Spring hitting statistics are fun to track, but often mean little or nothing, even when a player is battling for a position. So then how can we get an idea of which players may have an edge for a starting job or a roster spot?

To get a better idea of who is winning the battle for a job, we can look at which players are playing the key positions during high-leverage innings. During the regular season that would be innings 7, 8 and 9. But during spring training, innings 1-5 are the key innings as that is when a player will face other big leaguers.

This spring, the Rays face only a couple of questions with respect to the opening day roster. So let’s take a look at who is seeing the most playing time at those positions during the high-leverage innings…

  • Ben Zobrist is expected to see playing time at both second base and right field. But during the spring, Zobrist has played 29 innings at second base and only 4 in right field. Either Joe Maddon thinks he needs more time at second base to get ready for the regular season, or Maddon is preparing to use Zobrist as the most-days second baseman.
  • Many think Sean Rodriguez is going to be the other half of the second base platoon based on his spring power surge. But as we can see, Reid Brignac has played almost twice as many innings at second base as Rodriguez.
  • If there really is a battle to be the second second baseman, we would expect to see a more even split of playing time between Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez. And we would also expect to see those two players receive much more time at the position than Ben Zobrist.
  • SUMMARY: These numbers suggest that Joe Maddon is leaning towards using Reid Brignac as Ben Zobrist’s platoon partner and Sean Rodriguez will be used as the “super-utility” player, seeing only occasional playing time at second base.

  • Matt Joyce’s recent injury has clouded this picture. Still, we can see that Joe Maddon is giving Joyce every opportunity to prove he is ready to be a big league right fielder.
  • At this point in Gabe Kapler’s career, we know what he is. There is no mystery and he is just getting ready for the regular season.
  • The surprising number here is the number of innings that Ben Zobrist has played in right field: 4 (1 start). Does Zobrist not need any playing time in right field to prepare for the regular season, or will his playing time there be minimal to start the regular season?
  • SUMMARY: This is all about Matt Joyce. He will continue to receive plenty of playing time once he can get back on the field.

  • Here, we just looked at relief pitchers that have seen playing time in the first 5 innings. We did not include Andy Sonnanstine even though in theory he is one of the leading candidates for the final bullpen spot.
  • Joaquin Benoit is likely the leading candidate for the final bullpen spot and the mound time during high-leverage innings supports that notion. Still, his spot on the opening day roster will depend on his ability to work back-to-back games.
  • SUMMARY: If Joaquin Benoit can go back-to-back games, the final spot will be his. If not, it could be Andy Sonnanstine. But we still wonder if Sonny is more likely headed back to Durham to be the Rays 6th starter. If both Benoit and Sonnanstine are off the roster, the final spot could be an open battle between the likes of Jeff Bennett, Dale Thayer and Joe Bateman (see comments).
 
 

10 Comments

  1. One thing to keep an eye on…

    Rodriguez got the start in RF on Sunday, his first. If Joyce isn’t on the opening day roster and Zobrist is at 2B most days, Rodriguez could factor into the RF platoon.

  2. Bateman got his innings when Price was taken out after being hit by the bat vs. the Sawx (I’m pretty sure he pitched 2 innings then), when he was not scheduled to pitch that day. So he may not be as ‘in it’ as the innings would show. I would be happy with Thayer or Abreu until Benoit is ready, they most likely won’t be asked to pitch more than ten low leverage innings.

    • Good point on Bateman. I meant to mention that and forgot. And yes, any “sub” for Benoit is just going to be the “down 9-2 guy” so not terribly important. But a healthy Benoit slots other RP down a notch or two. So in theory, somebody that wouldn’t necessarily get high-leverage innings might get a few until Benoit is ready.

  3. Don says:

    I don’t care who makes open. day rooster between the big 3….but think of this:
    1) we gave up a past allstar pitcher (Kaz) to get A. Rod Jr
    2) we gave up a current allstar pitcher (E Jax) to get Joyce
    3) Rays won’t give up Brignac to get Jason Bay
    Now we have to choose between these three when….Kaplar has a guarn.
    contract…..
    Can anyone explain WHY they (Rays) would do that???

    • TheRevTy says:

      I read that as Kaplar having a Guam contract. I muddled over in my mind what that could possibly mean, and all of my conclusions were better than him having a guaranteed contract.

      I like the idea of Zobrist as most days 2b, Joyce as most days RF, Brignac backing up middle IF, with Rodzilla playing all over the place. Kaplar… ummm… see ya?

      Quite frankly, this is a very good problem to have.

      • Beth says:

        I’m also trying to figure out how one can make an “open. day rooster.” Is it some kind of agricultural fair event?

        • Don says:

          Dear Beth…listen I used to have a secretary to correct all my typos ..when I was in business full time…. but since I’m kinda retired…. You are welcome to correct all my spelling or grammer….unless you are fat and/or ugly…I don’t go that way..!
          Also..Rev Ty… I’m not sure about Guam??? but guan. contract is one that has to be payed whether the player is worth a shit or not….sorry but I think faster than I type….so…. the abbrev. and typos!!
          But at least you have Kaplar pegged!!

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