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How Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. has been performing through injury

Souza hasn't been the game-changing player the Rays hoped he would turn out to be, but one can argue he's been a worthwhile acquisition based on how he's performed vs. the league.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we saw the Rays sweep Wil Myers' Padres. His performance in that series aside, Myers is having an excellent season at the plate, so his return to Tampa Bay undoubtedly garnered discussion among Rays fans regarding whether the Rays front office gave up on him too early.

In two injury-riddled seasons with the Rays, Myers hit .258/.324/.399. He was a productive hitter in the middle of the Rays lineup, but he never gave them the All-Star production they were expecting to get. Furthermore, there were rumors that Myers was a bit immature, which may have brought conflict into the Rays clubhouse.

But Myers (25) has taken off since being shipped to San Diego. He's emerged as the player the Rays were hoping when they traded for him in 2013 slashing .267/.343/.473 with 23 HR's, 22 steals, a .817 OPS and 120 wRC+ (20% above league-average) while moving from the outfield to first base. Myers was also named the starting DH for the National League All-Star team in this years Midsummer Classic and has played a healthy 122 out of the Padres 126 games this season.

"When I was in Tampa, I was young and dumb, " Myers told the Padres' official site this week. "I did a lot of things that weren't great, as far as just being a big-leaguer. I've really felt like I've grown as a big-leaguer, grown as a teammate. That's one thing I wish I could've given Tampa." [fox sports]

Meanwhile on the Rays, Steven Souza Jr. (27) has not produced league average numbers for the right field position, but he ranks in the middle of the pack for RF's in categories such as AVG (.240), OBP (.293), SLG (.396), and OPS (.693), while possessing a 88 wRC+ (12% below average). Among right fielders with 200 PA this season, Souza is ranks 27th out of 45.

While his average has raised 15 points from last season, his on-base percentage has dipped by 24 points with a scolding high strikeout rate of 34.8%. With that, it's important to note that his K% is the same as last season, and the OBP drop has a lot to do with Souza not walking at all. More on that in a moment.

The focal point of Souza Jr.'s problems this season have been related to staying consistent through injuries.

He slashed the ball fine in the first few months of the season hitting .270/.331/.475 with 9 HR's and 20 RBI's all the way through May. He then hit 199/.238/.306 from June-July (only 31 games) with 1 HR and 13 RBI's, but one can argue injuries had something to do with his struggles going on the 15-day DL twice (strained left hip on 6/15, right pinkie finger laceration on 7/06) during that stint.

Souza has rebounded fairly in August (22 games), batting .238 AVG with three homeruns and three doubles, working back up to the above average level he showcased through May. To gauge his progress, let's dive into some rolling averages:

wRC+ - So this is overall quality. What we see here is a player who went up and down, but was generally above average for the first half of last season, before plummeting in the second half of last season, and then recovering towards the end. In this season, he once more started out well, but then rather than jumping up and down in the above average range, he slowly got worse as the season went on, before recovering to around an average level, recently.

BB% and K% - What I see is a player who was wildly inconsistent last year, and who's big dip was powered by a huge spike in his strikeout rate (coming after a period where he didn't strike out so much). But this season, not so much. He still strikes out too much, but he's maintained that same strikeout rate for basically the entire season, with no big peaks or valleys. It's the same story we see with his walk rate, where he's been much more consistent this season, except that the decrease in production in the second half has been powered by a gradual decrease in his walk rate. What's that about? I have no idea, but it seems like we're on to something. Let's look at swing and contact rates.

Swing% and contact% - So I think this is really interesting. Once more, we have a different story this year than we have last year. Remember that big surge in his strikeout rate last season? It was caused by him failing to make contact. That makes a ton of sense. When you swing and miss at pitches, you strike out. But what about that decline in walk rate this season? It came at a time when he was swinging at fewer pitches overall. Shouldn't that mean more walks? I'd have thought so, but he's gotten fewer walks. Maybe that's because, while he's swinging less often, he's making more contact, so ending more at bats with a ball in play. That's my theory, but let's take it one step further.

Zone% and zone swing/contact - So yeah, this is real weird. Same story as before--2015 was all over the place. But he's been much more "consistent" in 2016. And this dip in his walks? It's being powered by him SWINGING AT FEWER PITCHES OUT OF THE ZONE, BUT WHEN HE DOES SWING AT THEM, PUTTING THE BALL IN PLAY. That's bizarre. And a quick look over at the same graph of his SLG confirms that when he's put the ball in play in this bad stretch, it hasn't done him any good. The SLG has been lower than at any other time, during this period.

It should be mentioned that while the main problem with Souza Jr.'s play has been inconsistency, this also would have been the case with Myers as well. This is something that many young players struggle with, and even though Souza isn't considered young for the league (27), he's still fairly new, with this being only his second full season in the big leagues.

Souza Jr. hasn't been the game-changing player the Rays hoped he would turn out to be, but one can argue he's been a worthwhile acquisition based on how he's performed vs. the league. The next step in his young career will be to become a more consistent presence in the lineup, and cutting down on his strikeout rate.

As Fangraphs reminds us:

K% provides you with a summary of how frequently a batter strikes out, but it also gives you a sense of the batter’s ability to make contact. Since strikeouts are almost always automatic outs, you know that a strikeout, unlike a ball in play, is always a negative outcome, so a batter who strikes out frequently is someone who is failing to provide value during those PA. Additionally, a large number of strikeouts is also an indication that a batter has a difficult time making contact or recognizing pitches.

The more Souza strikes out, the tougher it will be for him to maintain a high BA/OBP since he is putting fewer balls in play. Here are Souza's current numbers:

6.2% 34.8% .168 .326

Striking out less and walking more is the recipe for Souza to become an impact player. If he can improve in these aspects, he will have undoubtedly cemented himself as a worthwhile acquisition.