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Rays Discussion: Friday Open Forum

The Rays have played 62 games this year and have a record of 33-29 and are 2.5 games out of first place.  They are more than half way through with their 11 game, 4 city road trip and are 4-3 through the first 7 games and will enjoy an off day in Baltimore before taking on the Orioles for 3 games and finishing up with a make up game in Detroit. The Rays have been able to keep pace with the rest of the AL East despite dismal performances at shortstop and catcher in addition to shaky performances by the back end of the starting rotation. I've given my thoughts on the aforementioned topics but I'd like to open the floor up to the DRB community to discuss whatever it is that you feel is in need of improvement, give kudos to those that have performed above expectations, what player(s) you'd most like to see brought up from Durham, what moves you'd most like the Rays to make, and your opinion on any aspect of the Rays organization including the draft. 

What Has Happened: Reid Brignac and the Shortstop Position

Reid Brignac hit a respectable .256/..307/.385 in 326 PA in 2010 while starting 37 games at shortstop and 38 games at 2b. In December the Rays dealt starting shortstop Jason Bartlett to the San Diego Padres and handed the everyday shortstop job to Brignac. To say that he has failed miserably in his attempt at being the everyday shortstop would be an understatement, he has the 6th lowest batting average (.184), the lowest OBP (.215),  the lowest SLG% (.216),  the lowest OPS (.431), and the fewest extra-base hits (2) of any player with more than 125 PA in the  major leagues. Solutions on how the Rays handle Brignac have ranged from sending him down to Durham to work on his swing, giving Sean Rodriguez the bulk of the at-bats even against right handed pitching, and platooning Brignac at shortstop with Sean Rodriguez or Elliot Johnson. If sending Brignac to Durham was an option the idea died when Elliot Johnson was placed on the disable list on May 25th. Rodriguez was given more playing time against right handed pitchers after injuries to E.Johnson, Casey Kotchman, and Evan Longoria but was unable to take advantage hitting .136 (3 for 22) versus right handed pitching and .171/216/.257 overall. Brignac gave us hope that he is coming out of his early season slum and had his best game of the season on Wednesday night in Anaheim, hitting his first home run of the season, started a nice double play, stabbing a line drive in the hole, and put the Rays ahead 4-3 with a 10th inning squeeze bunt.

What To Do: Shortstop

Until Elliot Johnson is activated, the Rays will be forced to continue to give Brignac the majority of starts in hope that he can find his swing at the major league level while continuing to provide solid defense. If Brignac's struggles continue, will the Rays send him to Durham when Elliot Johnson is activated, look for help from outside the organization, or accept the anemic offense in exchange for the superb defense?

More after the jump:

What Has Happened: The Starting Rotation #4 & #5

The Rays starting rotation was supposed to be the one component that would carry the Rays deep into the season. David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson have been superb but Wade Davis has been a major disappointment (4-5, 5.12 FIP), Jeff NIemann was very bad (1-4, 4.88 FIP) prior to landing on the disabled list on May 6th, and Andy Sonnanstine was ineffective in his 4 starts (0-2, 7.70 FIP). This brings us to Alex Cobb who has made 3 starts (1-0, 3.94 FIP). 

What to Do: Starting Rotation

Wade Davis is most likely secure in his spot in the starting rotation, but he needs to stop the bleeding and have a few good starts.  In his last 7 starts he has a record of 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA, walking 20 while only striking out 19. 

Jeff Niemann, barring any setbacks, is set to return to the Rays on June 18th. He struggled during his most recent rehab start in Durham on Wednesday night by allowing 4 runs on 7 hits in 4 innings. Returning Niemann to the rotation shouldn't be a foregone conclusion as he struggled after returning from the disable list in August of 2010 and has struggled through his first 6 starts this season.

Alex Cobb probably has two more starts to make a case to fill one of the final two slots in the starting rotation. Cobb was ineffective in his first start in part because he was tipping his pitches and partly because of the nerves that come with making a major league debut. He has made two starts since his return from Durham and has a record of 1-0 with an ERA of 2.84.  

So, who should fill the role as the 5th starter for the Rays? Should the Rays move Jeff Niemann to the bullpen? How confident are you that Wade Davis can turn his fortunes around?  How optimistic are you that Alex Cobb is ready and can successfully take the ball every 5 days at the big league level?

What Has Happened: Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso & the Catching Positon

The hope was that John Jaso could build off of his 2010 rookie campaign where he put up a slash line of .263/.372/.378 and drew 59 walks in 409 plate appearances while striking out only 39 times. Jaso has got off to a slow start this season putting up a slash line of .234/.301/.363 and has drawn 12 walks in 136 PA while striking out 18 times.

The Rays had also hoped that a healthy and in-shape Kelly Shoppach could give them a boost against left-handed pitching as he put up a slash line of .261/.375/.455 in 2010. The boost has not materialized and Shoppach has struggled against both right handed and left handed pitching. For players with at least 99 plate appearances, Shoppach has the second lowest batting average (.159), the 4th lowest SLG% (.239), and the 6th lowest OPS (481). 

What To Do: Catcher

Steve Slowinski covered this topic today (here) and the tone of the comments was to release Kelly Shoppach and bring up one of the catchers from Durham (Lobaton or Chirinos)  DRB member bobr formulated his thoughts on whether or not to release Shoppach and I will borrow his comment for those who missed it:

Here are my questions.

For his career, Shoppach has hit .277/.373/.534 vs. lefties in 414 PAs.

Last year, in 104 PAs, he hit .261/.375/.455 vs. lefties.

From 2006-2009, over 254 PAs, his OPS was never below .949 and twice was over 1.000 vs. lefties.

This year, in 52 PAs his line vs. lefties is .217/.308/.304.

Are any of these stats relevant to the decision about his role on the Rays? Which is/are the most important in making that decision?

I am among those frustrated by Shoppach and ready to try Lobaton or even Chirinos. But I hesitate just a bit, wondering if 52 PAs this season are sufficient to indicate he is no longer useful against lefties. Perhaps. Last year was his poorest performance vs. them. He is now 31 and is not svelte. He certainly does not look as if he can hit anybody. 414 PAs does not make for conclusive evidence either. Still, 7/8 of his history suggests he is very good vs. lefties and only the last 1/8 suggests he is terrible.

Does Kelly Shoppach have value simply as James Shields caddy?  Do you have faith that Shoppach can find his swing versus left-handed pitching? At what point does Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman say enough and decide that its time to move on?