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Projecting Tim Beckham’s role with the Rays

T-Bex has been referred to as a platoon partner, but can he be more than that?

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Tim Beckham has been a backup infielder with the Rays for the last two years. He’s accumulated 446 plate appearances in two seasons, facing lefties and righties equally. He’s shown a significant split, however, that would seem to put him in line to be a platoon partner with someone whose strength is hitting righties (e.g. Nick Franklin or some other left-handed bat). Is this indeed Beckham’s future?

The Bat

The L/R split isn’t uncommon, but his situation is odd. He’s a righty, which tends to have less of a handedness split than lefties, and he’s actually averaged a reverse split over the course of his lengthy minor league career of 2889 PA. That will be something to monitor with him — will he continue his major league trend of hitting lefties far better than righties? Will he revert back to his reverse splits from his minor league days? Or is it more likely his true talent lies somewhere between, closer to being a neutral hitter? The answer to those questions would sure determine his role and future with the Rays.

My guess is that he will end up closer to neutral splits than he was in 2016. He doesn’t have much of a major league sample size to work with, but looking at his career MLB numbers might tell us something, at least on the surface. His strikeout and walks rates are almost identical vs both sides at around 30% and 6% respectively. His ISOs are within 10 points of each other, and he actually hit righties harder than lefties in 2016.

The only thing that has differentiated his effectiveness is BABIP. He has a career .341 BABIP against lefties and .291 vs righties. A quick rough calculation of his batted ball profile got me to an xBABIP of .315 vs LHP and .304 vs RHP. That closes the gap some and shows he may be closer to a neutral hitter that just had a little extra luck vs southpaws. He might be something like 95-100 wRC+ vs both sides. Maybe it’s not sexy, but there is value there when it comes with defense.

The Defense

Beckham accrued time at least 42 innings at every infield position in 2016. More importantly, he was above average everywhere he played by UZR’s standards. He was a negative defender at three positions in 2015. Is he settling in, or is that just the volatility of year-to-year small sample sizes? The numbers at Fangraphs suggest the value is coming from him being more consistent in completing the routine play. That sounds like a reliable utility defender to me. Would that improve with more playing time? That seems like the natural progression, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Hopefully the Rays have identified if that’s what he needs to excel or not.

Tim Beckham probably has the defense to be a regular. He probably has the bat to be a regular. Why isn’t he a regular? The middle infield is stacked and more good players are knocking on the door. “Probably” isn’t going to cut. Tim’s time with the Rays is now or never. With Matt Duffy, Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin on the team, there may not be a clear path to playing time to prove himself. Fortunately for him, these things seem to have a way of working themselves out in spring training.