2011 Rays Projections: Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson may be the toughest Ray to project.

Johnson has never had 500 plate appearances in any Major League season and will be 31 on Opening Day. Is there a reason he has not hit the 500 PA mark? Is he what he is, an incredibly patient hitter that is more of a Quad-A player than a Major Leaguer? Perhaps, but the Rays seem set to give him more PAs in the Bigs to be sure he isn’t more than that.

In Triple-A last year he hit .303/.430/.624 with 30 bombs and a .445 wOBA. in 2008 he hit .307/.424/.557 with 25 bombs and a .425 wOBA. Those numbers, especially the power, have never translated to the Majors.

In 1429 career PAs Johnson has hit .243/.343/.419 and been worth 3.0 fWAR. Those are not numbers that scream out starting firstbaseman, especially in the AL East. What the Rays see, though, is his career 13.3% BB rate, huge power potential, and the fact that his career .250 BABIP has nowhere to go but up. What my projections see is about what you get, with minimal upside, but there is some.

 Stat  Total
 AVG  .235
 OBP  .340
 SLG  .442
 OPS  .782
 Plate App.  427
 At-Bats  362
 Hits  85
 Homeruns  19
 Doubles  18
 Triples  0
 BB  60
 SO  82
 SB  0
 UZR  -2

 

The only reason I had him at -2 UZR is because he is going to play some 3B and he is well below-average there. If he were strictly playing 1B/DH then he’s be at zero or maybe +1 UZR.

The fan in me wants to say that Johnson finds his niche in the Majors this year, the naysayer in me wants to say that he’d be lucky to get 300 PAs, the realist in me ran the numbers and came up with the above predictions. Like it or leave it, they are not your typical firstbaseman but they are probably better than what Casey Kotchman would do.

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March 21, 2011 at 11:26 am 1 comment

Why Not Leadoff With Manny Ramirez?


(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

It doesn’t matter where I hit. I’m Manny Ramirez, so it doesn’t matter.” – Manny Ramirez on MLB.com (Ian Browne, 05/15/2005)

Rays manager Joe Maddon had new offensive weapon Manny Ramirez in the leadoff spot yesterday to get him at-bats in early before the weekend. This launched a run of jokes and actual misunderstandings about what a leadoff hitter should be when it was announced.

A lot of tweets joking about Manny’s ability to bunt for hits and steal bases were made, and it got me realizing that a lot of people do not understand what a leadoff hitter should be.

This same kind of thing happened last year when Maddon decided to bat John Jaso in the leadoff spot. You would have thought people actually believed that Joe Maddon lost his mind and needed to find it. Maddon proved to be correct when Jaso finished the season leading all players with a .380 OBP from the leadoff spot.

In a twitter conversation with R.J. Anderson and a few others there does appear to be growing concern among some that Jaso could see some regression if he does not learn to hit for higher than a .270 AVG that is loaded with mostly singles. If he cannot then Major League pitchers will catch on and do nothing but throw him strikes, forcing his hand at putting more balls in play (career .281 BABIP) and reducing his walk rates, which he lives by. If this happens he may be dropped to the bottom of the Rays order.

B.J. Upton has the leadoff spot against left-handers secured but struggled mightily against right-handers. So who will leadoff against right-handers if Jaso does regress? Ben Zobrist is a great option but why not Manny?

Over the past three seasons Manny Ramirez has posted a .428 OBP against right-handed pitchers as opposed to a .396 OBP against left-handers, not that there is anything wrong with that. Last year was his worst of the three seasons and he still posted a .404 OBP against RHPs.

Many’s power is on the decline with his ISO going from .270-to-.241-to-.162 from 2008-2010. Why not utilize his best weapon right now? Contrary to popular belief and what Mitch Williams may say on MLB Network, the leadoff spot is not reserved for speedy slap hitters who force the thirdbaseman in because their bunt is more potent a weapon than their power. The leadoff spot is meant to give high percentage on-base players a spot where he can get the most chances to get on-base.

