I decided to run positional averages using GPA between the AL average and the Rays average, meaning at shortstop I'm including Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, and even Evan Longoria's one game there. Same for the other positions, essentially we're just trying to see what needs help, is it right field like people have been suggesting, or is it the designated hitter position? First base perhaps?
Let's start with the GPA analysis, the formula is ((OBP*1.8)+SLG)/4. Here's the numbers:
For those who prefer graph form:
And for those who prefer rant form:
We see that there's no problem at catcher, first base, second base, third base, center field, and that's about it. Shortstop can be excused due to Bartlett's defense, but the corner outfield spots are disappointingly below average and most importantly the designated hitter slot is way beyond unacceptable. Naturally around this time of the year the idea of upgrading through a trade is desirable and often overrated to the point that most fans consider it a necessity to prove that the team really is a contender by acquiring some player who is more likely to tend to the psychology of the fans (and perhaps players) than make the difference.
The Rays are faced with a similar predicament between right field and the designated hitter. I'm throwing out left field because there's no reason to replace Carl Crawford or seemingly sell low. If Crawford's nightmare season continues -- the difference between Carl's expected BABIP (.320) and his real BABIP (.293) gives me hope it won't, or at least not to this point -- the Rays will at least have an above average fielding left fielder.
Back to the point: the Rays situation calls for upgrading one of the following: right field or designated hitter. That's it, the rest of the positions are fine. Here's what the team must decide; is the promise of progression worthy enough to defer on risks through the trade market? Cliff Floyd, Willy Aybar, and Jonny Gomes have been the mainstays at designated hitter lately, so what are we to expect from them going forward?
Gomes has been covered before. From last year Gomes walk rate has increased, his strikeout rate has plunged, but his line drive percent is sub-10%, which makes Gomes ability to maintain a good on-base percentage without an astronomical walk rate nearly impossible. Gomes IsoD (Isolated Discipline, or OBP-BA) is at a career high .224, reassuring the thought process that Gomes is walking enough, but simply not getting enough hits.
Floyd was brought in for his bat and not much else (read: marginal veteran presence upgrade), and despite the on-base percentage drop which would lead to the assumption he's not walking enough, Floyd is actually equal to his walk rate last season. Unfortunately Floyd's strikeout rate has increased, but there is a glimmer of hope. Floyd's LD% is a sturdy 17%, sturdy because that's seemingly his career norm, and yet his BABIP is only .268. If his IsoD would drop at least some of the extra weight, and Floyd's slugging got a few more hits added to it along with a few more times on base it's possibly he could come near his .795 OPS last season.
Finally we reach Aybar, everyone's new favorite goat, including Lady Luck. Aybar's 18.8 LD% should be met with a BABIP near .310, instead Aybar's BABIP is a pitiful .231. Granted Aybar does hit a ton of fly balls, and his numbers against right-handed pitchers are awful (only a .200 BABIP against righties) but this is not the real Willy Aybar we're seeing in the midst of some asinine streak of putrid hitting.
PrOPS, a statistic created by J.C. Bradbury, is used to predict future OPS using batted ball data. It's helpful in determining which hitters have been unlucky and which have been lucky, basically it's not the next step from LD% to BABIP, but the step after the next step. PrOPS confirms what we just established: each of our DHs are due for some improved results. Aybar's PrOPS is .789, Gomes' is .822, and Floyd's is .853. Yet when these progressions happen become the most important factor, it's possible, but heavily unlikely, that none of them progress until next season.
Assuming the Rays were to stand pat and faith decided to spit in the Rays face by having all three remain in urgent need of progression Andrew Friedman would face criticism as a general manager who doesn't strike when the opportunity is there. Which would be ironic, considering that's exactly how he's built this team. It's just as possible that Friedman could sit on his hands and watch the mean take its course.
There are a few other sides to the idea of acquiring a player solely for right fielding and designated hitting. Free talent that can DH is almost always available, look at Nelson Cruz in the Texas Rangers' farm system, he very well could be the next Jack Cust. Plucking Cruz could either be a disaster or a stroke of brilliance depending on how Cruz performed in the final 50+ games. The same could be said if two-thirds or all of the current DH stable progress, stories would be written about how Joe Maddon's fiery speech awoke them or how Floyd's veteran presence brought them to the point of stepping up.
No matter what the Rays decide to do over the next three days questions will fly at season's end, let's just hope one of them is asking where the parade is being held.