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Grading the 2017 Tampa Bay Rays position players

It’s that time of the season

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the end of the regular season comes deep contemplation… and season-long grades! Last time I handed out grades, the sample size was still small enough to require a gimmicky approach; this time we’ve had all 162 games to figure out what was up with this roster.

And it’s not all bad (despite how many Rays fans feel right now). The Rays finished the year with yet another losing season (their fourth straight), but the advanced metrics liked them a lot more. Baseball Prospectus’ third order winning percentage had the Rays as the fourth-best team in the AL and eighth-best team in all of baseball (ahead of the Red Sox, Twins, and Rockies). By FanGraphs WAR, the Rays were the ninth-best team in baseball, trailing only eight playoff-bound teams and finishing ahead of the Rockies and Twins.

With that positive note in mind, let’s get onto the grades. As always, please feel free to argue in the comments! As the late Anthony Scalia said, “A good, hard-hitting dissent keeps you honest.”

Evan Longoria: C+ Longo had, by many metrics, his worst professional season in 2017. His wRC+ had never finished a season below 100 before 2017 (96), and his 2.5 fWAR was the lowest total of his career outside of his injury-plagued 2012 season. It’s telling that Longo can have a career-worst season and still be one of the better players on the Rays, but it’s possible we may never see Elite Longo again.

(Did I put enough of a reverse-jinx on Longo so that he’ll now bounce back in 2018 thanks to that final sentence?)

Logan Morrison: A LoMo had maybe the most surprising-in-a-good-way season of any Ray. He was basically the anti-Longoria, as the 30-year-old set career highs in games played (149), home runs (38), runs (75), RBI (85), wRC+ (130), and fWAR (3.3) — so basically every stat. It will be very interesting to see if he ends up in a Rays uniform again next season, and, if he does, if he can produce another season like 2017.

Jesus Sucre: B As I noted in my recent “Most and Least Consistent Hitters” series, Sucre, in 63 games, was more valuable than any Rays catcher, starter or backstop, in 2016. Again, to reiterate from that recent article, his production in clutch situations was a bit overstated, but it’s hard to argue with Sucre’s production (and heart-warming smile) from the backup backstop spot.

Steven Souza Jr.: A- Souza won me over hard-core in 2017. Before the season, I was as low on Souza as you could find, I simply didn’t trust his approach at the plate. Souza cut his strikeout rate by five percent, but, far more importantly, he more than doubled his walk rate from 2016 (13.6 percent up from 6.6 percent). As a result, Souza saw his wRC+ jump up to 120, second-best on the Rays and top 50 in all of baseball. Plus, he did things like this and this.

Lucas Duda: B- I’ll be honest, I was shocked when I looked at the end-of-season stats and saw Duda had just a .175 batting average in his 52 games with the Rays this season. That’s due in part to collecting just six hits in his final 52 at bats of the season, but he’s never going to be a great hitter for average. He still managed 13 home runs in his third of a season with the Rays, and he’s a nice replacement option for Morrison should the Rays lose LoMo to free agency.

Wilson Ramos: C+ I’m torn on Ramos. On the one hand, he had a real nice stretch towards the end of the season where he looked like he could be the Rays full-time backstop in 2018 and have some real value. On the other hand, he’s a 30-year-old catcher with plenty of miles on his legs that ran just a 4.9 percent walk rate in 2017. He’s also one of the slowest players in all of baseball but has a career fly ball rate of 27.2 percent. It’s tough to tell with Ramos.

Peter Bourjos: C Take a guess as to how many games Bourjos played with the Rays this season? What’s your guess? Somewhere around 60? That’s what I was thinking. The answer is 100. That may be the quietest 100-game season from a Rays player in a long time. Now a lot of those appearances came as a defensive replacement or pinch-hitter late in the game, but I honestly can’t remember a less memorable 100 games than Bourjos. If only he had been worth one-tenth less of a win on FanGraphs, he would have had a fitting 0.0 fWAR.

Trevor Plouffe: F Plouffe became the whipping boy for Rays fans down the stretch, which is maybe a bit unfair, but then again he slashed .168/.263/.248 with the team and made several incredibly costly defensive miscues while in Tampa. So while it shouldn’t speak to his character as a man, maybe using Plouffe as a frustration outlet was fitting.

Daniel Robertson: B- Despite a .206 batting average and .326 slugging percentage, I liked a lot of what I saw from Robertson. He’s still only 23, and he can clearly play the field defensively. I wouldn’t mind seeing an extended look at Robertson in 2018.

Mallex Smith: B+ As one typo on DRays Bay so perfectly put it this season, “Mallex Smith, that guy fun to watch.” Smith played in exactly half the Rays games this season, which makes for an easy full-season projection. If he kept up his production for a full season, his numbers would look like this: 66 runs, 32 steals, a .270/.329/.355 slash line for a wRC+ of 88 and 1.6 fWAR. Not bad at all, as 2017 was a nice Rays debut for the 24-year-old.

Brad Miller: D Miller had some redeeming values in 2017 (his 15.5 percent walk rate and relative health), but there were far more negative than positives. Most notably, Miller saw his home run total drop from 30 in 2016 to nine in 2017. He also hit just .201, and while some of that can be explained by a drop in luck (BABIP 18 points off his career rate; HR/FB rate basically half of 2016), that doesn’t mean his crummy season didn’t happen. It just means maybe there’s some hope for 2018.

Kevin Kiermaier: A- This may be skewed a bit by recency bias, but it’s hard not to give a player who finished the season with the third-most value to the team (by fWAR) a strong grade. It feels like oh so long ago that KK was misplaying balls in the outfield and swinging a poor bat. The vibes around Mr. Ocean Eyes are all good these days, as the 27-year-old center fielder slashed .306/.352/.517 for a wRC+ of 133 after his return from the DL.

Corey Dickerson: B- This is where I try my best to avoid that recency bias. Remember back when Dickerson was killing it? He was a deserved All-Star and looked like an early MVP candidate. Dickerson still ended the season with career-highs in nearly every cumulative statistical category, but the second half has to give a jolt of terror to Rays fans worried that his approach is going to cost him in the long run. Dickerson saw his wRC+ go down each and every month in 2017 and saw his free-swinging ways really give him some issues after the break. Next season will be very interesting.

Adeiny Hechavarria: B Hech won over a lot of fans in his 77 games with the Rays, and while his ceiling isn’t likely high enough to factor into the Rays full-on rebuild, he’s an amazing second baseman who can at least do enough with the stick to not demand being left out of the lineup in the immediate future (damning with faint praise, I know). Hech, similar to Smith and Souza, also provided some of the more entertaining memories of the 2017 season, which is really what it’s all about in another losing season.

Other position players to suit up for the Rays in 2017: Colby Rasmus (thoroughly missed down the stretch but had to what was best for him), Danny Espinosa (forgot that happened), Tim Beckham (Ummmm), Shane Peterson (words that describe a baseball player), Michael Martinez (a fun experiment), Cesar Puello (weirdly divisive for his limited appearances), Derek Norris (I actually had high hopes for this signing before the season), Rickie Weeks Jr. (at least he was a great clubhouse guy), Taylor Featherston (float like a Featherston, sting like a 69 wRC+), and Curt Casali (team-leading wRC+ of 188 in 2017!!!).