Maddon’s decision to bat Manny leadoff was said to get him early at-bats but who knows, maybe we will see Manny bat there in the regular? If there is a manager out there that will bunk conventional wisdom it’s Joe Maddon and Manny was right in 2005, it doesn’t matter where he hits, and that includes leadoff.

March 12, 2011 at 9:02 am 3 comments

2011 Rays Projections: Sean Rodriguez

Rays manager Joe Maddon loves versatility and the good thing for him is that he has it. Sean Rodriguez is one of the most versatile players on the team. In 2009 he saw action at every single position except catcher and posted positive UZRs at all positions except thirdbase. In fact, he was listed as the team’s emergency catcher. He possesses very good instincts and range and a has great arm for a middle infielder.

No one has ever really doubted his fielding ability. He has a career UZR of 8.0 in just under 1500 innings, or roughly one full 162 game season. He has played exceptionally well at secondbase and shortstop and will be the team’s shortstop in most games against left-handed pitchers.

Rodriguez has also always shown that he can hit for power, especially for a middle infielder. While his ISO was league-average last year his ISO in the minors in 2008 and 2009 were an outstanding .339 and .314 . Will the power translate to the Majors? Rays fans are hoping so but there are few things holding him back.

What’s holding Rodriguez back is his lack of discipline and pitch recognition. He walked only 5.6% of the time (2.9% against right-handers) in 2010 and had a wSL of -7.0 and wCB of -4.3, while swinging at 30.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone. If Rodriguez is to take his game to the next level he needs to learn a little patience and pitch recognition.

With that, here are my 2011 projections for him:

 Stat Total
 AVG  .259
 OBP  .315
 SLG  .435
 OPS  .750
 Plate App.  495
 At-Bats  451
 Hits  117
 Homeruns  15
 Doubles  28
 Triples  3
 BB  33
 SO  126
 SB  16
 UZR  +7

 

These projections equals roughly a 2.5-2.7 fWAR player and the Rays will be pleased if he posts numbers similar to these in 2011 especially knowing that Rodriguez has the ability and the playing time coming his way to eclipse these totals.

March 7, 2011 at 11:47 am Leave a comment

No Room for Kotchman on Rays Roster

Photobucket
(Photo by Jonathan C. Mitchell)

The Rays are stacked deep at almost every position except first base. The same question is always brought up: Who will play firstbase for the Rays in 2011? Will it be the unproven Dan Johnson? How about using Ben Zobrist but at the expense of his valuable glove playing 2B and RF? I laugh at those who mention Leslie Anderson. But one other choice that is brought up is Casey Kotchman, and one thing is for sure he does not belong on a contending team as a starting firstbaseman.

Kotchman has had four seasons in his career with at least 125 games played and over 430 plate appearances. Only once in those four seasons has he posted a BB% higher than 9%, a wRC above league average, an OPS+ above league average, and a wOBA above .325. In fact, his stats have declined to the point where last year he was worth -1.1 fWAR and -0.9 rWAR. Take a look at his declining stats:

 Stat  2007  2008  2009  2010
 AVG  .296  .272  .268  .217
 OBP  .372  .328   .339  .280
 SLG  .467  .410  .382  .336
 ISO  .172  .137  .114  .118
 OPS+  119  93  90  73
 wRC+  120  97  92  66
 wOBA  .362  .322  .317  .270
 fWAR  +3.3  +1.8  +1.0  -1.1
 rWAR  +3.1  +1.1  +1.5  -0.9
 UZR  12.6  11.7  7.8  -0.4

 

Even his “bread-n-butter” defense was of negative value last season and if you were to take the average of those four seasons you would get a firstbaseman that would hit .264/.331/.401 with a 95 OPS+ and 1.2 rWAR and 1.25 fWAR, and there is no reason to believe Kotchman could put those numbers up in the AL East after declining each of the past three seasons.

