How does a team, playing in the AL East, manage to lead the American League in ERA? With an AL-low 3.22 ERA, the Rays’ pitching staff managed to do just that. This rotation is stacked, so let’s start with one of those starters, Jeremy Hellickson. In 2012 Jeremy won 10 games, fanned 124, had an ERA of 3.10, and a WHIP of 1.25. Not bad for a player who was probably picked in the middle to late rounds, and I think there is a lot to like for 2013. But before we throw roses, let’s deal with the possible downside of Mr. Hellickson’s 2013 season; his command ration (Cmd). A pitcher’s command ratio (I think that is redundant) is calculated by dividing his walks into his strikeouts. Ratio’s over 2.0 are considered good, and Jeremy has a career Cmd of 2.73. The command ratio can also help predict a pitcher’s future ERA. If you combine that 2.73 Cmd with his career K/9 of 6.13, you can probably look for an ERA closer to the 3.80 area. Jeremy’s xERA for 2012 was 4.28. Some of the added variance may have come from his strand rate (S%) of 82.7%, which is considered statistically unsustainable, and his HR/9 of 1.27, which is much higher than the league average of 1.00. But, even if you grant all of the above, he still pitches about half his games at Tropicana Field, and, historically, his FB% is considered neutral, at 41.9%. Given all of that, as long as Mr. Hellickson pitches for Tampa Bay in 2013, I will go with 120 K’s, an ERA of 3.64, and a WHIP of 1.22. Deep mixed league, middle to back of the rotation guy.
Next on the agenda: outfielder, Matt Joyce. Matt was my fifth outfielder in 2012, so I can write this with some confidence. (As opposed to the other stuff I write that shows how little I really know) I enjoyed Matt’s first half this past year. From April to June he batted .279, hit 11 HR, drove in 34, and scored 36 runs. He even stole 2 bags. July through September? Not so much. He batted .202, hit 6 HR, drove in 25, and scored 19 runs. He did steal 2 more bags, though. In fairness, he was bothered by a back injury and an oblique strain from June on, so that did contribute, but in five big league seasons, we have yet to get more than about two-thirds of a season from Matt. I, for one, would like to see what Mr. Joyce can do in a full season. He has some power. His career ISO is .212, and considered great; his 2012 PX of 124 (100 is league average) is the lowest of his career, and with a CT% of 78.5 and a BB% of 11.4%, you could easily see a BA of .270+. Everything depends on playing time, though. With the possible departure of B.J. Upton, a healthy Joyce may see more PT, but, any progress for Matt depends on that occurrence.
Let’s finish this article with a look ahead at what Ben Zobrist might bring his owners in the 2013 season. Did you give up on Zobrist because of his slow start in 2012? If you did, you got all of the bad stats on your team, and another owner got all of the good stats. Even with a slow start (.208 BA in 106 AB), Ben finished the 2012 season with a .270 BA, 88 runs, 20 homers, 74 RBI, and 14 steals. That is nice production from 2B. That makes three of his last four seasons exceptional, and even in his down year (2010) he gave owners nice production in three out of five categories. What does 2013 hold for Mr. Zobrist? Let’s take a look. Ben’s all around production comes from a balanced combination of speed, power, and plate discipline. His Spd 12 2012 was slightly above league average at 102. This, combined with Tampa Bay’s propensity to run (their 134 SB led the AL), gave Ben’s owners those 14 bags, and, even though Ben will turn 32 in May, should give double digit steals next season, as well. Power? With a PX at an above-league-average 128, and a HR/FB% of 13% (also slightly above league average) Ben’s owners enjoyed each of his 20 HR’s, from a position that does not normally yield that many of those. His PX may be trending south, though. In 2009 it stood at 146, in 2011 it was 138, and last year it came in at the aforementioned 128. As Ben moves through his thirties owners should expect his power, along with his speed, to decline. That said, I think 17 home runs is a reasonable expectation from Mr. Zobrist. Batting average? There is a lot to like here. Ben walked an incredible 14.5% of the time last year. If you combine that with his contact rate of 84.6%, he had a batting eye of 0.94. That is very good and should allow him to repeat his .270 BA in 2013. Overall, even in his early thirties, Zobrist offers his owners elite production from a difficult position.
I am sure there were probably lots of marketing studies and focus groups that showed a name change would be beneficial, but I miss the name Devil Rays.