We are about to start digging into our off-season 25-man and 40-man roster projections for 2012. 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 .781 OPS might not be great at first base, but in center field, the Rays are ahead of the curve.

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…

The key column to focus on is “Diff.” That is the difference between the OPS by the Rays at that position and the American League average for that position. The Rays had four positions that were below average in 2011, including DH, first base, catcher, and shortstop.

SHORTSTOP AND CATCHER:

It is not breaking news that the Rays struggled at shortstop and catcher in 2011, but this gives us a better idea of just how bad they were. And for a team that prides itself on being “strong up the middle,” this is a huge disappointment.

Of course, where the Rays have failed is in player development at these two positions. For all the great prospects the Rays have produced, Reid Brignac and John Jaso have been huge disappointment. And once again, we enter the off-season with the Rays looking for answers.

FIRST BASE:

First base is a bit trickier. Despite his a strong season by Casey Kotchman, the Rays were still well-below average. Of course, this does not include Kotchman’s defensive abilities. But first base is not a premium defensive position, and teams expect more offense out of the position. The problem however is that offensive first basemen tend to be overpriced in free agency.

DESIGNATED HITTER:

Johnny Damon is a nice guy to have on the team. He seems to be one of those veteran personalities that young players can lean on. But he is also a below-average hitter at this point in his career. And it is not like the Rays to spend a lot of money on a guy for below-average production If Damon is going to come back in 2012, it will have to be a highly reduced salary.

 

 
 

11 Comments

  1. Martin B says:

    Don’t you think this type of analysis calls for the use of an advanced metric like WAR (even with all it’s problems)? Focusing on OPS gives no credit to runs saved by being on the other side of the ball.

    It’s an interesting exercise to go through, but I think you’re going through it with the wrong metric.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      First of all, I wanted to focus on the offensive production and WAR, as you know, also includes defensive abilities. Second, I would have preferred to use wOBA, but Fangraphs position splits appear to be flawed, so they are unusable. For example, Fangraphs says Tigers right fielders had 1,407 plate appearances this season, but the Rangers only had 513. I’m guessing that is incorrect and have no idea how they come up with those numbers.

  2. Dew says:

    Interesting. I’m surprised at 1B. But not sure I agree with you on the DH. Perhaps you should divide the Diff by the average salary at the DH position. I’m betting the average DH salary is very high.

  3. Red Doc says:

    I think these needs can be filled via trade, for the most part. My number 1 target as a hitter would be Billy Butler. I think we can package Niemann, Barnese, and a low level prospect for him…and he’d slide into the number 3 slot very nicely in front of Longo. Re-sign Kotchman at a low-price because while he’s slightly below average as a hitter, he does make up for it with his D. Bring Shoppach back at a cheaper price, and trade with the Reds for Grandal, their catching prospect. I think the shortstop can be addressed with a cheap free agent on a one-year deal, possibly Betancourt. I think the team will be better next year, and we should be able to hold onto Shields a little while longer.

    • td32 says:

      If you want to hang on to Shields, how do you go about getting Grandal. Also, Butler’s contract makes it extremely unlikely he will be targeted by the Rays as he is getting $24mill over 3 yrs.

  4. CRRaysHead90 says:

    I guess I’m the minority, but, I’ll be disappointed if Damon and possibly Kotch is back for next year.

  5. Joe says:

    I keep dreaming of a 2012 rotation of Price – Shields – Hellickson – Moore – Davis

    That would, of course, mean we got the bat for Neimann and that’s not going to be a very good bat…

    I still want Davis over Cobb because call me stupid but I still see a star in Wade.

    Beckham and Chirinos might surprise the Rays in 2012 like Jennings and Cobb did.

    Joyce can play DH, Guyer to RF. 1B, I wont get off the Yonder boat wagon and that’s why I said trading Neimann wont give us the bat we want(or at least I want, the Reds would demand at least Davis if not better)

    • Phil says:

      Niemann for Yonder Alsono sounds good to me! How about including Grandal the catcher too? However you would have to add more than Niemann

      Still think Sheilds FOR Alonso, Grandel and Frazier would be a good move!

  6. Andy says:

    Thanks for this analysis! Even tho it’s focused on only 1 stat for comparison’s sake, it’s good for some team review & discussion. However, I was quite surprised to see the stats for 1B as low as they were, primarily b/c I know Kotchman ended the year hitting over .300. Looking back on the Rays stats, Kotch’s OPS for the year was .800!! The lower number above must be b/c of the others used at that position (e.g., Dan Johnson). Given that the ensuing discussion revolved around Kotchman, we should only consider his stats, especially since he played no other position. Doing so, you’ll see his OPS rates favorably!! Thus, I say we keep Kotch!!! Also, I think his defense at 1st is more valuable than the credit noted above, mostly b/c of the way he saves some of the throws from his fellow fielders. Not only does this generate more outs, it saves the pitchers from pitching more, possibly w/runner(s) in scoring position as many throws could result in the batter reaching 2nd.

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