Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisMLBTampa Bay Rays

How The Rays Went From The World Series To Massively Underrated

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The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2020 regular season with a 40-20 record en route to winning the AL East. Additionally, they had the best record in the AL by 4 games and had the second-best record in the Major Leagues. The success continued into the postseason, as the Rays made it to the World Series before falling to the Dodgers in 6 games.

Yet, most projections for 2021 have the Rays not only failing to repeat as division winners but failing to make the playoffs entirely. In all reality, the 2021 Rays seem like they could be just as good, if not better, than the 2020 team. To understand the reasoning behind this argument, we will look back onto the 2020 Rays, see what changes the team made in the offseason, and then look forward to the 2021 team.

2020 Recap

In order to post the second-best record in the Major Leagues, a team has to be successful on both sides of the ball. The 2020 Rays did just that, ranking 8th in both wRC+ and WAR from position players while also ranking 3rd in ERA and 8th in WAR from pitchers.

Hitters

Diving deeper into the Rays’ offensive success, we can see that it wasn’t entirely a fluke. They ranked 11th in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), the so-called “luck statistic,” with their .300 mark very close to the .292 league average. They also ranked 4th in walk rate. As a whole, nine Rays hitters recorded at least 75 PA while posting a wRC+ of 100 or better.

Though they had their flaws, most notably a 26.9% strikeout rate that was better than just one team, they at the very least showed they could hold their own with the bat, particularly given their strong pitching staff.

On an individual level, a few hitters, in particular, stood out as vital to the Rays’ success. Three hitters posted a wRC+ of at least 150 in at least 75 PA: Randy Arozarena, Mike Brosseau, and Brandon Lowe.

The Arozarena story has already told itself, as he’s quickly become one of the most hyped hitters in the game after that regular-season success carried over into the postseason. While some regression is likely, there’s plenty of room for Arozarena to regress and still be a well above-average contributor.

Lowe also got a lot of buzz for his tremendous season that saw him slash .269/.362/.554. Brosseau is the least talked about of the three, but he posted a .302/.378/.558 slash in 98 PA and seems ticketed for a more significant role in 2021.

Yandy Diaz is another solid offensive contributor that often slips under the radar. He’s struggled to display his above-average raw power as he hits too many ground balls, but posted a .307 batting average and .428 OBP in 2020, and should always be a good bet to get on base regularly. Willy Adames is also one of the more underrated shortstops in the game, having posted a 124 wRC+ to go with plus defense in 2020. Adames in particular performs better on the road, as he’s been vocal about not being able to see the ball well at Tropicana Field.

Even given all that offensive success, more help could be on the way for the 2021 Rays. Star outfielder Austin Meadows provided below-average contributions in 2020 after returning from a bout with COVID. He’s primed to return to being an above-average player in 2021. Additionally, prospects Vidal Brujan and Wander Franco are both approaching the Majors and could contribute this year. Any significant contribution from either prospect could allow the Rays to flip Adames to fill another need, as both are primarily shortstops.

Pitchers

The Rays have built up a reputation for being very good at developing pitchers. That success certainly carried over into 2020. As previously mentioned, they ranked 3rd in ERA in 2020. That success was backed up by FIP and SIERA, with the Rays ranking 7th and 5th, respectively.

On an individual level, five pitchers made at least five starts for the Rays in 2020: Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Josh Fleming. Of those five, only Morton posted an ERA over 4.10, and each performed well in xERA, FIP, and xFIP as well.

The bullpen was quite strong as well, anchored by standouts Pete Fairbanks, Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, and John Curtiss. The bullpen as a whole ranked 3rd in ERA, 4th in FIP, and 8th in SIERA.

Offseason Moves

The biggest move of the Rays’ offseason was undoubtedly the trade of Blake Snell to the Padres. In the trade, the Rays acquired two players who will likely make an impact in 2020 in pitcher Luis Patiño and catcher Francisco Mejía. Mejía in particular could prove to be an important move for the Rays, as catcher was arguably their biggest weakness in 2020 and Mejía is a solid post-hype sleeper. As a whole, Rays catchers posted -0.4 fWAR in 2020, the third worst of all teams. Additionally, Patiño could make a significant impact from either the rotation or the bullpen by the end of 2020.

Morton was the only other truly notable loss for the Rays this offseason, as he left to sign with the Atlanta Braves. The Rays wasted no time filling those rotation spots, adding Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and Chris Archer to fill the void. Though none of the trios are what they once were, given the Rays’ knack for pitching, it would not come as a surprise to see one or more of those pitchers have significant success.

The rest of the Rays’ offensive moves essentially revolved around churning relievers. Most notably, they traded away Curtiss, Aaron Slegers, and José Alvarado, while adding Jeffrey Springs and Collin McHugh. Again, it seems reasonable to trust the Rays’ instinct regarding relief pitchers, as they’ve had plenty of success with this in recent years.

2021 Outlook

The long story short is outside of the loss of Snell, the Rays haven’t done much to make their team worse over the offseason. Perhaps some of the other upgrades (such as Mejía) will help offset this lost value, but even if it doesn’t, it’s incredibly hard to see this team falling from the second-best team in baseball to a point where they miss the playoffs in 2021. Even given improvements from other teams in the division, a Wild Card berth seems well within reach at the very least. There’s plenty of reason to believe the Rays will make the most of that opportunity and prove the doubters wrong, making the postseason once again in 2021.

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48