As diehard Rays fans, many of us follow players from draft day to DFA. And we all have opinions, strong opinions, about these players. Maybe we are deep in the weeds of prospect ratings and on that basis become big believers in, say Taylor Guerrieri. Or maybe we go with our gut and just feel that Casey Gillaspie has that Good Baseball Face.
Whatever the process, we all have takes, and, let’s face it, some of them turn out to be terrible. We’re using this off day to come clean. You were sure this guy was going to be a big contributor but he turned out to be Quad A, maybe? Or you swore this other guy would never get through a season on a major league roster, but here he is attending his third All Star Game?
Your DRB writers will start with our misses, and you can confess yours in the comments.
My biggest mistake was thinking the Rays would manage to get a deal to build a stadium in Hillsborough County. I really thought it was going to work out, and was already studying the architectural renderings to see where I’d like to sit when I finally invested in season tickets. While the moving trucks are not yet packed for Montreal, it certainly appears that I was wrong on this one.
I also thought Wil Myers would be the Rays first elite, pure hitter, or at least first that spent his prime years with the team. A Tampa Bay Miggy. He started off his Rays career with a grand slam homerun against the Yankees! He didn’t need batting gloves! I thought he’d be the player around whom you built a contending team. While no one managing a multi-year MLB career can truly be called a bust, I can fully admit that I was wrong in projecting him as the cornerstone of the Rays (or any) franchise.
One fine evening in 2015 after two or three Michelob Ultras (the beer you exclusively drink when you are 2 weeks into your first keto diet) I got it into my head that I should go on Over the Monster and talk a little smack about our favorite Gold Glove CF: Kevin Kiermaier. At the time, full of excitement and fermented hops, I let loose my claim that Kevin Kiermaier was heir apparent to be the best center fielder in baseball not named Michael Nelson Trout. He, without a doubt, would be far better than that overrated wunderkind the Red Sox had been putting out there, some joker named Mookie Betts. I proclaimed with the confidence of one who has already seen the future, that Kiermaier would eclipse Betts in both talent and stats in three years. Gauntlet thrown, I sauntered back to the fridge for another Mich Ultra, secure in my knowledge as prognosticator.
This, of course, didn’t happen. Betts became one of the premier outfielders in the sport, while Kiermaier struggled to stay healthy, throwing his body into walls like a crash test dummy with a purpose. Perhaps to spite me, three years later in 2018, Betts nearly unanimously won AL MVP. Kiermaier, that year, missed nearly half the season with some injury or another.
I now tend to stick to Miller Lite.
I’m going to be relatively brief here, but it’s a bad one: Daniel Robertson as the third-best player on the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays...
Mine was just this season, and it was perfectly irrational so I’m not afraid to admit it. I was absolutely against the team signing Avisail Garcia. And for no really good reason, either. I had seen him come up with the Tigers, and there was a lot of early excitement about him and his potential as the team’s next Miguel Cabrera. He got called “Mini Miggy” a lot. Then his sudden departure to the White Sox (a long and likely wildly incorrect tale circulated among fans as to the reasons), and he was gone.
He was both good-ish and also SUPER good (I see you, 2017) with the White Sox, but something about that trade lingered in the back of my mind, and for some reason or another I got it in my head he was a bit of a bad apple. I wasn’t happy when the Rays got him. I didn’t see what added value he brought to the team.
I am not too proud to admit how VERY, VERY wrong I was. He has been dynamic, fun, and dare I say surprisingly capable in right field (some of his plays shock me on a regular basis). I have enjoyed every moment of his season so far.
In 2013, I was sure Brandon Gomes was going to eventually become the Rays closer, despite his fluky-seeming 6.52 ERA. It wasn’t just that he was striking out 35% of the batters he faced, it was how he was doing it. He had guys like Alex Rodriguez fooled by inches in every direction. Four-seam, slider, and splitter—for 19.1 innings, it all worked perfectly.
