Tampa Bay Rays (24 days until pitchers and catchers report)
DRays Bay looks at the history of Japanese position players that have made the switch to Major League Baseball and their improvement (or lack thereof) from year one to year two. History does not bode well for Akinori Iwamura as only Hideki Matsui improved significantly and the other five players on the list showed a decline in OPS in their second year. This does not worry us at all. Of the players on the list, only Matsui had to significantly alter his approach at the plate when he came to the US.

When he came to the Yankees, Matsui hit only 16 home runs in his first season, despite hitting 40 home runs in three of his 11 seasons in Japan. In year two, Matsui made adjustments to the pitchers, the bigger parks and improved his home run total to 31. More impressive was that even though he was starting to hit more home runs, he recognized that he was never going to be the same home run hitter in the US as he was in Japan and transformed himself into a doubles machine. In 11 seasons in Japan, Matsui only exceeded 30 doubles on three occasions with a career-high of 34. Matsui exceeded those totals in his first three seasons with the Yankees with season totals of 42, 34 and 45 doubles.

Of the other five players on that list, only Kazuo Matsui ever hit as much as 30 home runs in one season in Japan. None of those players had to make the adjustment from power-hitter, to good all-around hitter.

In his two seasons prior to coming to the Devil Rays, Iwamura had home run totals of 44 and 32 (in 2003 Iwamura hit 12 home runs in 60 games, which projects to 30 over the course of a full season). Nobody expected Iwamura to come in and hit 35 home runs for the Rays. In fact, Iwamura predicted 20 home runs. When the season was over, his home run total was 7, a fry cry from his Japan League totals and his own prediction. However, the drop-off in power mimicked that of Matsui in 2003.

We are not expecting Iwamura to rebound and hit 30 home runs in 2008, but it would not surprise us if his power numbers see a significant boost in season two. By the end of the season we expect to see that Iwamura’s home run total is on par with his prediction entering last season (20) and we also expect to see a significant bump in doubles (21 in 2007). If that occurs, Iwamura will not only improve his OPS in year two, he will establish himself as one of the top-hitting second basemen in baseball.

Aki to battle recent history [DRays Bay]


  • Considerable debate was raised over our criticism of Joe Maddon’s “goal” of 81 wins. While we ackowledge he wants more than 81 wins, we felt it was poorly worded and it is the wording that the fans and the players will gravitate towards. In Marc Topkin’s most recent piece, Stuart Sternberg did a much better job of conveying the team’s perception of what is accepted of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. “The goal is to get the organization to a place where we feel coming in we should win 80-something games, and if things break right you win 8-10 more and if things break badly you win 10 less,” he said. “We’re pretty much there. Being in a position to win 65 with the chance to win 75 is not acceptable.” In Sterberg’s words, this is an 80-win team with a chance to be a 90-win team if things break right for the Rays. This was our point from the beginning. Papa Joe made it sound like the Rays are a 75-win team and we should all be happy if they won 81 games. Sternberg’s and our position is that this incarnation of the Rays should win 80 games, and anything less would be a disappointment. [TampaBay.com]
  • Further down in the same piece, Topkin reports that the Rays are in talks with left-handed reliever Trever Miller, but that length of contract remains a sticking point. [TampaBay.com]
  • MLB Trade Rumors takes on the Tampa Bay Rays in their latest installment of “Needs and Luxuries”. With the piece, MLBTR addresses this season’s lineup and looks ahead to 2009 and some of the changes the Rays could have in store when they make a serious push for the playoffs. [MLB Trade Rumors]
  • Baseball America takes a look at the 2008 draft and upon further review…yep…The Devil Rays did suck last year more than any other team (again) and will have the top pick on the draft. Jim Callis speculates that the Rays could take high school shortstop Tim Beckham, over college third baseman Pedro Alvarez. [Baseball America]

The Rays have a lot of quality pitching coming through their pipeline, but teams always want more and they could opt for one of the top college arms, Missouri righthander Aaron Crow or San Diego lefty Brian Matusz. Tampa Bay has gone with pitchers with three of its last four top picks, so my gut feel is they’ll be more inclined to go for a bat. It says here they’ll opt for Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham over Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez because Beckham plays a more premium position. I still think Alvarez is going to become a first baseman or left fielder by the time he reaches the majors



  1. Robert Rittner says:

    "While we ackowledge he wants more than 81 wins, we felt it was poorly worded and it is the wording that the fans and the players will gravitate towards."
    This is a very fair point. I do think public relations is important and that people who speak for the Rays ought to be aware of the effects of their statements.

    That said, I also think that responsible blogs like this should never simply reflect fans' views but work to educate us. So had the initial criticism been of the poor wording of the statement, I would consider it a valid criticism. But to react to it as a fan might, claiming it represented a satisfaction with mediocrity, seemed to me not just misrepresenting but dumbing down.

    One of my dissatisfactions with much of talk radio is that it panders rather than elevates. The operative principal seems to be we have to give fans what they want rather than trying to raise the general level of awareness and ability to evaluate. Often that means losing all sense of proportion in the interest of inciting controversy or appearing tough. Minor issues, such as Maddon's statement, are trumpeted as significant (the screaming headline syndrome), even misrepresented to add fuel to the fire.

    If it deserved any response (which frankly I doubt), it would be somewhat muted and modest, a suggestion that he be more positive in the way he phrases expectations. Not exciting perhaps, and perhaps not effective in eliciting response but honest and I think more effective in the longer run.

  2. Devil Ray Guevara says:

    20 dingers is still probably a bit high for Aki especially if he is leading off and all indications are that he will.

    Still, it is not out of the question to see him double his home run output (15?), but like Matsui I would love to see a downpour of doubles to go along with his 10 triples. There is no reason Aki can't hit 35 doubles and I would really like 40 and a .380 OBP.


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