Here at DRaysBay (no space), we’ve handed out Bolton Sunshine Academy grades for all the Rays’ pitcher over the past few days. That’s an Arrested Development reference for those of you who don’t refresh IMDB on an hourly basis, and basically all it means is we won’t be handing out your classic “A,” “B,” “C” grades - we’re too early in the season for that.
You can check out the starting pitcher and relief pitcher grades here and here, but for today we’re looking at the outfield.
The Rays have gotten plenty of value from their outfield this season, as the team’s 2.9 fWAR from their outfielders in second in all of baseball this season. They’ve been producing offensively as well as defensively, and they have been a bright spot for the team. With that in mind, let’s move on to the individual grades.
Kiermaier’s 2017 has been a slight letdown from his breakout 2016 campaign. After a season in which he flashed 15/25 HR/SB potential, Kiermaier is slugging just .276 with a paltry 20.6 percent flyball rate. KK has looked just a bit off all season, whether it has been at the dish, or even in the field where he made a name for himself. He hasn’t necessarily been bad, he just looks a little different.
To veer completely out of the world of hard metrics and into the world of the “eye test,” he almost looks like he’s - as the kids say - feeling himself a bit too much after his lofty 2016 season. He’s been barking at umpires more, and calling out teammates for missing hit-and-run signals. He almost looks like the kid who goes from geek to popular between sophomore and junior year and doesn’t handle the new level of prestige well. This could certainly be a simple case of author-projecting, or Kiermaier simply pressing a bit because of a big contract and a slow start, but it is something worth monitoring going forward. Grade: Damn, Daniel.
The man, the myth, the Souza. After two seasons of slightly disappointing returns (and way too many Trea Turner/Wil Myers comparisons), Souza is finally putting together the type of slash line the projection systems pegged him for back in the day. Souza is slashing .311/.393/.505 through the Rays’ first 27 games and is leading the team with 1.5 fWAR.
Souza started the season doing his best Mookie Betts impression, striking out just twice in the first seven games, making it seem as though maybe he had turned a corner in that respect. Of course he has struck out in literally every game since, but he has also been able to maintain success at the plate thanks to a solid walk rate (11.0%), a killer line drive rate (30.9%), and a touch of luck (.424 BABIP).
The question remains: when the inevitable regression slump comes, how will Souza react? Will he continue drawing walks and powering out homers enough to cancel out a drop in batting average? Or will he press even harder and go back to the reach-and-miss approach that has burned him in the past? Only time will tell. Grade: Goat yelling like man
Dickerson is my pick for most improved Ray this season. Last season Dickerson showed plenty of pop, but a 24.5 percent strikeout rate and .293 OBP were troubling. This season, Dickerson has retained that pop (six homers, .608 slugging percentage), but he has cut down on the strikeouts (19.8 percent strikeout rate) and improved his on-base skills (.381 OBP). Whether this is because of his new role as the Rays’ leadoff man, or because he is more settled in his second year in Tampa Bay, the results are there. Dickerson is mashing fastballs (best pitch value against fastballs on the team), but he has been handling offspeed pitches as well, something he hasn’t always done in the past. His whiffs on both offspeed and breaking pitches are at a career low this season, part of the driving force behind his strong start. When added to KK and Souza, the Rays have quite the outfield even before Colby Rasmus gets added into the mix. Grade: Salt, Pepper, and Cumin.
Shane Peterson (RIP)
Peterson was just what the Rays needed while Colby Rasmus recovered from his early-season groin injury. Rasmus was activated Tuesday, and Peterson was DFA’d as a result - we all saw this one coming. It doesn’t diminish what Peterson was able to do in his 14 games and 41 plate appearances for the Rays this season. Peterson slashed .263/.317/.395 for a wRC+ of 105. He had a homer, five runs and six RBI. It wouldn’t surprise me if Peterson returned to the Show this season. If he does make it back, he’ll need to continue his nice luck on balls in play (.360 BABIP) and improve his plate discipline (12 strikeouts to just two walks) to stick around for good. Still, Peterson did what was asked at the plate and added a few nice plays in the field. His grade: Goose Island Four Star Pils.
Bourjos at the plate in 2017?
He’s hitting just .147 and his lone home run is the only thing keeping his slugging percentage from matching his batting average. Now Bourjos hasn’t been completely useless, he’s always going to be a plus defender and a devil on the basepaths. He has two steals already despite being on base just eight times this season. He has also drawn a decent number of walks (10.5 percent walk rate), but let’s just say there were some who wondered why he, rather than Peterson, wasn’t the one to get demoted when Rasmus joined the team. Bourjos is simply a better roster fit right now, as he’s a right-handed bat in the outfield, and he has nice value late in games as a defensive or baserunning substitute. He may not be the hero we want, but he’s the hero (or maybe 25th man) we need. Grade: Commissioner Gordon.
Smith has the fewest plate appearances of any outfielder on the Rays this season, thanks in large part to a hamstring strain on April 13 that cut his first month short. Smith looked excellent before his injury, slashing .273/.360/.318 with three steals in his 25 plate appearances with the Rays. His speed was electrifying, and with three walks and three strikeouts, he showed a strong approach at the plate. The plan for now is to let Smith continue to hone his batting skills at Triple-A Durham, which is fine. He’s still just 23 years old and the future is bright for young Mallex. Grade: Eddie Vedder in 1982.
Grade: Welcome aboard.