The 2018 Tampa Bay Rays offense was much different than their 2017 iteration of their roster. There were players lost to free agency and players traded away. The Rays also acquired CJ Cron and Joey Wendle in trades and were expecting to transition to youngsters Willy Adames and Jake Bauers at some point in the season.
The offense was surprisingly good. They were always going to be a solid defensive team, but the youth and inexperience at the plate was a big unknown.
Despite hitting 78 fewer homers in 2018, the Rays scored 23 more runs. Non-pitchers hit .259/.334/.407 and put up 106 wRC+ that was good enough for eighth best in the majors.
Where did the Rays position players excel?
Production By Position
Overall the Rays catchers ranked 22nd by fWAR. Wilson Ramos did the heavy lifting. Ramos put up 1.7 fWAR and earned the start in the All-Star game. However Ramos was injured just before the break and the Jesus Sucre, Michael Perez, Nick Ciuffo, and Adam Moore hurt the team.
The replacements combined for 339 plate appearances where they hit .227/.263/.304 and put up a 53 wRC+ and -0.7 fWAR. To nobodies surprise Ramos was good and the rest were pretty awful. This is the one place the Rays don’t have a starter that can be relied upon entering 2019.
1.2 fWAR for first baseman ranked 18th in the majors. In 252 plate appearances CJ Cron did the heavy lifting hitting .259/.321/.482 and put up a 120 on his way to 1.0 fWAR at the position.
Jake Bauers got off to a scorching start (139 wRC+ in 1st half), but then got equally cold (66 wRC+ in 2nd half). Overall he provided 299 plate appearances of just above replacement level production with a 95 wRC+. Brad Miller only put up a 80 wRC+ at the position and cost the Rays a few tenths of a win in 143 plate appearances.
4.3 fWAR at second base was good enough for fifth best in baseball. I was wrong about Joey Wendle. I didn’t think he was good enough to be a major leaguer. Wendle put up 2.5 fWAR in 371 plate appearances at the position with a 106 wRC+ and good defense.
Daniel Robertson helped out with 1.3 fWAR with a 141 wRC+ in 132 plate appearances. The breakout of Brandon Lowe gives the Rays three legitimate options to enter next season.
2.5 fWAR from the shortstop position placed them solidly in middle of the pack at 16th overall. Adeiny Hechavarria started the season with the shortstop job. He put up 0.5 fWAR in 237 plate appearances because of a 69 wRC+. The job was only temporary with Willy Adames sitting in Durham waiting for his time.
Adames’s season was the opposite of Bauers where he was ice cold (65 wRC+ in 1st half), but heated up after being demoted mid season (128 wRC+ in 2nd half). If the second half Adames is more real than his initial struggles than the Rays are very well set up for 2019.
Rays third baseman had giant shoes to fill after having Evan Longoria fill the position for the last ten years. The Rays replacements did a very good job filling those shoes combining for 4.1 fWAR which was the ninth best total in the majors.
Matt Duffy was the third baseman on most days. He was the only player to get 500+ plate appearances at one position with 533 plate appearnces worth 2.5 fWAR. Robertson, Wendle, and Christian Arroyo combined for 1.7 fWAR in 177 plate appearances by hitting .315/.379/.493 and putting up a 138 wRC+.
Despite Denard Span and Rob Refsnyder being the left field platoon to start the year the Rays put 3.7 fWAR put up by left fielders came in ninth in all of baseball. Tommy Pham did the heavy lifting providing 2.3 fWAR after being acquired at the trade deadline by hitting 198 wRC+ in 153 plate appearances.
Nine players appeared in left field including Pham (153 PA), Span (138 PA), Smith (105 PA), Johnny Field (71 PA), Refsnyder (69 PA), Wendle (56 PA), Bauers (50 PA), Lowe (27 PA), and Robertson (16 PA). Hopefully next season the Rays will have more stability at the position with Pham returning.
Top ten production (9th) with 3.4 fWAR out of center field is not something most would expect if you knew that Kevin Kiermaier would only play in 88 games. Kiermaier struggled at the plate (78 wRC+), but rebounded in the second half (100 wRC+).
Smith did a great job filling in for Kiermaier. Smith isn’t the defender that Kiermaier is, but he put did a fine job filling in with a 96 wRC+ and putting up 1.2 fWAR in 262 plate appearances in center.
1.1 fWAR out of right field was not good enough. The Rays traded Steven Souza Jr. and signed Carlos Gomez to take his place on a one year deal.
Gomez was roughly a replacement level player putting up a 86 wRC+ in 359 plate appearances. Smith filled in with a great 170 plate appearances putting up a 136 wRC+ while playing the position.
The Rays traded the starting all-star designated hitter Corey Dickerson and brought in CJ Cron that has spent the majority of the last four years in a part time role being blocked by Albert Pujols with the Los Angeles Angels. 2.3 fWAR out of the DH was the tied for fourth in the American League.
Cron did most of the heavy lifting with a 128 wRC+ in 294 plate appearances, but Ji-Man Choi joined in on the fun putting up a 140 wRC+ in 183 plate appearances after being acquired in the Brad Miller trade.
Overall the Rays position players stepped up in 2018. Most of the team should be back unless the front office decides to shake it up once again.
The Rays have solid depth everywhere, even if they don’t have the big stars. Replacing Ramos’s production with a solid number one catcher is the one thing they need to bring in from outside the organization this winter. Every other move is a matter of upgrading, not filling holes.