2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Tampa Bay (Devil?) Rays

After a decade of living in the cellar of the AL East (yeah, there was that one year where they managed to get into fourth place), the baseball franchise located in Tampa Bay (the body of water?) is undergoing an exorcism.  Next year, the team will be known just as the Tampa Bay Rays. Like a Billy Graham revival, the team has kicked the devil out.  To celebrate the new team name, the Devil Rays have put together a new logo, which is an apostrophe away from being a licensed to a chintsy chain restaurant.  Sadly, the Devil Rays might look better if they just took their old uniforms and crossed out the word “devil” in red magic marker.
Apparently, (and I’m not making this up), one of the other possibilities was the Tampa Bay Tarpons.  (It’s a fish.)  I rather liked “Tampa Bay Devil Rays.”  It had that nice “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” ring to it.  And oh yeah, the team actually played a couple games last year.  Here then is the fourth part of a thirty-part series reviewing the year that was the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays season.
Record: 66-96, 5th in the AL East.  Again.  They were also the first team to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in 2007.
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 66.13 wins (782 runs scored, 944 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Ummm… where did our Devil Rays blog go?  Seriously.
Other Rays Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: In seventh grade, my teacher gave us an assignment around Thanksgiving time called the turkey budget.  Our goal was to scan the newspapers and to cut out advertisements for Thanksgiving fixin’s and to calculate how much it would take to buy all the supplies for a Thanksgiving dinner.  The person who made the dinner the cheapest won some sort of prize.  Apparently, the prize was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  The Devil Rays had an Opening Day payroll of less than $25 million.  It must be awful being a fan in Tampa.  You cheer for a consistent loser that has no history behind it.  There aren’t any great stories of Tampa Bay Hall of Famers.  (Alright, Wade Boggs did get his 3,000th hit in a teal uniform.)  And this past year must have been a little more maddening than the others.  There are some legitimately really good players in Tampa Bay.  It’s just that there aren’t many legitimately average to above average players behind them.
What went right: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  There should be a few Devil Rays on everyone’s MVP ballot.  Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and B.J. Upton all had very good years.  Pena in particular deserves a little extra recognition.  He hit 46 HR, although he did it by having almost 30% of his flyballs leave the yard, although in 2004 and 2005 (his last at-least-partial years in MLB), he had rates of 18.2 and 24.7% in that category.  He’s probably not a 50 HR guy, but 35-40 doesn’t seem all that far off.  Still, he was top 10 in OBP and second (to A-Rod) in SLG this year, which suggests that this guy didn’t deserve to be a cast off from the Yankees farm system last year.  Think they wouldn’t have liked Pena to play first?
Tampa Bay also gave 142 starts to pitchers who were under the age of 26.  Scott Kazmir and James Shields won 25 games between them on a team that only won 41 games otherwise.  Both were in the Top 30 of all pitchers in baseball according to VORP.  Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s next-best starter, Andrew Sonnastine was just an inch above replacement level.  You can only imagine where it went from there.
What went wrong: This isn’t a Sabermetric critique, but the biggest problem in TB was that Elijah Dukes was a one-man soap opera unto himself.  For his sake, I hope he gets himself turned around.  From a more numerical point of view, Dukes hit .190, although to his credit, he did have a .318 OBP (which admittedly isn’t anywhere near good) due to the fact that he had almost as many walks (33) as hits (35).  He hit 10 HR in 227 PA but struck out 44 times.  Lots of raw talent, but as off-the-field issues would suggest, no discernable discipline for use in putting it all together.
Akinori Iwamura fit in nicely with the rest of his teammates.  He hit .285/.359/.411.  He was… umm… average.  Now, will someone tell me why a team who is apparently allergic to spending money, and whose top prospect, Eva Longoria (yeah, I know), who just happens to be a third baseman, would pay $4.5 million just for the right to negotiate with a mediocre third baseman?  It’s not like it was a big secret last winter that he wasn’t all that great.  We’ll have to see how the move to second suits him.
The Devil Ray who started the most games as the designated hitter?  Greg Norton (46 games).  That’s hilarious.
Yeah, that about sums it up: And now, a list of all the Devil Rays who, by virtue of their hitting, contributed positively overall to their team’s chances of winning.  Pena.  Crawford.  Upton.  Jorge Velandia and Joel Guzman (both utility players who didn’t get 100 AB between them).  Pitchers Jason Hammel, Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Andrew Sonnastine, and J.P. Howell, who went a combined 7-for-16 with a double and 4 RBI.  That’s the entire list.
Will someone please explain Wiggington-for-Wheeler?: So at the trading deadline, the Devil Rays knew that they weren’t going to contend this year, but that they had Ty Wiggington.  Wiggington was benefitting from a thin trade market around the trading deadline, which made him look better than he really was.  He had hit 16 HR and was rocking a .787 OPS when he was traded, and there was talk that he would go for a decent prospect.  Instead, he brought back Dan Wheeler, a good reliever to be sure (why Wheeler himself wasn’t traded for a decent prospect is another question), but one in the last year of his contract.  This is an organization that is starving in its minor league system… maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
Al Reyes, poster boy for why saves are over-rated: During the season, the press occasionally did a story on the D-Rays and mentioned the great story of Al Reyes.  Reyes, at the ripe old age of 36, had suddenly become an amazing relief pitcher!  Reyes, who always has struck batters out, as well as walked to many and given up too many HR (almost 2 per nine innings!), did it again this year.  But he had the good sense to do it in the ninth inning.  He went 26-for-30 in save situations, for a protection rate of 86.7%, which is pretty good, around the lead protection rate of the average eighth inning pitcher.  Reyes got the honor of being the closer by being the best reliever in a downright scary bullpen.  But please, he had a good year and got a little lucky with a .263 BABIP.  He probably benefitted from a very fast Devil Rays outfield that turned the 60% of his balls in play that became fly balls into outs.  He’s not an elite reliever. 
Outlook: OK, I get why the Rays are floating the idea that they might trade Carl Crawford to a host of interested teams, or Kazmir back to the Mets.  This is a team that has few good players and the hope is that they get 3 good young players in return for the one they give up, and slowly over time with some multiplication, they might actually be able to string together a good enough team.  Instead, I wonder if the Devil Rays aren’t the new Expos.  They’re not really wanted in their hometown.  They have a ridiculously low payroll and no sign that it’s going up.  They might as well be mentioned as candidates for a contraction.  The farm system is pretty barren and they play in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees, who might not be the most efficient spenders, but they sure do put the product on the field.  Would that you were a free agent, would you want to sign on with the Devil Rays?  Would you want to be drafted by them?  In another 10 years, the Devil Rays haven’t risen above 4th place… before you even finish that sentence, isn’t it a little creepy that it seems entirely possible that it could happen.
For 2008, you’ve got a bunch of young kids again.  It’s not a matter of one of them developing into a superstar.  There’s not enough substance here to put together a decent team.  When a good chunk of your players function at or near replacement level, you’re not going to have a good season.  The Rays aren’t in on any of the difference maker free agents, and even in a best case scenario, maybe the team can find an extra 4-6 wins somewhere and sneak into fourth again.

