It wouldn’t be early January without a couple of prediction columns for the year ahead, right?! This column will be in honor of (although sadly not sponsored by) Taco Bell — the greatest fast food chain of them all (debate below). As such, we’re using their hot sauce scale to give five predictions for the Rays year ahead, ranging from mild to diablo. Hope you enjoy this as much as a crunchwrap supreme.
Mild: Daniel Robertson has a bounceback season
This is in the mild category because it won’t take much for D-Rob to do better than in 2019. In fact, in my mind, there’s only one way this mild prediction doesn’t come true and that’s injuries. And injuries can derail any prediction, so that’s dumb to account for. Now, D-Rob might be fairly considered a slightly more injury-prone player than others after his last few seasons, but if he can stay on the field even semi-regularly, it’s hard to imagine 2020 being worse than 2019 for Robertson. I just don’t see 2018 as a fluke.
Robertson’s two main skills are two skills that carry a relatively high ceiling and fit the Rays Way: solid plate discipline and positional flexibility.
In 2018, Robertson sported a 12.6 percent walk rate (second on the team, min. 200 PA) and respectable strikeout rate, while appearing at six different positions (including pitcher) for the team, all leading to 2.4 fWAR in 88 games, ranking third among Rays position players in fWAR/game behind only the immaculate Joey Wendle and the scorching Rays debut for Tommy Pham.
Last season was nearly entirely lost for D-Rob, as he actually only saw his games played total drop by 14 (88 in 2018 to 74 in 2019), but there was no real rhythm he could get in with injuries to his thumb and knee breaking up what many hoped would be a breakout season.
This is only the mild section, so I won’t peg a D-Rob delayed breakout in 2020, but it’s hard to imagine him not at least improving off 2019.
Hot: Zunino has another brutal year on offense, but he has definitive positive value for the Rays thanks to defense behind the plate
This is the level of hot sauce that probably the largest portion of the readership would gravitate to, and I think this is the prediction I can get the largest portion of the readership to agree on, since it’s a compromise in its wording.
The Zunino haters (* raises hand aggressively *) can focus on the first part of the prediction. Last year, Zunino created a cottage industry of stats showing just how bad he was at the plate. My personal favorite, from Josh Toletino of The Athletic: He finished with more strikeouts (98) than hits (44), RBIs (32) and walks (20) combined.
Most projection systems have Zunino bouncing back into the palatable range of offensive production (somewhere around 75-80 wRC+). Personally, I’d take the under on that number, and I doubt I’m alone there.
[Stephen A. Smith voice] Howevah, I still can see the value in Zunes. Even last year, in a borderline apocalyptically bad offense year, he was worth positive value to the Rays thanks to his framing and general defensive prowess behind the dish. I’ve always been of the mind that catcher defense is still undercalculated with modern stats, and as such, I actually don’t hate having Zunino and his Pianta-like skills at the plate (shouts to the Mario Baseball heads out there) given his overall value. Twenty-twenty should see more of the same in that regard.
Breakfast: The Rays mess around with Kevin Kiermaier as a “sweeper keeper” outfielder
The Taco Bell breakfast hot sauce is just weird, so here’s a just weird prediction that I’ve been sitting on for a while. Given KK’s ability to get a jump on the ball and the fact that the rest of the Rays projected 2020 outfield is filled with far more questionable defenders (don’t try to sell me on the Renfroe-assaince beyond him having a great arm), I’d be curious to see the Rays take a page from your local softball league’s playbook and slot KK into the sweeper keeper role in the outfield every now and then. You know the role I’m talking about, the one that every softball team gives to their fastest player to run all over the outfield and cover for Larry who’s taking sips of Natty Lite between each pitch. Who knows what would happen, but hey why not give it a shot?
Fire: Nick Anderson closes out the 2020 All-Star Game for the American League
The Taco Bell fire hot sauce is definitely the best, and this prediction is definitely the best. It’s got a fair amount of spice to it given that Anderson has never even been to an All-Star Game and is a 29-year-old who only made his MLB debut last year. But it has so much viability that, be honest, you don’t even think it’s really all that hot a take to say he’ll be an All-Star next year, right? That’s why I’m spicing it up by saying not only will Anderson be repping the Rays in L.A. this upcoming July, he’ll be the guy most trusted to close out the win for the Junior Circuit, thus giving the AL home field advantage for the World Series. Which, speaking of…
Diablo: The Tampa Bay Rays win the 2020 World Series
FOH if you didn’t think this Taco Bell diablo hot sauce 2020 prediction article was ending any other way. Get the rafters ready now. It’s happening.