Tampa Bay Rays are on the lookout for a bat to add to the lineup that scored the second most runs in the majors last year. The offense has everybody returning except for trade deadline acquisitions Nelson Cruz and Jordan Luplow. Their lineup is, however, left-handed heavy with the loss of the two right-handed bats. This hasn’t stopped them from going after Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson who bat from the left side, because good hitting is good hitting, but no doubt they are still hoping to find another hitter, even if it’s the short side of a platoon.
One player that sticks out as a potential upgrade is former Ray Tommy Pham. The Rays acquired Pham from the St. Louis Cardinals in a deal that was overshadowed by the Chris Archer trade later that day. However Pham was a very productive bat for the 1.5 years he wore a Rays uniform. Over 828 plate appearances he hit .287/.385/.485 and put up a 138 wRC+ putting him on the shortlist of most impactful bats the Rays have acquired.
The Rays sent Pham to the San Diego Padres in the trade for a “slapdick prospect” (that’s Blake Snell’s expression, with apologies to Xavier Edwards). Pham wasn’t nearly as productive with the Padres and dealt with some injuries. Over 686 plate appearances he hit .226/.335/.370 and put up a 97 wRC+. The batting average and power plummeted. Despite this he was able to maintain a solid OBP, but I’m sure Pham would say the production was disappointing.
A major red flag would be a significant rise in strikeout rate. He did strike out more often but the increase was from 20.0% to 22.6% and came with a corresponding uptick in walk rate from 12.8% to 13.6%.
The reason for the drop in batting average came entirely from BABIP. His BABIP dropped from .339 to .275. A .339 BABIP is higher than average but Pham deserved most of it with an elevated line drive rate of 23.4%. Rays fans can remember how the ball came off his bat and agree that he was not “lucky” with that BABIP. That fell to 18.9% with the Padres, mor in line with the major league average. The line drives turned into flyballs while the hard hit rate dropped by just over 5%. That’s not a great recipe for good production.
Despite the drop he still was roughly a league average bat and I think it is fair to say he deserved better production on the contact that occurred. xwOBA predicts that he should have put up a .352 wOBA instead of the .312 wOBA that actually occurred. That the difference between Carlos Correa (.348 wOBA) and Whit Merrifield (.312 wOBA). That’s still a major league hitter, but goes from a really good hitter to one that’s around league average.
Defensively he’s slowed down a few steps from when he was a center fielder. Over the last couple of years he’s been a below average (-6 DRS and -1.8 UZR) defender in a corner but not so much that he shouldn’t be forced to designated hitter unless you have three better defensive options.
The Rays have a second opportunity to acquire Pham when his production slowed despite peripherals that showed he should be an impact bat. Pham seems to have enjoyed his time with the Rays. When given an opportunity he has talked negatively about his time with the Cardinals, but that hasn’t happened with the Rays.
The Rays should take the opportunity to add a veteran bat that gets on base to a team that is already really good as they look to find the right combination that ends in a World Series Championship.