Tampa Bay Rays: First Half Review
The first half of the Rays’ 2012 season was a tale of injuries. The Rays were simply a team that could not catch a break, battling through injury after injury to keep themselves afloat in the tough AL East division.
"Disappointment" could be a word used to describe the first half of the year, but considering all the adversity and misfortune surrounding them, the Rays’ could have been in a much worse position than they are now at the All-Star break. Fourteen players have spent time on the disabled list this season, including seven out of the nine hitters in the starting lineup (and Jeff Keppinger), two starting pitchers and their 2011 closer (Kyle Farnsworth).
The Rays got off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season, but then quickly faded in the second quarter as their numerous injuries started to catch up with them. The were hit with a huge blow when team leader Evan Longoria went down with a hamstring injury, and have obviously not been the same team offensively or defensively ever since. Then Matt Joyce—the team’s second-biggest run producer—hit the DL nearly three weeks before the All-Star break, weakening the offense to an even worse situation.
At the end of the day, the Rays aren’t exactly too thrilled with where they’re at in the standings at the midseason point, but they have to be pretty satisfied with their position considering the fact that they currently stand only a half-game out of a playoff spot.
There’s still plenty of regular season ahead of us, and if anybody can make a second-half turnaround, it’s the Rays.
Let’s take a look at some surprises, disappointments, numbers and team awards from the first half.
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Fernando Rodney has not only been the Rays’ most pleasant surprise of the 2012 season, but he has probably been the most pleasant surprise in all of baseball.
Rodney has arguably been MLB’s best closer and reliever after the first half of the season. He’s 25 out of 26 in save opportunities and has posted a sparkling 0.93 ERA, earning him his first ever All-Star selection.
Absolutely nobody would have guessed that the 35-year-old reliever—who was way past him prime entering the season—would have such an incredible year and become one of the team’s most valuable players, let alone the closer.
Coming into spring training Rodney made it clear that he would fight for the closer role, and many simply laughed at his optimism.
I think it’s well-known now that Fernando has gotten the last laugh.
Elliot Johnson has quietly been a somewhat productive hitter for the Rays this year. Johnson had very low expectations coming into the season, which he has definitely exceeded thus far.
He has posted a line of .275/.339/.386 with 22 RBI, a .328 wOBA and a 1.1 WAR. The stats don’t seem so great at first glance, but all the numbers listed are actually above the league average at the shortstop position. He has the third highest batting average on the team, and is fourth in wOBA and wRC+. As sad or funny as it is (depending on how you look at it), Johnson has been one of the Rays’ most consistent offensive players night after night.
Defensively, however, Johnson has struggled. He owns a .960 fielding percentage at short with a -4.5 UZR and a -1 DRS.
Jeff Keppinger has been an excellent contact hitter for the Rays this season, and is the only Ray to hit over .300 so far (excluding Evan Longoria). His impressive .310/.362/.411 line and .339 wOBA is a surprise to most.
Keppinger hasn’t exactly been the team’s most productive player, but he is probably the most consistent base-hitter on the team.
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Jose Molina's stats pretty much tell the whole story for his disappointing 2012 season: a .190/.255/.321 line with four home runs and just 13 RBI. The Rays obviously signed him for his defense, but they never would have thought that he would create such a huge hole in the lineup like he has.
Defensively, Molina has done a pretty good job doing what he does best, throwing out baserunners. However, he hasn’t done well blocking balls, as he’s allowed three passed balls while rookie Jose Lobaton hasn’t committed a single one.
Luke Scott has not given the Rays the production they expected when they signed him to a two-year deal worth $11 million last winter. He’s posted a very weak .205/.260/.409 line with 11 HR and somehow 42 RBI so far as the Rays’ DH this season.
His .205 ISO and RBI total of 42 suggest that he’s still hitting for power, but the 34-year-old slugger simply is not getting on base or hitting the ball enough. Scott’s 0-41 stretch that he had early this month pretty much sums up his first-half frustration.
Desmond Jennings has a pretty heavy burden being the Rays’ leadoff hitter ever since Opening Day, and has not exactly put up the adequate offensive numbers to be effective in that No. 1 spot in the lineup.
He’s posted a low .298 OBP with a poor .231 batting average. He’s also walked only 8.0 percent while putting up a high strikeout percentage of 21.3. Being the team’s biggest baserunning threat, getting Jennings on base is crucial for the Rays’ overall offensive success.
As long as Jennings continues to put up on-base percentages at .300 or under, the Rays are probably not going to be scoring too many runs.
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1. Ben Zobrist
Ben Zobrist has not been the Rays’ best player by any means, but he has been the most valuable. He hit just .249 with 11 homers and 37 RBI, but he did post an impressive .371 OBP and .353 wOBA. Besides getting on base well, a big reason for his high value is his ability to stay off the sidelines.
Out of the entire starting lineup, only he and Carlos Pena avoided the DL. With a team with as many injury issues as the Rays, just being on the field game after game is crucial for the club.
2. Fernando Rodney
I mentioned it earlier in the article; Fernando Rodney is likely baseball’s most dominant closer right now. I was very close to putting him atop the team MVP list over Zobrist, but Zorilla’s higher WAR gave him the edge.
To know that your chances of winning the game are extremely high every time you enter the final inning with the lead is really a special thing. The Rays have had that privilege in 2012 thanks to Rodney, who is really the reason the Rays have not completely fallen out of the AL East race right now.
3. David Price
As expected, David Price has lead the Rays’ talented rotation this year. The All-Star southpaw has had a great first half of the season, posting a 11-4 record with a 2.82 ERA and 105 strikeouts through 111.2 innings pitched. The numbers say it all for Price, who has lived up to all the expectations thus far in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Matt Joyce (.279/.387/.512, 11 HR, 34 RBI)
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Team average: .232 (28th in MLB)
Team on-base percentage: .314 (22nd in MLB)
Team wOBA: .305 (22nd in MLB)
Team runs per game: 4.22 (16th in MLB)
Team errors total: 71 (2nd highest in MLB)
Team ERA: 3.73 (10th in MLB)
Number of players that have landed on the DL: 14