With the offseason lull in full effect, the time for massive months-long projects is prime, and one such project a few of us here at DRB have been looking forward to undertaking for a while now is a bracket style competition pitting every Rays season in franchise history against each other.
Thanks to the amazing folks over at Out of the Park Baseball, such a dream is now feasible. The basic premise here will be to seed the 22 seasons in Rays history (pre-2020, unfortunately) by winning percentage, and have their rosters compete in a bracket of best-of-seven series to determine which was the best Rays team in franchise history. Here’s what the initial seeding will look like, following those parameters:
1 — 2008 Rays (Bye)
2 — 2019 Rays (Bye)
3 — 2010 Rays (Bye)
4 — 2013 Rays (Bye)
5 — 2011 Rays (Bye)
6 — 2018 Rays (Bye)
7 — 2012 Rays (Bye)
8 — 2009 Rays (Bye)
9 — 2017 Rays (Bye)
10 — 2015 Rays (Bye)
11 — 2014 Rays (Play-in Round)
12 — 2004 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
13 — 2000 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
14 — 1999 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
15 — 2016 Rays (Play-in Round)
16 — 2005 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
17 — 2007 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
18 — 2003 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
19 — 1998 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
20 — 2001 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
21 — 2006 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
22 — 2002 Devil Rays (Play-in Round)
After a play-in round for the bottom half of the seeds (mostly the Devil Rays years), there will be 16 teams left, leaving a standard bracket number. Each week we’ll deliver a new round of matchups and results for the readers. Here’s the opening bracket:
The rosters will reflect each year’s End of Season roster, meaning that any moves made during the year, whether negative (David Price out in 2014), or positive (Tommy Pham arriving in 2018) will be reflected on the rosters to be used in this simulation. Injuries have been turned off (you’re welcome, 2005 Rays).
For this introductory article, we thought it would be fun to have resident Rays historian, Adam Sanford, highlight a few things to watch as this plays out over the next few months.
On paper, the 2009 Rays looked to be very good, and honestly their record of 84-78 that season was such a disappointment. Looking back at the numbers the team posted, it’s really a surprise they struggled as much as they did. The team featured Ben Zobrist breaking out and becoming Zorilla en route to posting 8.7 fWAR—the most in all of baseball.
Evan Longoria wasn’t far behind him, as he posted the fifth-highest wins above replacement in the Majors: 7.2 fWAR. Carl Crawford stole 60 bases. Carlos Pena tied for the AL lead in home runs with 39. Jason Bartlett very quietly provided 5.3 fWAR.
Unfortunately, as good as their performances were, the pieces around them were only enough to make the team finish just barely above .500. The biggest disappointment was undoubtedly Pat Burrell, whom the team signed to a two-year deal prior to the season. Burrell hit just .221/.315/.367 with 14 home runs over 476 plate appearances.
Player to Watch
Prior to a back injury in 1999, Jose Canseco was on nearly a record-setting pace as he mashed 31 home runs over his first 82 games that season. Unfortunately, his back couldn’t hold up from carrying massive weight of the franchise on his shoulders, and he missed considerable time down the stretch. During his barrage, he was averaging a home run once every 11 plate appearances and that type of strength should showcase very well during an OOTP simulation.
The 2013 Tampa Bay Rays were a very good team that even made the playoffs before being unceremoniously eliminated in the ALDS by the eventual World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox.
However, they really weren’t that great over the regular season and their climb to the postseason was supported by a remarkable span of games where they went 25-6 and propelled themselves to October Baseball.
On that team, not many performances really stand out. The biggest bright spot has to be David Price reinventing himself after coming back from injury and just deciding to never walk anyone ever again. Wil Myers also made his big league debut that season, but showcased plenty of growing pains during his path to his Rookie of the Year honors.
Overall, that team was very good, but certainly not among the best in franchise history.
Team That Definitely Won’t Win But We’ll All Love
Heading into the 2003 season, fans of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had just witnessed one of the worst seasons anyone has ever endured, as the 2002 Devil Rays finished with a record of 55-106. They were no-hit. They lost a whopping 15 games in a row. They were battered, humiliated, and even faced possible contraction.
It was time to turn the page and, in 2003, the Devil Rays showed glimpses of possible hope. Rocco Baldelli made his big league debut and immediately evoked comparisons to Joe Dimaggio. Carl Crawford became an electric catalyst atop the starting lineup. Aubrey Huff gave the team a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the lineup.
There were still plenty of blemishes for the team to cover up, but it gave you plenty of hope that eventually the team would overcome their puberty and grow into a possible contender.