The 2011 Rays offense was right around league average. They finished with a wRC+ of 103 and were right in the middle of the pack in runs scored at 15th in the majors with 707 runs. The Rays cumulative team wOBA was .320, slightly above the league wOBA of .316 from last year.
JT Morgan had a fantastic post looking at the 2011 Rays offense since Desmond Jennings was brought up full-time and the Rays averaged 4.69 runs per game with him which equates to 760 runs in a season, a 50+ run increase.
On top of that, there were a slew of Rays that had "down" years last year. Sure, it is incredibly difficult to predict a down year or a breakout year but there are some great systems out there for predicting future stats. One of my favorites is from Bill James.
If the Rays were to roll the same lineup out in 2012 as they did in 2011 this is what Bill James predicts (with the 2011 stats included):
|2011 Triple-Slash||2012 Triple-Slash||2011 HR/SB||2012 HR/SB||2011 PAs||2012 PAs||2011 wOBA||2012 wOBA||wOBA Difference|
I am using wOBA because data since 2007 indicates that it is the best stat to use in correlation with team runs. Average had a 0.78 correlation, On-Base Percentage was 0.89, Sluggin Percentage was 0.92, OPS was 0.958, and wOBA was 0.961.
James predicts similar offensive production from Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce, Johnny Damon, and Sam Fuld. James also predicts significant increases in Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez, John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach, Brandon Guyer, and Elliot Johnson. And the significant decreases belong to Casey Kotchman, and to a lesser degree, Desmond Jennings.
All-in-all, James predicts positive regression for the Rays if they sent the same team out on the field as they did in 2011. Jennings' predicted drop in wOBA is only -.013 and the extended playing time over Fuld would more than make up for that drop. This leaves the Rays with one area that needs significant replacement and it is at first base.
Let's not take away from the solid season Kotchman had in 2011 where he posted a .351 wOBA but he is currently a free agent coming off of a solid offensive season and has a stellar glove. He will garner much more attention than some think, driving his value on the open market up. I do not see a return to the Rays and even if he could reproduce last year's numbers there are options out there that can put up similar, if not better offensive numbers.
Here are some first basemen that the DRB staff and community have looked at as potential suitors and their projections from Bill James:
|2012 Triple-Slash||2012 HR/SB||2011 PAs||2012 PAs||2011 wOBA||2012 wOBA||wOBA Difference|
Justin Smoak is essentially Kotchman with less average and more power and there is no clear evidence that he is available in trade. Russell Branyan is solid depth and his projected .340 wOBA would be an upgrade over the projected .320 wOBA James has for Kotchman but it won't replicate Kotchman's production from last year and there is not guarantee he will stay healthy. I still like him as depth, though.
Yonder Alonso is projected to come close to Kotchman's 2011 production but will cost a good arm plus some. Brandon Belt, like Smoak, has not been put on the market but that line would look great in the Rays lineup but what would it cost in trade? Upton and an arm? No thanks.
That leaves us with Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, and yes, Joey Votto as the most viable options to obtain and give a boost in performance from what the Rays received in 2011 and what is projected by Kotchman in 2012.
The easiest one to obtain would be Duda. There is no indication that he is fully available but the Mets have Ike Davis at first and Duda is not very good in left. He is projected to perform very similarly to his 2011 self with a .365 wOBA, which is +.045 more than Kotchman is projected to hit in 2012. Duda comes with less of a pedigree but should be easier to get than Morrison and Votto.
Morrison is in the middle of the other two. He has been said to be "off limits" but most believe that to be a ploy to up his market value. LoMo was almost the same as Kotchman according to wOBA last year but projects to be +.041 wOBA points more than 2012 Kotchman and could be obtained by the Rays. He has the track record of hitting and the chances of obtaining him are there.
Joey Votto, the best player of the bunch, provides the greatest upgrade but will cost the most in trade and in real salary. He would be the best hitter on the team and his glove is actually an improvement, believe it or not, over Kotchman. His projected wOBA is +.088 higher than Kotchman's projected and is +0.57 higher than what he posted last year. Votto will cost James Shields plus some but can you imagine the lineup (with projected wOBA and difference compared to similar position from 2011) if the Rays actually traded for him:
|Projected wOBA||Positional '11 wOBA||wOBA Difference|
The .349 wOBA also includes all Bill James projected players listed in the first table of the article, minus Kotchman, and not just the starting nine I have listed above. That number would have placed 2nd in the majors in 2011 behind only the Red Sox who had a .351 wOBA and scored a league best 875 runs. The Rangers posted a .348 wOBA and scored 855 runs.
This, of course, is assuming these players meet their 2012 projections and stay healthy. The 2011 league-average wOBA was .316 so the Rays got better than league-average from every position except shortstop and catcher and I see no reason that won't happen again.
Also, the big gap from Votto to 2011 Rays first basemen includes Dan Johnson's playing time so the +.057 wOBA over Kotchman is more realistic to assume. The projected .326 wOBA for Rodriguez at short would also go down for the positon when given time off off for Brignac and Johnson. Joyce's projected .359 feels a bit more safe with Guyer as the platoon partner.
Brandon Guyer is projected to have a .343 wOBA and if you add Russell Branyan and his projected .340 wOBA you have the makings of a scary good lineup with solid depth or they could be used to replace Damon and rotate the DH spot to keep guys fresh.
Projections are no where near a sure thing. Injuries, season long slumps, mechanical breakdowns, and so many other things get in the way. But, for a minute, imagine a lineup posting these numbers playing in Tampa Bay. The possibilities are legit. Add that to a league best defense and a starting rotation of Price-Hellickson-Moore-Niemann-Davis-Cobb and you have the making of a World Series looking team.