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3 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Tampa Bay (Devil?) Rays

  1. dan says:

    In the beginning, you wrote “other Rangers resources” not Rays.
    In defense of their farm system that you don’t seem too fond of…
    They do have McGee, Wade Davis, Jeff Neimann, and David Price coming through there very soon. Let’s say that in two years Price emerges to be a decent pitcher, a third starter (he could be more, but I’d be willing to put money on him being at least decent). Then the only real problem is the 4th and 5th starter, a problem that almost every team has. The Bullpen is absolutely atrocious, but signing a few cheap middle relievers can potentially solve that problem. All of their young hitting talent is in the majors right now (except for Longoria, really), and will probably get better.
    The offense last year was a hair below league average, so if some of their young pitching emerges and becomes near league average, the Rays could be pretty decent in the future.

  2. Pizza Cutter says:

    A few years down the road, I could see the Rays becoming decent, assuming a few things break their way. Maybe if the Jays (oh dear, we’ll now have Jays/Rays matchups!) and/or the Orioles slip into a funk, the Rays could pop their heads up to third in the AL East.

  3. RollingWave says:

    The Rays actually have a pretty good farm system going. though yeah, they strangely have more trouble putting up “above average guys” out there than stars. strange.
    They need to open the check book eventrually, if I were them i’d actually start doing so next season where there will actually be a good crop of FAs . even the Marlins once had 60M payroll (and it also happened to be their best attendence year in the last decade BUT IT’S OBVIOUSLY PURELY COINCIDENCE!!!!)
    Hell, if Miguel Cabrera makes it to the FA after 09, they should go for it

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