Improving on offense appeared to be one of the main goals of the Rays 2015-16 off-season, and they were successful, acquiring Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, and Logan Morrison via trade. Steve Pearce was signed in free agency and they gave up some cash to acquire Hank Conger.
Overall these moves worked out well; nonetheless their 2016 offense only scored 672 runs. That was a 28 run improvement over their 2015 total of 644, but league offense was up overall in 2016 so the Rays gain was less than the league average of 36.5 runs per team.
What went wrong? The problem was not with these off-season acquisitions. Rather, the problem with the 2016 team was the lack of depth behind them. We can see some of the recent off-season moves as an attempt to ensure that this the 2017 team is better able to withstand the inevitable injuries and still remain competitive.
Where did the Rays offense improve in 2016?
Overall, the OBP of the team fell from .314 to .307 (-.007 OBP), but they increased their slugging from .406 to .426 (+.020). Their ISO gain went from .154 to .182 (+.028).
It should be no surprise that the isolated power went up. The team hit way more home runs going from 167 the year previous to 216. Bringing power back to the team has been a focus since they only hit 117 homers in 2014. The league as a whole has also seen a spike in homers over the past season and a half, so the Rays are keeping pace with that trend.
The Opening Day 25 Man Roster
The offense that was put on the field for opening day in 2016 was pretty good, and responsible for some marked improvements over the 2015 offense.
Rays Opening Day Roster
Even though the offense looked very disappointing at times their plan A was on the right track. They took a .005 hit in OBP to gain .039 SLG, .009 wOBA, 46.5 wRC (when scaled for 2016 PA total), and 5 wRC+. Even with the offensive gains around the league they took a much bigger step than the rest of the league.
The roster scored 574 runs and earned 548 RBI compared to 505 runs scored and 461 RBI. Even discounting the gains because of the 243 more PA the 2016 opening day roster had that is a substantial gain for the 2016 offense.
Sadly for the Rays, however, that starting roster suffered some significant injuries. Logan Forsythe and the entire starting outfield missed substantial time, and the players called upon to fill in (the “depth”) did not provide very effective offense.
Players not on the opening day 25 man roster put up .025 OBP, .063 SLG, .051 ISO, .039 wOBA, 40.6 wRC (prorated to 2015 PA), and 29 wRC+ more in 2015 than the group did in 2016.
Or to view this through a different lens: In 2015 these reserve players put up 1.9 fWAR, but put up -1.4 fWAR in 2016. The 3.5 fWAR spread cost the Rays mightily.
The 2015 reserve group included Grady Sizemore and Joey Butler, both of whom had surprisingly effective years for the Rays. Mikie Mahtook and Curt Casali came up and smashed in small late season samples in 2015. In contrast, the 2016 mid-season replacements were the likes of Oswaldo Arcia, Jaff Decker, and Alexei Ramirez, none of whom provided much offense. Mahtook and Casali also failed to replicate their 2015 successes.
How have the Rays improved for 2017?
The loss of Logan Forsythe, Steve Pearce, and Brandon Guyer will be felt mostly against LHP and they haven’t done anything outside of signing Rickie Weeks to really help fill their shoes.
Wilson Ramos can be a big addition, but more so when he is able to fill the role as number one catcher. Nobody really knows when that will be and the current plan is to ease him back in to game action while picking up time at DH.
The front office has focused on defense with their off-season additions. Their Achilles’ heel last year was outfield depth behind Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Brandon Guyer, and Corey Dickerson. They have added Colby Rasmus and Mallex Smith, both of whom have major league experience in CF if needed.
Probably the greatest improvement in depth this year will come from the maturation of some top organizational prospects. Willy Adames, Casey Gillaspie, Jake Bauers, and Daniel Robertson will start the year in Durham, but at this point they would be poised for promotion if needed. Their ability to take the next step and perform at the major league level will determine whether the 2017 Rays can weather injuries to key opening day starters.
Depth is always going to have some unpredictability. Your reserves will always be guys with limited experience or guys who weren’t good enough to get a major league contract. In 2017 the Rays will rely more on youth, with the hope that this next generation of players is ready to step in if needed.