We are about to start digging into our off-season 25-man and 40-man roster projections for 2010. But before we do, it will help if we have a good idea of where the Rays can improve.

Most teams set a goal of being at least average at every position and above average at a few positions. A .750 OPS might be good for the catcher position. But that same OPS doesn’t cut it for a position like right field that is expected to produce offensively. And as much as Joe Maddon likes to play matchups, it makes more sense for us to look at production by position rather than individual players.

So let’s take a look at how the Rays performed at the plate by position and look at how each position compares to the rest of the AL…

And if wOBA is more your flavor, we have that also (but without league average)…

A few notes on the above tables…

  • It is no surprise that 3B (Evan Longoria) and LF (Carl Crawford) carried the Rays this season offensively, with both positions ranked in the top 3 of both OPS and wOBA
  • The four positions that were below-average in 2010 were C (Kelly Shoppach, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro), 1B (Carlos Pena), DH (Pat Burrell) and RF (Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce).

Unfortunately, the four spots that were below-average will likely be filled by the same players in 2011 or by players that were back-ups this season.

Of those positions, only DH has a good shot at being filled from outside the organization (Jim Thome?). If Pena is not re-signed, look for Dan Johnson or Zobrist at first base. Shoppach and Jaso are likely to remain the platoon behind the plate. If no free agents are signed, Johnson, Aybar and Joyce could get the majority of at bats at DH. And right field will continue to be roamed by Joyce and Zobrist.

Meanwhile, one of the Rays two best offensive players (Crawford) will likely be replaced by a rookie (Desmond Jennings).

The Rays need a lot of improvement from their offense in 2011. Unfortunately, we have no idea where that is going to come from.

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21 Comments

  1. Charles says:

    Colby Rasmus - the front office needs to laser focus on prying him away from Tony LaRussa's doghouse. He would be a huge addition to the offense.

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    • John S says:

      Charles that is a great idea. They need big time help at SS, 3B, 2B and pitching.

      Shields, Bartlett and a high prospect

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  2. Isn't Elijah Dukes available? We should take a flyer on him.

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    • Sarah says:

      Perhaps Dukes and Milton Bradley?

      At least they'd make things interesting enough that we wouldn't have time to notice how badly things were going on the field.

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  3. Gus says:

    Upton's numbers have me thinking when they were talking productive outs on the playoff telecast. Is there a way to measure how his high strikeout totals compromise the offense? Outside of the double play, the strikeout is the least productive out. I just watch the games. My lying eyes suggest he's hopeless against RH pitching and a total drag on the offense.

    My thinking would be to play Jennings in CF and he'll be 90% of Upton (maybe better over time) at 1/10th the price, save whatever Upton is going to make in arbitration ($3.5M?), and have an OF of Jennings, Joyce and Zobrist. Apply the "Upton money" to help solve your offensive issues at DH-1B and maybe add a veteran outfielder from the scrap heap.

    My thinking would be that Zobrist will have a healthy back next season and given the money they are paying him, the best way to keep his back healthy is to get him out of the middle infield. A Joyce-Jennings-Zobrist outfield in a fine defensive outfield, has 1 RHB, 1 LHB and 1 switch hitter. Maddon could leave that one alone.

    Maybe Anderson is enough of a player that you combine him with a Pena at a greatly reduced salary (assuming he wants to stay). They have offesive challenges and they need a power bat to protect Longo. But they can get better.

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    • Beth says:

      Would agree with you if I had more confidence in Zobrist. What makes you think he's a good hitter who had a bad back in 2010, rather than a .240 hitter who had a fluke good year in 2009?

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    • I disagree that a strikeout is the least productive out. A groundball back to the pitcher on the first pitch is far less productive. A grounder to third is also not productive.

      Also an outfield of Joyce, Zobrist, and Jennings? I hope Jennings can run, because he is going to have to cover a lot of ground. And how does Jennings arm match up with BJs?

      I'll agree he didn't have a great season at the plate, but he was easily one of our top 5 hitters and 18 homers and 40+ steals is not bad.

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      • Dustin says:

        agreed: 18 homers, 40+ steals, and plus defense at a premium position (er, well, at least most of the time) is pretty dang good. it's gotta be the discrepancy between actual and potential output that gets people so down on bossman.

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      • Gus says:

        I thought Zobrist has very good range? Joyce has actually played some CF (as has Zobrist) and has a plus arm? I'm surprised to see such skepticism on those guys covering the corners. We're not talking Pat Burrell here. Both have good speed.

        The other factor (as it always is with the Rays) is money. With the Rays farm system, there should always be a VORR analysis -- Value of Replacement Ray. Jennings CF in 2011 has got to project somewhere close to Upton in OBP, steals, if not the power. Plus, Upton only has 2 more arb years left anyway. I think we all agree that Superstar Upton isn't coming through that door anymore. He is who he is. Low average, good walks, tons of strikeouts, generally great defense, some baserunning with some pick offs. Why not clear the deck for Jennings at this point? His highest and best use is in CF, and apply the Upton $ to some more dependable power.

        As to Beth's comment, my only thought on Zobrist is (a) we know he was hurting with the back, just by watching him struggle to field grounders and (b) after rest, he appeared to be back to some semblence of 2009-Zobrist in the playoffs at the plate (small sample, admitedly). Plus, they've committed real $ to him, so he had better be productive, and the best place for that should be the OF if he has back issues.

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      • Gus says:

        If you have men on base, a grounder to third or anywhere else may very well be more productive than a strikeout. It depends. Just looking at a couple of stats to confirm my gut. His productive out ratio was really bad (14% on a league average of 33%) and his percentage base runners scored is low (13% v. a league average of 15%). He hits into the league average of double plays, which is kind of amazing given (a) his speed and (b) his high # of strikeouts. His infield hits (18) were much lower than Crawford's (32), a person of comparable speed. He is a speed guy who has at bats like Rob Deer. There is more there, probably, but at one point is the wisdom of crowds correct? Like Victor Zambrano and Scott Kazmir before him, the people who watch him every day in person and on television know. He is a deeply flawed player who isn't getting better. Rays can do better for much less $ (see my VORR comment below).

