We use all kinds of metrics to measure player performance in baseball, but often a particular statistic seems to speak volumes about a particular player’s season. Which single stat seems to be the most fitting for each of our Rays regulars? An off day just past the season’s two-thirds mark seems like a good time to reflect on this.
Today we’ll cover the infielders.
Logan Morrison (Baserunning runs)
LoMo has been an above-average hitter his entire career. He owns a wRC+ of 109 for his career, and his career OPS+ was 104 even before this season. His isolated power is up this season, but that is mostly due to a career-high 23.0 percent HR/FB rate. He has 18 non-HR extra base hits through 106 games this season; last season he had 19 such hits through 107 games. That may be due to the extreme rise in home runs (and whatever cause you believe is behind that rise) across baseball more than to Morrison.
Where he has truly been better than any previous season of his career has been in two spots: staying on the field and producing value on the basepaths. LoMo has played in 106 of the Rays’ 113 games this season and is on pace to play a career high number of games.
The other improvement is even more surprising, however. DRB writer JT wrote about this a bit the other day in his Rays baserunning manifesto, but it deserves another look. Morrison is 12th in all of baseball and second among first baseman (to Joey Gallo) in FanGraphs’ baserunning runs this season. He’s ahead of names like Jose Peraza, Lorenzo Cain, and Jonathan Villar thanks to his ability to avoid double plays and take the extra base. These abilities have been abundant team-wide and Morrison has been at the forefront, leading the team in the admittedly somewhat-obscure statistic.
Evan Longoria (Contact rate)
Heading into the 2017 season, I have to admit that I was a little bit worried about Longoria. His OBP had dropped to .318 in 2016, and his strikeout rate had risen to 21.0 percent. Well, Longoria’s walk rate is up 1.1 percent this season, and more noticeably, his strikeout rate is down nearly 5.0 percent. It hasn’t just been a matter of getting a bit lucky either. Longoria’s swinging strike rate is down 2.6 percent from last season, and his contact rate is sitting at a career high.
It’s not the end of the season just yet, but should he maintain his current 81.4 percent contact rate it would be the first season of his career in which he has crossed the 80 percent threshold. Longoria isn’t quite the hitter or fielder he was in his prime, but he’s still incredibly valuable to the Rays, coming in as the fourth-best Rays position player this season by fWAR and ranking as the eighth-best third baseman in baseball.
Lucas Duda (Fly ball rate)
Duda has been worth more than half a win (per FanGraphs) in the just ten games since he arrived from the Mets, as he has slashed .323/.463/.677 in his 41 plate appearances for Tampa Bay so far. Obviously that absurd slash line won’t last forever, and neither will his ridiculous 63.6 percent fly ball rate.
That figure would top any qualified hitter this season, with only the incomparable Ryan Schimpf (197 PA) higher among any hitters in all of baseball. That hefty fly ball rate has led to three long balls for the Rays so far, a figure that, while probably not sustainable, shows the kind of elevation and power that Duda can provide for the Rays. To think they got him for Drew Smith.
Jesus Sucre (Walk rate)
Sucre seems like a very nice man. With Erasmo Ramirez out of town, Sucre is likely the leader in the “most heart-warming smile on the team” competition. That being said, he has a .270 on-base percentage thanks to a putrid 3.5 percent walk rate. Sucre has never sported a strong walk rate, and his career walk rate of 3.7 percent suggests there isn’t much hope for improvement any time soon. Thankfully his mitt has some nice value, and as a backup catcher it’s all right if he doesn’t tear it up at the plate.
Daniel Robertson (Soft contact rate)
If you sort the Rays team batted ball rates by lowest amount of soft contact rate, most of the familiar names float to the top. Duda ranks second, Tim Beckham (RIP) ranks third, Steven Souza Jr. and Morrison are right up there (quick aside: go check out Taylor Featherston’s hard/soft contact rates - maybe he can fill the Beckham-sized hole in our hearts if he gets another shot), and then there’s Robertson.
He has a 35.6 percent hard contact rate compared to just 17.0 percent soft contact. That ability to avoid soft contact helps to explain his .304 BABIP, and his nice hard contact rate explains why his .138 ISO is about 25 points higher than the projections have him pegged for. Robertson is still a prospect who hit 15 homers for the A’s High-A squad just a few years back and has some nice pop for a middle infielder.
Adeiny Hechavarria (Defensive runs; Swing rate on pitches outside the zone)
We’ll do two stats for Hech since he’s a bit of a divisive player right now. Each of the stats portrays a different side of Hechavarria, the good and the bad, the ying and the yang. Hech has more than proven himself as an incredible defender even in his short time with the Rays. He has made incredible plays that show their immediate value, as well as solid plays that may fly under the radar, all resulting in his plus value (2.5 runs) on the defensive side of things even in his limited time with the club.
Of course, Hech has also already proven himself to be a woeful hitter as well. His .234/.252/.261 slash line legitimately hurts the team when he’s in the lineup, and his approach at the plate is among the worst in baseball. Hech is sporting a 44.5 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone this season, third-worst in baseball this season among hitters with as many plate appearances (Corey Dickerson is second on the list). Somehow his O-Swing% has been even higher with the Rays specifically (45.4 percent), and he’ll simply have to learn how to control the zone a little bit better if he wants to be in the Rays plans for this playoff push.
Trevor Plouffe (Pull rate)
Trevor Plouffe is kind of boring. Pull rate is kind of boring. But if we combine the two and add in the fact that his pull rate with Tampa Bay (56.8 percent) is higher than any qualified hitter in baseball this season, hopefully it got you to at least read a paragraph about Trevor Plouffe! You’re right, I should have just skipped him. None of you would have minded, I’m sure.
Brad Miller (Ground ball rate)
The big story with Miller this season has been his drop from 30 home runs in 2016 to just four this season. There are plenty of reasons for this drop. He has missed time to the disabled list, of course; he’s also been more content to take his walks. His HR/FB rate has been cut almost into a third, which may be bad luck, as his hard hit ball rate is actually higher in this year.
But his change in fortunes can also be linked to the 6.2 percent increase in his ground ball rate, which is up to 51.0 percent in 2017. That rate ranks below only Hech, Mallex Smith, Kevin Kiermaier, and Wilson Ramos this season for the Rays. The speedsters can get away with hitting ground balls, but Miller, while faster than Ramos, needs to get airborne.
Miller may well be in for a bit of better luck on his batted balls down the stretch run, but he could certainly help himself out by topping the ball a little less frequently.
Wilson Ramos (Infield pop up rate)
Ramos has had a somewhat disappointing run as a Ray so far. The 29-year-old came in hot with homers in three of his first six games as a Ray, but he has been pretty heinous since, sporting a what-I-imagine-I-would-hit .161/.188/.194 slash line in his 21 games since.
Ramos’ struggles have a bit of a Murder-on-the-Orient-Express feel to them, where there are several contributing factors (walk rate down, strikeout rate up a bit; hard contact rate down, soft contact rate up a bit) doing the damage. The most noteworthy factor, however, appears to be his infield pop up rate, and subsequently his BABIP. Ramos is sporting a 14.3 percent infield pop up rate, a rate more than twice his career rate. Infield pop up rate can do wonders to destroy a hitter’s BABIP and helps to explain a portion of Ramos’ .194 average on balls in play (as does his gimpy catcher speed). If Ramos can turn a few of those pop ups into barrels (easier said than done, I know), his Rays’ numbers could improve vastly and quickly. He just needs a bit of patience right now.