Christopher Reina. 13th March, 2008 - 8:33 pm
The Devil Rays lost 96 games in 2007, but a 20-win improvement is certainly plausible, and an above .500 season seems inevitable.
2007 Record: 66-96
2007 Pythagorean Record: 67-95
Team FIC Batting: 5.92 per game (26th overall)
Team FIC Pitching: 8.03 per game (30th overall)
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What Happened Last Season
At the plate: Carlos Pena became the AL?s Comeback Player of the Year with his 1.038 OPS and 46 homers. He was the 18th most productive player in the MLB according to my FIC and had a Reina Value of +1,650%.
An awesome first pitch hitter (1.415 OPS), B.J. Upton delivered on his bright promise of once being a 2nd overall pick by delivering a .300/.386/.508 season which included 24 homers and 22 stolen bases. It also included 154 strikeouts which was easily the most of any hitter that batted .300 or higher.
Carl Crawford had another Carl Crawford season by posting a .315/.355/.466 season, the third straight year he has eclipsed the .300/.330/.465 plateau. He also stole 50 bases and he has 268 since 2003, which puts him second behind Juan Pierre.
Delmon Young became the ROY runner-up, playing in all 162 games while putting up a .288/.316/.408 line and making himself valuable enough for Tampa Bay to deal him.
On the mound: Like the Brewers, the Devil Rays? pitching was done very few favors by their defense. Despite leading the AL in strikeouts (1,194), they were dead last in yielded runs (944).
Scott Kazmir and James Shields combined for 423 strikeouts, more than any other tandem in the MLB.
Kazmir has a 3.52 ERA since 2005 and had a 3.48 season in 2007. He also has the highest K/9 rate (9.65) over the same span. His record was just 13-9, largely because of the fact that his offense gave him one run or less on 10 separate occasions. He was the 15th most productive pitcher in the MLB according to my FIC despite his average record.
Sheilds? propensity to give up the homerun takes some steam out of his brilliant K/BB rate of 5.11, which ranked him second only to C.C. Sabathia.
Edwin Jackson struck out 128 batters, but he had an atrocious 5.76 ERA as he continues to have difficulty with his command. The Rays stuck with him despite his poor first half, and he responded by having a 4.48 ERA second half, including a 2.45 August.
Andy Sonnanstine had a 5.85 ERA, but he makes batters put the ball in play as evidenced by his 3.73 K/BB ratio in 2007 and should see a boost in 2008.
Al Reyes was their closer, saving 26 games with a 4.90 ERA.
The bullpen, overall, was an area of weakness, as their ERA was 6.16 compared to 5.20 for their starters. Compared to division rivals like Boston (3.10), Toronto (3.46) and New York (4.37), it shows how wide the gap is between pens.
What Happened In The Offseason
The Rays flirted with dealing Crawford but wisely kept him (+44% Reina Value in 2007) and instead traded Young to the Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.
In a move strictly to improve the clubhouse culture, which it seems to have done already, they gave away Elijah Dukes to the Nationals for minor-league pitcher Glenn Gibson.
They also signed Troy Percival to shore up their bullpen and Cliff Floyd to give them a veteran bat.
Barry Bonds has been mentioned as a possibility and is not something that should be dismissed offhand since he had an 1.045 OPS in 2007 and is more of a distraction for opposing pitchers than he is for teammates.
What Could Happen This Season
At the plate: Upton emerges as a fringe MVP candidate by finishing the season with a .320/.400/.550 line and an impact glove in center due to his impressive arm.
Pena follows up his breakout 2007 by hitting 40 homers and a .950 or better OPS.
Crawford, who is still only 26, adds some more pop to his game and slugs .500.
They sign Bonds in July as they find themselves in serious contention.
On the mound: Kazmir sees increased run support and gets enough wins to get Cy Young looks.
Shields gives up eight fewer homeruns and wins four more games.
Garza improves his 2-10/5.70 ERA line in domes and learns to love Tropicana Field.
What Should Happen This Season
The Rays will be one of the most exciting teams to watch and are a lock in my eyes to win more games than Vegas predicts (saw them in February at 72 and now already up to 76).
One thing that is for certain is that they will dollar-for-dollar be the best team in the MLB, but they unfortunately will fall into the role now so familiar to the Blue Jays of fading into a spoiler in August and September as they are a horse or two away from being able to compete with Boston and New York.
Five biggest questions
1. Can a team that lost 96 games one year, be a serious contender the next, let alone in the AL East?
2. Will the Rays give up 150-200 fewer runs in 2008?
3. Is Rocco Baldelli?s career over?
4. Will Kazmir, Shields, and Garza combine for 55 wins?
5. Is there anyway the Rays can have a do-over and get into the NL instead of Milwaukee?
More 2008 Season Previews
- Miwaukee Brewers
- Seattle Mariners
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- San Francisco Giants
- Cleveland Indians
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Detroit Tigers
- San Francisco Giants
- Christopher Reina is the executive editor of RealGM and the creator of the Reina Value.