Then the injury bug hit, Gomes’s breakout season was interrupted, and he never again found that magic. He tried throwing a cutter, to help against lefties. It didn’t set up the slider or the splitter the way his four-seam had. And he was never able to consistently command to all parts of the zone again. Now Brandon Gomes is the Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Dodgers, which was definitely not my 2013 prediction.
Lesson: Pitching is hard, and small sample size performance, even when completely deserved, does not always indicate the ability to replicate that performance in the future.
I’m not sure if I should include 2010 James Shields in here or not, because I would double down on it tomorrow, but I have to admit a little bit of doubt. By his peripherals, Shields was better in 2010 than he had ever been before in his career. But he just kept letting an absurd amount of his baserunners score. His sequencing was so bad that year.
I believe that sequencing is mostly luck. I would start 2010 Shields in the playoffs every day of the week, twice on Sunday. He came back and owned the league in 2011. And yet, he sure was bad down the stretch, and it didn’t work out in that playoff game against Texas. And while the dogmatic DIPS believer in me knows I should laugh it off and say “baseball,” a part of me still wonders and doubts . . .
Lesson: Damnit, baseball.
I really thought JP Howell going to turn it around in 2011. He was getting lefties out. Why would a guy come back from injury and suddenly only be a LOOGY for no apparent reason, when he had been an all-purpose arm before? If he can pitch again, he can pitch again, right? Wrong. 2.79 FIP vs. LHB, 8.80 FIP vs RHB.
Lesson: JP Howell’s 2011 performance made no sense to me, but I bet there was something to see in his post-injury approach and stuff, and that a better observer than my 2011 self might have found it.
I thought Reid Brignac was the shortstop of the future. He could really defend.
Lesson: Surely he’d hit just a little, upper cut or no. Please?
I thought Adam Russell was a major league pitcher (I think this was Bradley Woodrum’s fault, but I went with it).
Lesson: Guess 27 year olds who flash 15 innings of good work in an otherwise quad-A career aren’t good bets after all.
I thought Andy Sonnanstine would have a better career than Edwin Jackson.
Lesson: Stuff matters.
I thought Josh Lueke was going to be a very good reliever. I’m still not quite sure why he was never able to translate his quality stuff and minor league dominance into a major league career.
Lesson: Maybe karma really is a bitch.
I thought Dan Johnson was going to take control of the Rays 1B position in 2011. This one still gets me. I firmly believed that there was no such thing as quad-A, and that it was just a matter of guys needing more chances. And DanJo looked ready to get his chance. His 2010 was SO GOOD. An 18% walk rate and a 19% strikeout rate, with a .216 ISO, all in 140 plate appearances. Yeah, that’s not a big sample size, but walk and strikeout numbers are the first things to stabilize, and an those ones are really good. Of course he should be the starting 1B in 2011.
Of course his performance cratered, and the plug was pulled after 91 plate appearances.
Lesson: I’d have liked for him to get another chance. But maybe there is such a thing as quad-A.
I thought both Alex Colome and Wade Davis would make it as starters, especially after they each developed their very good hard cutters. They had other stuff too. Surely they would pair it with the rest of their pitches, and get back into the starters role?
Lesson: Starting pitching is the hardest thing to do in baseball. Those two had most of the tools you want in a starter, and they both became excellent relievers. But still couldn’t turn a lineup over multiple times, or sustain their stuff over multiple innings.
I thought Chris Archer was going to do well in Pittsburgh. I believed he was always only a step away from matching his FIP, and that maybe a slightly different focus on a sinker, rather than on a four-seam, that Ray Searage is known for, would play well off Archer’s slider and unlock another level.
Lesson: Have I mentioned that starting pitching is hard? Also, the high four-seam is legit.
