The Rays After 40 Games
- Updated: May 26, 2009
The 2009 Tampa Bay Rays played their fortieth game of the season on Monday, May 18th and in so doing got themselves back to the .500 mark at 20-20. But at this point, things that went right in 2008 so far have not in 2009, and the find themselves in fourth place in their division.
Things have taken a strange turn for the Tampa Bay Rays – the 2008 team was pitching-strong but anemic on offense. In 2009, the offense looks like their best ever (slight exaggeration) while the pitching has looked mediocre.
Perhaps no player better represents this turnaround than Jason Bartlett. In my opinion, Bartlett is the most underrated style of player – the all-glove, offensive-liability shortstop. Every team should have one. I would take Bartlett over Derek Jeter any day of the week.
Except, Bartlett is no longer filling the role as described. Coming into 2009, Bartlett’s career high for a single season OPS was .760, and he did that three years ago. This year, his OPS is 1.010, a number usually reserved for elite sluggers. His career high forbefore 2009 was a .309; this year he’s hitting .384. His career high for homeruns before this season was 5; he already has that many in 2009.
I don’t think Bartlett can keep it up – he never has before – but his performance is certainly a sign that strange things are afoot at Tropicana Field.
Another example of shocking turnabout is Evan Longoria. High performing rookies usually do one of two things – they either have sophomore slumps, or they barely maintain their first year performance for a second year. But who knows, with Ryan Howard and Dustin Pedroia each having won the Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Valuable Player Award in consecutive seasons since 2005, maybe that trend is changing. Longoria would certainly appear to be proof of that.
So far in 2009, the 23 year old third baseman leads the American League in doubles, total bases, and RBI, while hitting .345 with a 1.080 OPS. He’s also scored 31 runs in 38 games, which puts him on pace for well over 100. At this point, there is no single statistic from 2008 that Longoria is not on pace to best in 2009.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in a lineup full of them is Carl Crawford, the grizzlied veteran leader of the franchise. In the pre-season, I posted on several sites that the Carl Crawford we used to know may be a thing of the past, and from here on out Crawford will be a slower, and perhaps stronger hitter. I could not have been more wrong. As of this writing, Crawford leads the majors in stolen bases, has yet to be caught stealing or hit into a double play, and is on pace to become the first player since Vince Coleman in 1987 to steal 100 bases in a season. Oh, and he’s also hitting a career high .327 with an .829 OPS, and he’s two doubles and one stolen base away from last season’s totals.
It would be erroneous of me not mention Carlos Pena here, though he has returned to earth in the last couple of weeks. It would also be intellectually dishonest of me not to point out that B.J. Upton has been awful this season, and Pat Burrell is positively wilting in the AL (.315 slugging percentage?)
I often wonder about ballpark changes when a team goes from bad-hitting/good-pitching to good-hitting/bad-pitching overnight. See the 2007 Chicago White Sox. Truth be told, the Rays pitching and hitting have really just normalized – whereas last season the hitting was below league average and the pitching was above league average, this season they are both at league average.
Going back to my previous Tampa Bay Rays posts here at BaseballReflections.com , read my comments about Scott Kazmir. My fears have come to fruition in that respect – as of this writing Kaz is 4-3 with a 6.97 ERA, 32 K and 25 BB in 41.1 innings. This is what I was saying when I said it was time to trade Kazmir. Of course, dude is only 25 years old, and has already had better seasons than C.C. Sabathia had by this age, so it may be too soon to call it a career. Nevertheless, you’ve been warned.
Kazmir isn’t the only Rays pitcher struggling – Andy Sonnanstine has been even worse with his 7.36 ERA and 1.71 K/BB ratio. Most troubling for Sonnanstine is his hits allowed – on a team that without him gives up less than nine hits per nine innings (so you can’t blame the defense), Sonnanstine is giving up 12.9 hits per nine innings. This is get sent down to the minors stuff.
When teams make surprising playoff runs, the unsung heroes are often found in the bullpen. The same was true for the Rays in 2008, but so far in 2009 things have not gone as well. Neither Troy Percival nor Grant Balfour is looking particularly magical, and Dan Wheeler and Joe Nelson aren’t bringing much to the table right now.
Unfortunately, things aren’t panning out at the minor league level very well right now either. At the beginning of the season I reflected upon the demotion of David Price, Wade Davis, and Mitch Talbot, and noted that any of these guys would be welcome on teams with less pitching depth. Well, none of these guys is lighting up Triple-A right now, with the lone bright spot being Price’s strikeout-per-inning being over 1:1. But like it or not, with the Rays’ needs and Price’s performance this year, he may become a closer before he becomes a starter.
Of course, if the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox continue to play the way they are, these guys won’t really need a closer.