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Rays Likely To Take A Step Back Against LHP

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The Rays offense spent the better part of two seasons smashing left handing pitching. That’s likely to change.

Chicago White Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Rays have potentially added two left handed bats to the outfield rotation with the announcement of an agreement on a one year deal with Colby Rasmus pending physical and the acquisition of Mallex Smith. This gives the Rays four left handed bats that will see time in the outfield.

The Rays offense the last couple of years has been one of the best in the league against left handed pitching. In 2015 they hit .260/.324/.435 and a 110 that was fourth best in the majors. In the first half of 2016 they improved to a .272/.344/.461 and a 120 wRC+ that was good for second in the majors.

Then the Rays traded Brandon Guyer and Steve Pearce at the trade deadline and their offensive strength became a weakness. In the second half the Rays posted a .234/.294/.371 and a 81 wRC+ that was sixth lowest in the league.

Right Handed Bats

The right handed bats will be counted on to do the majority of work against the left handed pitchers. Right handed batters have the platoon advantage and historically left handed batters have struggled as a group when faced with the platoon disadvantage.

Right Handed Bats vs Left Handed Pitchers - Last 3 Years

Player PA BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wRC+
Player PA BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wRC+
Evan Longoria 510 9.8% 17.6% 0.289 0.359 0.489 129
Logan Forsythe 473 8.0% 20.1% 0.272 0.333 0.499 129
Wilson Ramos 322 5.6% 15.5% 0.291 0.326 0.482 114
Matt Duffy 294 6.8% 12.6% 0.271 0.330 0.361 96
Steven Souza Jr. 253 9.9% 33.6% 0.231 0.310 0.418 101
Tim Beckham 211 6.2% 30.8% 0.254 0.300 0.456 104
Mikie Mahtook 144 4.2% 24.3% 0.276 0.322 0.537 136
Curt Casali 135 9.6% 30.4% 0.218 0.311 0.429 106
Luke Maile 55 0.0% 25.5% 0.241 0.241 0.407 72
Jason Coats 27 7.4% 18.5% 0.360 0.407 0.640 181

The Rays offense will rely on Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe to do the heavy lifting when facing left handed pitchers. The two have been a formidable tandem as they are tied for 24th in MLB during that time period among hitters who received at least 400 PA.

When Wilson Ramos returns he could be a big addition to the offense against lefties and could allow him some time to DH with Curt Casali behind who the plate. The catching position is quite good against left handed pitchers.

Matt Duffy, Steven Souza Jr., and Tim Beckham should provide support to the top two and receive all the at bats they can handle against left handed pitchers.

Mikie Mahtook and newly acquired Jason Coats have minor league track records of smashing left handed pitching. Neither is good enough to be pushed into an everyday role, but they have the potential to be in house replacements for Brandon Guyer’s bat against left handed pitchers.

Left Handed Bats

There are currently five left handed bats that should make the opening day roster and Mallex Smith would add a sixth that’s just a call away.

Left Handed Bats vs Left Handed Pitchers - Last 3 Years

Player PA BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wRC+
Player PA BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wRC+
Brad Miller 349 6.6% 26.6% 0.213 0.270 0.311 62
Colby Rasmus 330 12.4% 31.8% 0.202 0.303 0.380 92
Kevin Kiermaier 328 5.5% 23.5% 0.240 0.289 0.363 80
Corey Dickerson 270 5.2% 29.6% 0.251 0.293 0.361 71
Nick Franklin 89 6.7% 29.2% 0.198 0.261 0.272 49
Mallex Smith 57 8.8% 26.3% 0.080 0.179 0.120 -16

Left handed batters as a group have only put up 84, 80, and 83 wRC+ against left handed pitchers over the past three seasons. It’s no surprise that the Rays lefties are guys you’d prefer to have out there against a southpaw if you had other options.

Kevin Kiermaier isn’t a great hitter against lefties, but last year he put up a .262/.364/.452 line and 125 wRC+ over 99 plate appearances. It’s a very small sample, but his bat will at worst play at the bottom of the lineup because of his defense.

Colby Rasmus has held his own against southpaws and if he bounces back from batting .136/.220/.235 and 24 wRC+ last season in 91 plate appearances. The three previous years he posted 93, 94, and 135 wRC+ which is playable with his defense.

I know Nick Franklin is a switch hitter, but it is a shame that he hasn’t shown to be useful against left handed pitching. Even during his rookie year in 2013 with Seattle when he got consistent run he only hit .210/.296/.303 and put up a 69 wRC+ over 135 plate appearances.

Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson have the problems that are typical among left handed bats when facing left handed pitchers. They lose almost all power. Miller has a .098 ISO and Dickerson’s falls to .110. They bring little defensive value, so they are the spots you’d like to platoon if you can afford to.

Mallex Smith hasn’t received many plate appearances and he’s likely better than the -16 wRC+ he posted against lefties last season, but he’s still likely a well below average batter against them.

What lineup could we see against LHP?

2B Logan Forsythe

SS Matt Duffy

3B Evan Longoria

DH Wilson Ramos

1B Tim Beckham

RF Steven Souza Jr.

LF Colby Rasmus

C Curt Casali

CF Kevin Kiermaier

I would still like to see the team add a bat against lefties, but I think that’s a respectable lineup that has two big bats in Forsythe and Longoria which should be supported by roughly league average production until you get to Kiermaier.

Mahtook or Coats could give the offense a boost. Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson or the switch hitting Casey Gillaspie could improve the lineup as the season progresses.

Much has been made about having to face the Red Sox rotation full of left handed pitchers after they acquired Chris Sale. The offense is unlikely to be as good as they have been in the recent past against left handed pitching, but it appears the Rays focus has been improving team defense.