Finally, Ryan Yarbrough. You might have heard me say it: “starting pitching is hard.” At the beginning of the last season I really thought Yarbrough was not a major league starter. I wasn’t impressed with his stuff. People told me that it would play up because of pitchability and control, but as I looked at it on the page, I thought Yarbrough had to be perfect, that he had no room for error, and that expecting perfect command is just not something that’s smart to do. I was in favor of the Rays giving him a shot in a rebuilding year, but I fully expected him to fail. I’d seen a lot of “better” starters do so.
Instead, he’s continued to develop his stuff, slowing down both his slider and his cutter to create separation from a high-80s fastball and mess with hitters’ timing. And his command really is that good. And consistent. Now I believe.
1. Guys can sometimes improve and the major league level.
2. Plus command is real, and a big deal, even if it doesn’t show up on the pitch shape chart.
3. Don’t let yourself get jaded, Ian, it's a bad look.
I didn’t think we would be able to successfully replace Jim Hickey and the Rays’ pitching factory. Here’s a list of pitchers I thought Hickey and Co. could return to elite status:
- Shawn Tolleson
- Ernesto Fieri
- Kevin Jepsen
- Grant Balfour round 2.
- Heath Bell
I thought the Rays came ahead by Trading German Marquez for Corey Dickerson.
Ryan Brett was going to be the Rays’ Jose Altuve.
Taylor Guerrieri was a future closer.
Rays would have one of the best rotations in 2nd half of 2019. I was banking on a Snell/Morton/Glasnow/Honeywell/JDL rotation and all of those prospects living up to their over hyped expectations.
Confession: I didn’t like the Chris Archer trade; I believed that the Rays were diluting assets when they knew a roster crunch was coming. I thought Tyler Glasnow would be a solid starting pitcher, but clearly less than how he started this season. The biggest reason I disliked it was because of Austin Meadows. I didn’t expect Meadows would hit for the power to make him more than an average everyday player. 23 homers and .251 ISO this year has made this look a bit ridiculous.
And while we’re here: I also thought Yonny Chirinos wouldn’t be a major league pitcher. In Durham he was a guy with a 95 mph fastball, but no worthwhile secondaries. Two years later the split change that he was starting to develop in late in the year with the help of Kyle Snyder is being discussed as one of the best change ups in the game. This has made him become a good major league starter. I just couldn’t have ever imagined this happening.
For that matter, Brandon Lowe looked like a complete wreck every time I watched him after he had torn up the Florida State League. In over 100 PA between AA and AAA he ran a 32 K/2 BB ratio and only one homer. In over 20 games he looked like a guy flailing at the plate that had no shot of being a successful major leaguer. Brandon Lowe now has a successful 455 MLB plate appearances and was the front runner for the American League Rookie of the Year before going down to injury for the rest of the season.
Last offseason, I looked back at Jake Bauers’ end-of-season slump as just a slump, and I looked forward to seeing how he would do in his first full season with the Rays in 2019. To me, the friendship between Bauers and Willy Adames would elevate their games to higher levels, and I thought they should never be separated, similar to Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre in Texas, or Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña in Atlanta.
The Rays’ front office had other plans, however, trading away Bauers and $5 million to Cleveland for Yandy Diaz (who I was happy about us acquiring). At the time, I felt Bauers’ value wasn’t maximized, as the 50 FV prospect had just graduated as the 73rd-ranked prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline. Unless the trade was bringing back an Edwin Encarnacion, I thought, Bauers was too high a price.
I was convinced of two things: first, Bauers would break out with the Indians and become a player the Rays would regret trading away, and second, Willy Adames would struggle in the following season, losing his best friend on top of parting ways with Carlos Gomez, with whom he appeared to be close.
I was wrong about all of it. Bauers’ end-of-season struggles last season have continued this year, with the 23-year-old splitting time between Triple-A Columbus and the MLB, while slashing .233/.308/.379 at the highest level.