The Rays will be best served by giving the firstbase job to Dan Johnson and letting Joe Maddon use the versatile Ben Zobrist to back him up, thus allowing Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce to get playing time at their respected positions. Having Kotchman on the roster kills the chances of Rodriguez and Joyce finding ample playing time. There simply is no room for Kotchman on the Rays roster.

March 5, 2011 at 7:53 pm 2 comments

Scouting the Rays on 2/27/11


(Picture by Jonathan C. Mitchell)

-My favorite player to watch on the Rays was Robinson Chirinos. He was hitting lasers all over BP and hit a pinch-hit bomb over the palm trees in left. He keeps his weight back very well and transfers it at the right moment, maximizing his power. I didn’t get to see him behind the plate, though.

James Shields worked only one inning and gave up that laser shot to Andrew McCutchen on a pitch he left up and in the middle half. Otherwise, he looked ok, getting ahead of hitters and getting robbed on a called third strike to leadoff hitter Jose Tabata. It just happened to be the one pitch he left up got hit out.

-One guy that did well in BP was 24 year old Russ Canzler who hit 21 homers and 28 doubles in AA last year in the Cubs organization in only 355 at-bats. He has a lofty swing that also produced a lot of high fly balls and pop ups. His swing was fun to watch in BP but will drive a manager crazy in the Majors.

Matt Joyce appeared to be working on an opposite field stroke in BP and didn’t put on the show I expected, but I’m ok with that. I think he was trying to do the same in the game because he was getting pounded inside and looked like he was waiting for something on the outer half.

-Rays prospect Alex Torres got two innings of work in, showing a live fastball but not much command and had a problem putting hitters away. His delivery looks good, showing good balance and gets a lot of velocity from his legs and also keeps his head up the whole time, but his release point was inconsistent. He has some flaws that are workable and there is a lot to like about him.

Desmond Jennings was very patient at the plate, showing a very good eye and laying off of borderline pitches that early in the at-bat. He also showed off his speed, swiping second base with ease and chased a deep ball hit by Walker in the right-center field gap for a nice running catch. On the other hand he showed little to no power in BP and also lost a routine flyball in the sun while wearing sunglasses.

Justin Ruggiano looked bad at the plate, flailing at off-speed stuff down and away from starter Kevin Correia and showing little-to-no patience at the plate.

Casey Kotchman is the same as always. He did go 2-2 but one was a groundball on a hit and run that left a hole and the other was basically a bloop single. His swing is geared towards contact and looks slow to the naked eye.

-I don’t know what to make of Tim Beckham. He looked awful in warm-ups, booting roughly 20% of the routine balls hits to him. He lacked range to his right in the game, having to backhand a routine groundball that he should have been able to get in front of. He does have a very strong arm, though, and was able to gun the runner down in time for the out. At the plate and in BP he worked on hitting the ball up the middle and I like that approach. It worked in one at-bat when he hit a solid line drive up the middle for a single. His base running was atrocious, taking horrible routes around the bases and showing little awareness of where the ball was, hesitating on an easy call to go first-to-third and ending up just staying put at second. He also showed little awareness in the field. On a ball hit to his left he made a play and the runner from second broke to third, he “looked” over to third to make sure the runner wasn’t going home but the runner never broke stride and went straight for home. Beckham threw to first as if the runner never broke for home. It was a lazy effort on his part assuming the runner would stop at third.

For my full report, including the Pirates, check it out here at MLBdirt.com

March 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm 1 comment

2011 Rays Projections: B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton might possibly the hardest player on the Rays to project. A player capable of putting up an on-base percentage above .380 with 20+ homer and 40+ steal capabilities. The steals are a virtual lock but the power and on-base skills are hard to predict.

Since 2007, Upton’s first full season, his OBP has seen major declines. He posted an outstanding .386 OBP in 2007 and .383 in 2008 but well below-average .313 in 2009 and .322 in 2010. His average has also dropped every season (.300-.273-.241-.237).

