We all knew the 2018 season would be a different one for the Rays as they underwent an offseason and spring training of change. Their reliance on the longball is a thing of the past as they have filled their lineup with contact oriented, highly defensive skilled ball players.
During the offseason, they allowed Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda to walk away as free agents. They shocked the baseball world when they traded away the face of the franchise, Evan Longoria, to the San Francisco Giants. Then, at the onset of spring training, the Rays stunningly designated 2017 All-Star, Corey Dickerson, for assignment and then traded Steven Souza Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Their offensive performance was sure to take a hit, however, things haven’t gone exactly as expected.
Evan Longoria, Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson, and Steven Souza Jr. made up the bulk of the Rays key offensive contributions in the 2017 season. So far in 2018, as a unit, they have struggled.
Evan Longoria and Corey Dickerson are enjoying success with their respective teams, but Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison are both slumping. Meanwhile, Souza has yet to play a game for the Diamondbacks after suffering an injury during spring training.
Combined, the healthy foursome have hit .237/.296/.411 with 13 HR over 382 plate appearances. Good for 92 wRC+ and have accrued a total of 1.0 fWAR, with Corey Dickerson doing the heavy lifting, having already accrued 1.2 fWAR on his own.
Both Duda and Morrison are sporting a horrendously low wRC+ (66 and 43, respectively).
Evan Longoria has a 121 wRC+, his best start to the season since his 2015 campaign, while he has blasted six balls out of the park for San Francisco, which his highest mark since his start to the 2013 season.
Corey Dickerson is leading the pack and has just been really, really good for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gone are the days of him swinging through center cut fastballs, as his contact percentage is the highest of his career, meanwhile his strikeout percentage is below 10%. Thus far, he is hitting .316/.362/.495 with 2 HR over 105 plate appearances.
As the exodus of their top offensive performers was underway, the Rays brought in a star-studded cast of Denard Span, C.J. Cron, and Carlos Gomez to take their spots on the field. They relied on a healthy Matt Duffy to take over Evan Longoria’s place at third base, and hoped for a strong rebound performance from Brad Miller at first base.
To break it down, here’s how the Rays have handled replacing their offense.
Dickerson -> Span
Longoria -> Duffy
Duda -> Cron
Morrison -> Miller
Souza -> Gomez
A whole, the replacement group has hit .244/.304/.407 with 15 HR over 444 plate appearances. They have put up a 96 wRC+ and have accrued 0.7 fWAR.
Denard Span has been the shining light for the Rays thus far in 2018, providing clutch hit after clutch hit, and has endeared himself to a fanbase that wasn’t sure they wanted him around to start the season. So far over 90 plate appearances, Span has hit .267/.378/.467 with three home runs, putting up 134 wRC+. Seemingly, the bulk of his hits have come with runners in scoring position during crucial moments in a ball game, Span has certainly won over the fans of Tampa Bay.
The one that hurts so much and puts so much pressure on the shoulders of Matt Duffy, is taking over Evan Longoria’s third base. For his part, Duffy has performed at replacement level, still struggling to remain healthy after missing all of the 2017 season. He has already spent 10 days on the DL in 2018, but has hit .296/.324/.380 with 1 HR over 74 plate appearances.
C.J. Cron was picked up from the Angels, just as the Rays designated Corey Dickerson for assignment. Cron took over for Lucas Duda as the Rays starting first baseman and designated hitter and thus far, all he has done is hit. After a slight slump to kick off the year, Cron has hit .270/.315/.500 with 6 HR to lead the team. Overall, he has a 122 wRC+ and has accrued 0.5 fWAR.
Brad Miller has also had his issues with injuries early on 2018, spending his own 10 days on the disabled list. Thus far, he has hit .228/.286/.333, but has been faring better as of late. Nonetheless, he owns a wRC+ of 72, performing at just below replacement level.
Carlos Gomez has been the main deterrence for the Rays replacements as he has struggled mightily early on for the team. Over their first month of play, he has struck out at nearly a 36% clip while hitting .176/.229/.333 with 4 HR over 109 plate appearances. It has been an uphill slog for the controversial outfielder, as he has put up a 54 wRC+. If he were removed from the groups statistical outlook, they would improve from a 96 wRC+ to a mark of 110 wRC+.
The 2018 season is still very young, with the final games of the month to be played later on today. However, all of the offseason talk of the Rays tanking as they dealt away all of their top sluggers has been massively overstated. The Rays are not tanking, they’re just taking things in a new direction, and thus far, it is paying off.