Adames, meanwhile, has improved on his rookie campaign, posting better defensive numbers (10 DRS this season at SS compared to -1 last season), while nearly doubling his value, currently sitting just under one win better than last season in fWAR, all while being the same enthusiastic, always-smiling growing star that he was last season
I was, and remain, pleased with the addition of Yandy Diaz. He’s has been the promising third baseman that the Rays were looking for, putting up a 117 wRC+ in the 78 games he played in before his season was cut short with a hairline fracture in his foot.
It’s a lesson about letting emotion guide your evaluation of a trade, I suppose.
I’m a big Mike Zunino fan.
I was a big fan of his in Seattle, and was one of the strongest supporters on DRB of making a trade for him. I believe in that glove, and that his bat has more promise than he’s shown, with flashes of a truly special combo.
My bold prediction before this season was that Mike Zunino would rebound more towards his 2017 batting line than his 2018 batting line. Well, I was wrong. Not only did he not rebound to post a near 100 wRC+, which would have made him an All Star Catcher, but he has failed to meet even the 84 wRC+ he posted last year. So yeah, I’ll wear this one because I really bought into the bat rebounding and YIKES. I knew that Zunino was gonna strike out, that’s been his game even when he’s hit his best. His poor contact season, however, and poor power/home run power, have been very disappointing.
But here’s the thing: Zunino has another year of Arb left on his contract, and I’m going to continue hanging on to this slender Zunino limb and double down on my conviction. Even after this season I still believe that Mike Zunino is Good, or more specifically that he is worth the chance of bringing him back next year. He has been a dream behind the plate. He’s cut down base stealers, smothered curves and sliders in the dirt, and has provided some tremendous support for the Rays young pitchers. Consider Ryan Yarbrough’s last few starts, all with Zunino behind the plate. They have been some of his best professionally, and he gave a ton of credit to Z for his game and pitch calling. Zunino has been worth 11 DRS (4th highest among catchers) and its been an absolute joy to watch him steal close strikes for Rays pitchers living on the corners.
Mike Zunino was not the long lost answer to the Rays catching woes. That prediction and my “Mike Zunino is the catcher you’ve been waiting for” headline has certainly aged like some multi week old milk. His bat has been more Jose Molina than JT Realmuto. However, I’m here to double down and say in 2020 give me Jose Molina with some power and let’s run it back!
Last season the Rays made a trade on the periphery I did not expect to be anything more than a depth move: acquiring a 28-year old defense-first rookie locked into second base (an already deep position in the Rays system). The move was made for catching prospect Jonah Heim, which itself felt like a win for the Rays if Wendle could defend like a major league talent.
But then April came, and not only was Wendle making the Opening Day roster, he was the starting second baseman. I was flabbergasted, and honestly found it hard to believe the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays intended on competing for a playoff spot after dumping Longoria, Dickerson, and Odorizzi in exchange for players like Wendle as starters.
Here’s where I was wrong: Joey Wendle could hit. He took that baseball with his bare hands and made fools of, well, at least me, hitting his way into a 3.7 fWAR season with a 116 wRC+ that ranked 7th among qualified second baseman.
And it gets better:
Wendle led all American League rookies with a .300 average, six triples and 4.4 WAR (by baseball-reference.com). He was second with 32 doubles, 60 runs, 15 steals, a .354 on-base percentage, 208 total bases, 39 multihit games.
Mercy. My only solace was not being the only one surprised. The above and below were provided by Marc Topkin’s reporting:
“I think what we’ve seen from Joey this year is everything we hoped to see, but really just so much more of it,’’ senior VP Chaim Bloom said Wednesday. “We knew he was a very good defensive player, and he’s even exceeded our expectations. We knew he had a good head for the game. We knew he was wired right and made up well. All that has played even better than we expected. And he certainly exceeded our expectations at the plate, against righties and lefties. He’s not intimidated in any situation. He’s puts together quality at-bats night after night. The whole thing has been more than we could have asked for.’’
Joey Wendle ultimately placed second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, losing the award to Shohei Ohtani. For at least one season, boy was I wrong about this one.