The Rays currently have 17 position players on their 40-man roster. Of those, 8 bat left handed, 8 bat righty, and one switch hits. Sounds about as balanced as it can get! If only balance alone won championships, we would be ready for the season to start right now.
The Rays still have many roster moves to make as they protect players from the Rule 5 Draft and look to sign one of the available middle-of-the-order bats with all their salary cap space they have this off season.
With that being said, let’s take a look at what their lineup could look like if the season started today, along with some statistics from the 2018 season to help justify the placement.
vs Right Handed Pitching
Roughly 68% of all plate appearances were against right handed pitchers in 2018. The Rays were above average vs righties with a 106 wRC+, and look to bring back nearly all of the players that contributed most to that success.
- 1. CF Kevin Kiermaier (L) - slashed .232/.298/.397 for just 89 wRC+ in 263 PA vs RHP, but ended strong with a 161 wRC+ in his last 70 PA.
- 2. 3B Joey Wendle (L) - slashed .300/.349/.435 for a 115 wRC+ in a team-leading 443 PA vs RHP.
- 3. LF Tommy Pham (R) - slashed .340/.437/.604 for a 184 wRC+ in 126 PA vs RHP for the Rays after being acquired in trade from the St. Louis Cardinals.
- 4. DH Ji-Man Choi (L) - slashed .289/.387/.535 for a 153 wRC+ in 168 PA vs RHP in 2018.
- 5. 2B Brandon Lowe (L) - slashed .247/.351/.443 for a 121 wRC+ in 114 PA vs RHP in his 2 month debut.
- 6. SS Willy Adames (R) - slashed .286/.354/432 for a 120 wRC+ in 230 PA vs RHP in his debut.
- 7. 1B Jake Bauers (L) - slashed .211/.331/.409 for a 106 wRC+ in 282 PA vs RHP in his debut.
- 8. RF Austin Meadows (L) - only 13 PA vs RHP with the Rays, but slashed .289/.329/.505 in 312 PA vs RHP in AAA.
- 9. 60% C Mike Zunino (R) (96 wRC+ in 276 PA) / 40% C Michael Perez (L) (75 wRC+ in 66 PA)
- Bench: 1B C.J. Cron (R), INF Matt Duffy (R), INF/OF Daniel Robertson (R), C Perez/Zunino (R/L)
You could make an argument for any of the bench players starting, but who would you bench in that lineup? With approximately 450 PA for each position to go around, I could certainly see a fluid roster in the first half of 2019 while Kevin Cash lets the dust settle on on what lineup he prefers.
The Rays should also benefit here by subtracting the weakest bats from 2018 with 690 PA of Carlos Gomez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Johnny Field, and Jesus Sucre being replaced.
vs Left Handed Pitching
1. 3B Matt Duffy (R) - slashed .288/.369/.348 for a 106 wRC+ in 150 PA vs LHP.
2. DH Daniel Robertson (R) - slashed .256/.385/.449 for a 135 wRC+ in 96 PA vs LHP.
3. LF Tommy Pham (R) - slashed .351/.479/.676 for a 209 wRC+ in just 48 PA vs LHP after the trade that brought him to the Rays.
4. 1B C.J. Cron (R) - slashed .307/.376/.553 for a 152 wRC+ in a team-leading 170 PA vs LHP.
5. C Mike Zunino (R) - slashed .167/.225/.350 for a 58 wRC+ in 129 PA vs LHP for Seattle.
6. 2B Joey Wendle (L) - slashed .299/.373/.437 for a 121 wRC+ in 102 PA vs LHP.
7. CF Kevin Kiermaier (L) - slashed .179/.243/.305 for just 50 wRC+ in 104 PA vs LHP.
8. SS Willy Adames (R) - slashed .256/.333/.341 for just 83 wRC+ in 93 PA vs LHP in his debut.
9. RF Austin Meadows (L) - slashed .311/.358/.503 in 163 PA vs LHP in AAA.
Bench: 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi (L), C Michael Perez (L), 2B/LF Brandon Lowe (L), 1B Jake Bauers (L)
The Rays put up a 105 wRC+ against lefties in 2018, but it wouldn’t feel that way looking at the above lineup. They will need to find a way to replace the production Wilson Ramos and Mallex Smith gave them, and hope Zunino and Kiermaier rebound from pretty terrible campaigns vs southpaws, as they will both be relied on heavily in 2019.
Performance in 2018 splits is short hand for what could be a more complex analysis utilizing projection systems, and we will get there when the final roster is clearer. Still, if the season started today, I’d have to think Nick Ciuffo, Christian Arroyo, Guillermo Heredia, and Andrew Velazquez all start the year in AAA Durham, based on my review of 2018.
Additionally, I think we can still expect a big right handed bat addition to replace Choi as the 25th man and bolster the lineup vs LHP. Even though stats vs LHP are volatile because of the small sample sizes, this lineup needs another right handed bat to truly move the needle and push the volatility spectrum to the right.