neat table:

  • Crawford EqA By Year
  • 2002: .231
  • 2003: .245
  • 2004: .270
  • 2005: .281

He has made some great strides since he first came up, and if he could just improve his defense somewhat, he would be a much more valuable player. Of course, an increased walk rate would help too, but if his power continues to grow that will not matter as much. Basically, get better at something Carl, jeez. Crawford could take over for Jason Larue as the player improving his EqA in the most consecutive years (someone call me on that if/when I'm wrong). Larue set a lofty mark of .277 last season, and I'm not sure he'll do any better than that. You never know of course, but Crawford should be able to post better than the .281 he put up in 2005 if all goes well this season.

Crawford's contract is well done I think. Courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts, here are the specifics:

  • 4 years/$15.25M (2005-08), plus 2009-10 club options
  • 05:$0.5M, 06:$2.5M, 07:$4M, 08:$5.25M, 09:$8.25M club option ($2.5M buyout), 10:$10M club option ($1.25M buyout)
  • $0.5M signing bonus
  • 2010 salary may increase to $11.5M with incentives
  • assignment bonus of up to $0.8M if traded

Quite the deal the Rays got themselves, especially since the expensive years are options.

Center Field
2005: Joey Gathright .276/.316/.340; -10.88 pNRAA; -8.27 pNRAA/GP
2005: Damon Hollins .249/.296/.418; -14.52 pNRAA; -17.43 pNRAA/GP

2006: Rocco Baldelli .274/.317/.416; +5.57 pNRAA; +7.07 pNRAA/GP

Lucky for the 2006 Rays, Rocco Baldelli is going to be available to play. Even if he does not fulfill the expectations set forth for him in hsi projection, he cannot possible play as poorly as the Hollins/Gathright combination is shown to according to pNRAA. I expect Baldelli to meet or best his projection by a couple of runs.

Right Field
2005: Aubrey Huff .261/.321/.428; -12.87 pNRAA; -19.82 pNRAA/GP

2006: Aubrey Huff .286/.344/.477; +7.64 pNRAA; +10.85 pNRAA/GP

PECOTA seems to expect a rebound from Aubrey Huff. Which works for me for two reasons: 1) The Rays get to have an above average right fielder on their roster in 2006 (one they can trade) and 2) Because I have no idea why Aubrey Huff was as terrible as he was in 2005. A return to form by Huff would be instrumental in Tampa securing some additional young pitching talent this summer via trade.

Designated Hitter
2005: Josh Phelps .266/.328/.424; -6.25 pNRAA; -2.94 pNRAA/GP
2005: Eduardo Perez .255/.368/.497; +2.45 pNRAA; +1.89 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jonny Gomes .282/.372/.534; +14.31 pNRAA; +14.45 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jonny Gomes .255/.348/.501; +12.93 pNRAA; +15.90 pNRAA/GP

Tampa Bay was nice enough to answer the cries of the masses in 2005, and bring up Jonny Gomes so he could tear through the league. He had a ridiculou 2005 at points; he slugged .321/.446/.660 in AAA Durham before his callup to the majors, where he hit .282/.372/.534; certainly not a disapointment in any way. I think his projection is reasonably accurate, although I would not be surprised if he topped it.

Overall, the Tampa lineup looks strong in a few places, with some holes that just do not seem to go away.

  1. 2006 Lineup
  2. Julio Lugo
  3. Russ Branyan (RHP)/Nick Green (LHP)
  4. Jonny Gomes
  5. Aubrey Huff
  6. Carl Crawford
  7. Rocco Baldelli
  8. Jorge Cantu
  9. Travis Lee
  10. Toby Hall

That is what I would do for a lineup -- don't take that as some sort of projection. Of course, if I had my way, Huff would be playing first, with another of Tampa's young outfielders trying to make it. Not Delmon Young; no need to start his clock just yet.

Each year brings a little more promise, and the thought of adding Delmon Young and B.J. Upton to the lineup is, well, a tasty thought. Tasty like tacos. If you only knew how much of a compliment that was coming from me.

On Edit: Using David Pinto's lineup simulator, developed using research done by BtB's own Cyril Morong and Catfish Stew's Ken Arneson, I found the best and worst lineups for the Rays. Here they are with Russ Branyan versus righties, and Nick Green versus lefties.

PECOTA cards from Baseball Prospectus were used in this post, as well as John Sickels 2006 Baseball Prospect Book. Splits were pulled from David Pinto's Day by Day Database, where noted and otherwise. Salary information taken from Cot's Baseball Contracts

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