        Also, when making this analysis, shouldn't a player's realtive speed be considered? If Upton put 50 balls more in play a year by say, shortening his swing and sacrificing some HRs, how many of those are hits, how many more are errors because of his speed, how many are fielders choices where a speedy Upton is on base instead of a slower runner? Do I mind if a Molina brother strikes out a ton? Not so much because he's not replacing faster people on the base paths or grounding into DPs.

        It as if he chosen the wrong role model to pattern his career around (sibling rivalry maybe?). By the time he gets it figured out, he's a UFA and if he is great then, the Rays have the same bad pr they get with Crawford. Time to move on this off-season. It will offset the bad PR from CC's departure in an odd kind of way, especially if they can add a decent player to the offense with the $3-4M savings. Plus, they can blame BJ on Chuck LaMar and the horrible way he was brought up through the minors.

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        • hellrayser says:

          Hey, nice thinking here. I wouldn't mind seeing Upton's back. He was clutch in the 2008 playoff run, but he was definitely playing at his ceiling in most of those games and isn't anywhere near being worth the money he's paid.

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      • MJ says:

        While Joyce, Jennings, Zobrist is not Crawford, Upton, Zobrist, its still a plus defensive OF. We are just spoiled a lil bit.

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  4. Tom says:

    I think they should consider trading Upton or Jennings for a leftfielder. Alot of the value from those two players comes from defense and you will lose much of that value if you put 1 in left field.

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  5. Tom says:

    I also expect the C and RF numbers to improve based on Jaso and Joyce getting more at bats.

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  6. Don says:

    Only three things the Rays need to be a better team in 2011 than 2008/10:
    1) Sign CC at market rate as our leader/future Hall of Famer
    2) Rid of Pena, Upton, Shop at any cost...play the young kids making $400,000 a year...ie Jennings, Jaso, Johnson, Joyce
    2) Pitching rid of Shields....Hellboy 5th starter, Sign Benoit

    This is the kicker...Rid of Maddon, Sheldon, Hickey....hire a compentent manager like a Showalter type to RUN EVERYTHING and do his hiring of coaches...Friedman and front office OUT OF EVERYDAY AFFAIRS!

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    • hellrayser says:

      While I agree with you that dropping those players, keeping CC, and playing all the young players would be really nice, I don't think CC's market rate is equal to the difference between Pena/Upton/Shoppach and Jaso/Jennings/Mystery 1st Baseman.

      It's also ominous that the Rays have been spending time in Misplaced Loyalty-ville with Rocco Baldelli. I love the guy, he seems like a great clubhouse presence, and he deserves a medal for playing at all given his illness, but he shouldn't be on our roster right now, sadly. If the Rays couldn't see THAT, what're the odds that they're going to give up on Pena? Don't tell me about BABIP - the guy has been roster vacuum for two years.

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  7. Scot says:

    Good topic to cover Prof, however I don't read the same analysis as you do. Some of the problems is that solutions were found, but not after multiple mistakes had been tried.

    C: Above average - with his OBP and average defense, a full time Jaso is going to be an upgrade to the 3 headed group this year.
    1B: below average and a position were there are a lot of inexpensive solutions. Johnson hit better and didn't cost much with the glove (3rd straight year of decline for Pena, too bad - seems like a nice guy.)
    2B: essentially average - (and cheap too!) with Rodriguez
    3B: off the charts performer and simultaneous the worst contract ever signed by a player.
    SS: average to below average in Bartlett. Brignac had a better year - similar offensive player and a better fielder.
    LF: The only position where the Rays will take a significant hit. A very good year at the plate and with the glove.
    CF: One of the top 15 position players in the AL if you include his defense. Playing shallow allowed him to catch potential hits. It is the right move regardless of the occasional double over his head.
    RF: Joyce is the player of the future. He only had 261 PAs, but it that time, with his OBP, he was the 3rd best batter on the Rays.
    DH: ??? Here is where again they try for an Abreu or Vlad - a cheap, undervalued player.

    Where the Rays were poor at bat, they know it. In reverse order of True Average:
    Navarro (who is gone)
    Kapler (who is gone)
    Burrell (who is gone)
    Aybar (if Don wants to yell at Maddon about something, this is it.)
    Shoppach (it was the right move at the time, not everything works)
    Blalock (experiment terminated)

    But in the experiments, there have been some inexpensive successes: Joyce, Jaso, Rodriguez and maybe Johnson (not enough data points yet.)

    Finally - the Rays were 3rd in offense (which is defined as runs scored, not batting average - who cares about batting average) only 16 runs behind the Red Sox, which translates into 1/10th of a run. However, you may be correct if we ask - how many runs SHOULD they have scored given their ability to get hits, walks, etc. It looks like they "pressured" 50 more runs than expected. Consequently, they probably won about 5 more games than one would expect for a team with this offense.

    So our first prediction for 2011 is similar to 2009. The team may actually get better, but their W-L record will decline.

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    • Gus says:

      Under what metric is BJ one of the Top 15 position players in the AL? That seems so crazy to me, but I always willing to learn. He's not one of the Top 15 position players in the AL East as far as I'm concerned. Unless your formula is 75% defense and 25% offense.

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      • Scot says:

        I am looking at Baseball Prospectus WARP3 calculations which includes defense along with offense. If you look at who contributed as a AL position player, BJ comes in 14th:

        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/statistics/sortable/index.php?cid=841066

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