2013 American League Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Josh Hedges

Let's Go Tribe's look at the Indians' competition around the American League continues with the Tampa Bay Rays, America's favorite low-budget success story.

Tampa Bay Rays

2012 Record: 90-72 (3rd in A.L. East), 4-4 vs. Cleveland

697 runs scored (11th of 14 in A.L.), 577 runs allowed (1st of 14 in A.L.)

Tampa Bay came out of the gate hot in 2012 and was sitting in 1st place with a 19-8 record a month into the season. They played .500 ball for much of May, June, and July and fell 9.5 games back on July 27. They had one of the best records in baseball after that (39-23) and the very best run differential (+113), but it was too late to make up that much ground in the A.L. East (especially because Baltimore kept winning one-run games). The Rays finished with a better record than Detroit and the second-best run differential in the American League, but missed out on the playoffs.

Evan Longoria was limited to only 74 games. He put up MVP type numbers in those games and there's a fair chance a full season with him would have made the difference between making the playoffs or not. The chronically underrated Ben Zobrist was their other offensive star. David Price had probably his finest season, with a 2.56 ERA (149 ERA+) and 205 strikeouts on his way to winning the A.L. Cy Young Award. The rest of the rotation was strong as well, the best in the league. Closer Fernando Rodney had a season for the ages, allowing just 5 earned runs in 74.2 innings, with a 0.60 ERA and 634 ERA+ (both of which set MLB records for pitchers with 50+ IP).

A strong but disappointing season led to an off-season that saw multiple members of the team's core exit. In their place arrived a few role players and one of the very best prospects in baseball (an area in which Tampa Bay was already doing very well).

Key off-season additions:

Shelley Duncan (OF/1B), Yunel Escobar (SS), Roberto Hernandez (Fausto!) (SP/RP), Kelly Johnson (2B), James Loney (1B), Wil Myers (OF), Jake Odorizzi (SP)

Key off-season departures:

Wade Davis (SP/RP), J.P. Howell (RP), Carlos Pena (1B), James Shields (SP), B.J. Upton (OF)

2013 Payroll: ~$60M

Tampa Bay's lineup is harder to project than just about any other teams', because Joe Maddon tends to move players around from position to position more than any other manager. Zobrist may take over at 2B for Johnson regularly, among other potential regular switches. What follows is my best guess at their "regular" lineup for the season's first couple months.

Projected 2013 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS WAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Jose Molina

2

1B

James Loney

1

2B

Kelly Johnson

2

3B

Evan Longoria

5

SS

Yunel Escobar

3

LF

Matt Joyce

2

CF

Desmond Jennings

3

RF

Ben Zobrist

5

DH

Luke Scott

1

TOTAL

24

Indian Killers:

Luke Scott - 118 PA, .375/.398/.705, 1.104 OPS, 8 HR, 1 SB, 19 R, 27 RBI

Kelly Johnson - 52 PA, .310/.442/.571, 1.013 OPS, 2 HR, 3 SB, 6 R, 3 RBI

Obviously Johnson's numbers especially have come in a very small sample size, but that is his highest OBP and SLG against any opponent in either league. Scott has murdered the Indians in a bit larger sample (still only ~20% of a season), hopefully the Tribe can turn that around in 2013.

Projected 2013 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS WAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

David Price

5

2

Jeremy Hellickson

3

3

Matt Moore

3

4

Alex Cobb

2

5

Jeff Niemann

1

RP

Bullpen

4

TOTAL

18

The Rays have been arguably the best-run franchise in baseball over the last six years or so, and despite sending out a team with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, they should be strong contenders again in 2013. Their starting rotation is among the best in baseball and they've got more talented arms ready to be called up if needed. Their defense should be elite as well. Combine those two factors and it's likely no A.L. team will be better at run prevention. Their offense is more solid than strong, I expect Myers to push himself onto the big league club and into the lineup by mid-season. The A.L. East race ought to be hotly contested by at least three different teams and Tampa Bay should be right in the thick of it.

PECOTA Projection: 87-75 (2nd in East), 735 runs scored, 675 runs allowed

Cairo Projection: 88-74 (2nd in East), 715 runs scored, 645 runs allowed

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