Now that we have hit the official mid-way point of the baseball season, it is time to look at the progress report for each member of the Rays roster. Some players are exceeding expectations while others are need to get it into gear in the second half in order to receive a passing grade on the season. Click below to view the DockoftheRays.com mid-season progress report.
Dioner Navarro – F. A harsh grade right out of the gate. I am a former schoolteacher so it would not be the first time I have been called mean, but the fact is Navarro has been terrible this year. For catchers with at least 150 plate appearances, he has the worst wOBA in the major leagues and if it were not for Jeff Mathis, Navarro would also have the worst OPS of all catchers. After leading the Rays in batting average last season, Navarro has lot all of his plate discipline that helped him be a strong hitter last year. His strikeout to walk rate this season is 0.18 which is 51 points worse than last year. The only players in baseball less disciplined than Navarro this year to date are Miguel Olivo, Bengie Molina, Delmon Young, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Chris Davis, and Christian Guzman. Not only has he struggled at the plate, but his defense has regressed. Navarro must regain his discipline in the second half if he hopes to recapture his success from 2008. If he continues this trend, he might not even be offered arbitration this off-season by the Rays which would make him a free agent.
Michel Hernandez – C. Hernandez had to come up when the oft-injured Shawn Riggans was hurt and Hernandez has done what was expected of him. Outside of running into a fastball from Josh Beckett, he has been rather unproductive at the plate but his defense has been very good. With Shawn Riggans on the mend, Hernandez’s days could be numbered but having Riggans and Navarro on the same roster would be a step down defensively.
Carlos Pena – B+. Pena is one of the five player representing the Rays in the all-star game and is currently leading the American League in homeruns, has the 12th most RBI in the league and is in the top half of first baseman as far as wOBA is concerned. On the downside, Pena’s strikeout rate is up for the third straight year as a Rays player and his defense has taken a step backwards this year. He has already committed eight errors – two less than 2007 and 2008 combined. If you are a fan of zone rating, his UZR/150 is down to -3.7 this year after being at 2.5 and 4.8 the last two seasons.
Ben Zobrist – A+. Zobrist is hands-down the team MVP of the first half. He has played 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF, and is now the everyday 2B with Iwamura on the disabled list. Zobrist is second in the American League in OPS and 2nd in wOBA despite having 100 less at bats than guys like Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano. His all-star appearance was a nice reward for a job well done providing lineup protection behind Pena since Burrell has not been able to do so.
Jason Bartlett – A+. Bartlett spent 2008 wowing Rays fans with his defense, and has spent 2009 wowing them with his bat. He has already surpassed last year’s RBI total, destroyed his home run output, and is two runs away from equaling his runs output from 2008. He swiped 23 bags all last year and is already at 20 for this season and is third in the American League with a .347 batting average. He has hit all over the bottom half of the lineup and didn’t skip a beat after coming off the disabled list from an ankle sprain suffered in late May.
Evan Longoria – B+. At the end of May, Longoria had 13 homers and 55 RBI but since then, he has hit .212 with a .674 OPS in his last 113 at bats. Yes, he has played hurt with a hamstring issue but his lack of production in the third spot has been quite painful to watch at times. The leg has also hurt his defense but he did look much better in the last 4-5 games leading up to this break so maybe Longoria can pick up where he left off in late May to help carry the Rays down the stretch run.
Willy Aybar – A. Aybar has played 1B, 2B, 3B, and DH this season finding at bats wherever he can. When he is in the lineup, he has been productive as he has a .365 on base percentage and a .457 slugging percentage in 178 plate appearances. His double-digit walk rate and strong plate discipline have been valuable in different spots of the lineup and his challenge in the second half is to stay fresh despite limited playing time with a healthier Longoria and a Burrell that is showing some signs of life. Aybar remains one of the best bench players in the league as he has demonstrated skills worthy of a starting role but has the unfortunate lot of playing behind one all-stars all across the infield.
Joe Dillon – INC. The guy has had three at bats since June 9th and only 25 on the entire season so it is tough to grade him. He served as the emergency catcher this past weekend which is probably his biggest contribution of the season. He has historically hit left-handed pitchers very well but that is not a rare skill on the roster this year. If the Rays make another roster move that does not involve catching, Dillon’s roster spot is the likely victim. Frankly, I am surprised he is still around.
Carl Crawford – A+. Crawford received a lot of crap from fans and pundits who thought he was on the decline after a rogh 2008 season but he has shut everyone up and then some in 2009. He is a madman on the basepaths and will easily set a career high this year and has his best walk rate of his career which has him on pace to score 120+ runs on the season. It looks as if we won’t see him get back to the 15-18 HR range he had a few years ago, but nobody is complaining. His defense in left field continues to be amongst the best in the league and his performance at the top of the lineup while Upton took a while to get going is what helped the Rays stay competitive in their early struggles.
B.J. Upton – B. After the first two months of the season, this grade would have been very close to an F as he was abysmal at the plate. He must have realized that too because he went on to win AL Player of the Month in June and is once again looking like the B.J. Upton of old at the plate hitting for authority. Even when he was struggling to swing as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, he was running on the basepaths and already has 31 steals on the season. Sure, he gets picked off a bit but he’s only 13 steals shy of typing last year’s stolen base total. Defensively, he continues to make playing centerfield look so easy and he has gunned five runners who have tried to test his cannon of an arm. Upton does have a lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate than last year – something that must improve for someone with such a strong knowledge of the strike zone.
Gabe Gross – C+. Gross’s value is tied up into his defense as he has the 3rd highest UZR/150 in the American League trailing his right-handed long-lost brother namesake and Clete Thomas. Gross’s skills at the plate are in line with his numbers last year but he is not hitting for as much power but his .356 wOBA as the left-handed bat in a platoon is greater than players such as Melky Cabrera, Alex Rios, and Nick Markakis.
Gabe Kapler – B-. Kapler has his batting average up to .276 after ending May with a .146 average. Since June 1st, Kapler has hit .410 with a 1.412 OPS almost exclusively against left-handed pitching (as it should be). As mentioned earlier, Kapler has played the best defense in right field in the America League. Separately, the Gabe’s are nothing special but the sum of their parts have made for one very effective right fielder.
Pat Burrell – F. The progress report started harshly and ends harshly. Pat the Bat is just now finding his bat after starting the season about as poorly as a hitter could. Burrell fought through some back and neck issues earlier in the season but his .688 OPS is well below his career average and his .315 wOBA as a DH only puts him ahead of guys like Kevin Millar, Mike Jacobs, Magglio Ordonez, Mike Sweeney, and Carlos Guillen. Burrell showed some signs of life before the break with six extra base hits in 38 at bats – two less than his extra base hit total for April, May , and June combined. If Burrell does not get it into gear, expect him to lose at bats to the much more productive Aybar.
Tomorrow – the pitchers