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Under the Radar Second Half Surprises for the Rays

Some were good; some were bad

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rays 2018 season officially in the books for the past couple of weeks, fans can now turn to the part of the offseason where they pore over the FanGraphs splits pages looking for cool or unique stats to pass the time until next April. (We’ve got a ways to go, folks.)

Today, let’s take a look at some interesting second-half splits. Although less telling than overall season stats, there can still be some interesting information to cull from a few of these performances. Due to the fact that first-half stats exist in a vacuum before being tainted by the second half, it is the second half splits that can tend to be a bit under the radar when looking at full season stats. The first baseman who was on fire in April gets a lot of shine, but the shortstop who slogged through August, not as much.

Let’s take a look at seven players whose second-half splits were at least notable. For position players, the slashes are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/wRC+, and for pitchers it will be innings pitched/ERA/FIP/xFIP.

C.J. Cron: .248/.315/.521/125

Despite being relegated to a part-time player in the second half of 2018, Cron still provided plenty of pop for the Rays. He started 51 games for the club after the break, hitting 11 home runs in those outings. That’s easily a 30-homer pace over the course of a full season, and as I have stated here before, the 2019 Rays are going to have a great problem on their hands with Cron and Ji-Man Choi (141 wRC+ in 49 games with the Rays) battling for time at the DH position all season long.

Brandon Lowe: .233/.324/.450/113

This one may not be shocking since we all knew he turned things around by the end of the season, but if you were to give most Rays fans that exact line for Lowe in 2019 as a Rays everyday infielder, I think they’d jump at it.

Kevin Kiermaier: .245/.301/.438/100

This one was one of the more surprising numbers out there. The 2018 season seemed like such a lost one for KK, but when combining his exactly average offensive output after the All-Star Break with his typical premium defense (14 defensive runs saved in 88 games), he was basically a 3.0 WAR/162 game player this season. It’s impressive that that’s KK’s floor, but he has to start staying healthy to be considered a key piece to what should be a contending Rays team in 2018. That seems like a hot take at first blush, but look at what Mallex just got done doing in 2018, think about the fact that Tommy Pham hit the freakin cover off the ball after joining the Rays (191 wRC+), add in Austin Meadows’ long-term potential, and suddenly the man who was supposed to be the face of the Rays will be facing a little heat in 2019.

Matt Duffy: .257/.347/.288/85

Speaking of players who will be under pressure to perform early in 2019, Duffy saw his numbers fall off a cliff in the second half of 2018. Never one to hit for oodles of pop, Duffy tallied a grand total of six extra base hits after the break, all doubles.

Duffy still got pretty much every day status in the second half, but with Christian Arroyo one year older (and hypothetically healthy), there may be some pressure on Duffy to at least include a bit of pop in his hitting profile. His defense was also shaking at times during the year, and with the Rays reliant on a “no holes lineup” rather than a lineup boosted by a few big names (ala the New York Yankees), a third baseman who slugs .288 isn’t going to cut it.

Adam Kolarek: 28.0/1.93/2.38/3.61

Kolarek is the ultimate “wait, what?” guy on this list if you lost track of the season a bit towards the end. Kolarek didn’t get much run in the first half, sporting a 12.79 ERA in just 6.1 innings before the All-Star Break, and he was coming off a 2017 season in which he finished the year with a 6.48 ERA. Credit to the Rays pitching staff, however, who knew to stick with the lefty, maybe in part because the Rays southpaw ranks were rather diminished, but the patience paid off in the form of a 1.93 ERA in 28.0 innings. The FIP is even more impressive (2.38), and while the xFIP is a bit higher, I have a bit more faith in pitchers being able to control their xFIP than their FIP. Pitchers who can control the big fly (and pitching at the Trop can help in that regard) are always going to be a bit undersold by xFIP. It was only 28.0 innings, but Rays fans will be forgiven for at least wondering if we may have another decent lefty for the 2019 pen.

Sergio Romo: 25.0/4.68/4.44/3.63

By contrast, Romo moved himself firmly into the “I don’t necessarily want these guys around for 2019” category of Rays with his second half. The irony, of course, being the near-identical xFIP to Kolarek. However, Romo allowed a lot more runs, and he looked a lot shakier doing it. No Romo outing felt entirely safe after the break, and given his age, I’m fine having Romo have his spot in Rays history with his role in making The Opener a thing, but being somewhere else next season.

Ryne Stanek: 31.2/3.98/4.52/4.25

The other man most closely tied to The Opener, Stanek saw his numbers fade a bit in the second half. After becoming Orel Hershiser Adjacent, Stanek saw his star peak with a 1.78 ERA at the end of June. However, in his final 15 starts of the season (18.1 IP total), he allowed 12 runs, for an ERA north of 6.00.

Stanek was all in on doing whatever Cash wanted, and he did it so well at his peak. It’s obviously a tiny sample in the second half (one of the most interesting things about The Opener experiment, is that it is among the most difficult to statistically analyze because of the small sample size nature of the beast), but it’s something to watch moving forward. If Stanek can handle his LeBron James of pitching role, starting games, finishing them, and doing all the stuff in between as well, it’ll be an impressive accomplishment to say the least.