Parts of Upton’s problems have been that he cannot catch up to above-average fastballs. It’s obvious to the naked eye and in his stats. If you take out his 2007 season where he posted an amazing +23.8 wFB he stands at -13.3 wFB. Yes, it is a running stat, but it’s still below average. In fact he sits below average against the slider (-17.4) and the cutter (-6.4). Upton only seems to flourish against softer stuff. He owns above-average career marks in wCH (11.3), wCB (10.3), and wSF (4.6).

Two more problems have been contact and inability to hit right-handers. Upton set career highs in O-Swing% (25.3%) and SwingingStrike% (12.0%). He also hit a dimal .218/.294/.371 in 413 plate appearances against right-handers with a 34.3% K-rate.

On the bright side, Upton has seen increases in ISO the past three seasons (.128+.132+.187), hits left-handers very well, and always adds value with his glove. But due to his inconsistencies I could not project totals for him that I myself believe are attainable. Here are his projected numbers for 2011:

 Stat  Total
 AVG  .248
 OBP  .331
 SLG  .435
 OPS  .766
 Plate App.  628
 At-Bats  556
 Hits  138
 Homeruns  18
 Doubles  42
 Triples  4
 BB  68
 SO  153
 SB  44
 UZR  +3

 

At first glance those numbers don’t jump out at you and scream excellence, but compared to position they are actually very good and could net him in the range of 3.4-3.7 fWAR depending on replacement level for next year.

Again, the hard part about Upton and doing these projections is that you know he has the ability to post an fWAR around 5 but whether it’s his offense, his defense, his lack of hustle, or whatever, he has yet to reach the 5 fWAR mark. Will this be the year he does? I’d like to think so, at least not until he makes adjustments and learns how to hit the fastball again. I have to be realistic with Upton and the projected stats are plenty to be happy about, especially when you know he has the ability to outperform them.

February 18, 2011 at 10:27 am 1 comment

2011 Rays Projections: Kelly Shoppach

Kelly Shoppach

Raise your hand if you were excited when the Rays traded for Kelly Shoppach by sending a PTBNL to the Indians. *raises hand* Ok, now raise your hand if you wanted to kick him off the team after the season ended with his horrible regular season and postseason performance. *raises hand again* Maybe I’m in the minority, probably not, because at the time most Rays fans just wanted to see someone, anyone, other than Dioner Navarro behind the plate in Tampa Bay and during the playoffs, even against left-handers, all we wanted to see was John Jaso.

Shoppach carried a very nice .208 ISO over in the trade but we were warned by Dave Cameron about his platoon split due to a lack of at-bats. Cameron wasn’t wrong but he wasn’t exactly right. Shoppach did have a horrible season with the Rays in 2010 but his splits against left-handed pitchers weren’t bad. He did hit .261/.369/.455 with a wOBA of .366 in 103 plate appearances against a pitiful .114/.232/.200 in 84 plate appearances against right-handers.

His career line against left-handers now sits at .286/.381/.568 with a wOBA of .404 in 361 career plate appearances. Cameron was right that he could not duplicate his splits against left-handers but he still holds very good value against them. Here are Shoppach’s projected totals for 2011:

 Stat  Total
 AVG  .238
 OBP  .339
 SLG  .419
 OPS  .758
 Plate App.  245
 At-Bats  210
 Hits  50
 Homeruns  9
 Doubles  11
 Triples  0
 BB  28
 SO  87
 SB  0
 UZR  -2

 

Maddon is as smart as any manager at placing his players in the right environment to succeed. I expect to see Shoppach in the lineup against most left-handers and very few right-handers, only to give Jaso a day off.

Expect a bounce back from Shoppach because I find it hard for him to duplicate his poor performance of 2010 against right-handers and he has proven that he can mash against left-handers.

February 12, 2011 at 11:58 am 2 comments

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