Now that we are 55.6% of the way through the season we can start to talk about what it will be like to play in the second half. So far the Rays have played basically a .500 pace. Projections, Pythagorean record and BaseRuns all seem to think that that sounds like a fine idea and expect it to continue in the second half. The sportsbook I’m familiar with has us at +3500 or roughly 2.7% to win the World Series. Let’s pour one out for the season. This one goes out to the blue seats:
While, I think that’s a likely possibility there are other plausible scenarios where things finally start to break good for this team after a year and a half rife with visits from the four horseman. Makes me wonder why Joltin’ Joe Maddon never had Arn Anderson brought in for a pep talk. So enough of the chit chat and let’s break out the good stuff.
Below you will find the inputs and outputs for everyone likely to play in the second half that has at least some semblance of a track record in the show. You can see the projected overall wOBA, career numbers against each handedness and also the observed split with its regressed value. The regressed platoon split is then moved around the projection and park effects are manipulated so that we can have an idea of that batter or pitcher’s chances of success against an average pitcher or batter of each handedness. Let’s start with our batters versus the average right-handed pitcher:
Longoria is the lone righty slipping in to the top-five as Jaso bests him by a considerable margin. Loney and DeJesus push from behind with Kiermaier and Forsythe coming in slightly above average. If you’re going to play both Jaso and DeJesus then that means one of them has to be in the outfield and it also means that Joey Butler, the next best hitter, doesn’t really have a position since he has no business in an outfield.
Moving to the bottom we see a guy that will be in at least a half to three quarters of the games against righties. Chalk that up as a black hole. Asdrubal being out for, oh let’s say, the next month means the Less than Jake Elmore show (R/A to my man FreeZorilla) takes a few more spins on the carousel. Not that Tim Beckham or Nick Franklin present appreciably better options. Let’s say that Franklin and Mahtook stay in Durham a bit longer. Souza probably comes back quickly, but he starts on the DL with Cabrera on there until at least July 26th and Jennings at least a month away. Let’s construct a lineup of who remains:
Pos Name wRC+
DH Jaso 118
LF DeJesus 106
3B Longoria 107
1B Loney 106
2B Forsythe 102
CF Kiermaier 102
RF Guyer 97
SS Beckham 89/Elmore 85
C Rivera 79/Casali 89
Bench Sizemore 96/Butler 100
Let’s move on to the lefties:
We seem to profile better against lefties, but it’s not quite that bright when you put Souza on the DL. Sizemore profiles as our worst hitter against lefties. I’m as nostalgic as the next person when I see Sizemore on first standing next to Rocco, but it seems that his time may be running out if he only profiles as a bench bat against righties. That would be a great role for September, but it seems tough to carry the roster spot until then. My guess is that he’s gone once Souza comes back meaning Beckham stays up a bit longer. Let’s take a stab at this lineup:
Pos Name wRC+
2B Forsythe 112
DH Butler 107
3B Longoria 116
RF Jaso 102
LF Guyer 103
1B Loney 93
SS Beckham 95/Elmore 92
CF Kiermaier 90
C Casali 95/Rivera 84
Wow, that’s ugly. I mean. Gross. Getting Souza back would help a bit and if Jennings can do what he has always done then it gets better, but ugh. Let’s switch gears and check out the pitchers vs. lefty batters:
This looks like it might be a real weakness. McGee is our only pitcher that is better than average against a lefty and Matty Moore is still a work in progress until further notice. One guy that fascinates me is Enny Romero who currently resides in Durham. I think his slider has a chance to be an out pitch just like Betances’s breaking ball. He looks like a lefty clone he just needs to learn what McGee learned. If you throw it hard enough and it moves unpredictably then starting it down the middle of the plate isn’t such a bad thing. I’d like to see him on the shuttle, at least, but until then I’m marking him as in the minors.
Cedeno and Riefenhauser are fairly interchangeable, though only the latter has an option so it’s probably more of the former for a little while longer. Gomes should never be used against lefties, but, sigh. Surprisingly Erasmo profiles pretty poorly against lefties, but my guess is that is tied a ton to when he used to throw the slider. It was such a poor pitch that my guess is that lefties ruined it. He has certainly looked better of late. On to the righties:
Playing the role of Dan Wheeler in this season’s play will be Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen’s wide split jumps to the forefront. Part of the Rays path to success depends on relievers being able to get both hands out so that they can go full innings. This cuts down on the effectiveness as now you’re asking a guy to lean towards the walk for fear of the hit or the big fly. This can lead to big innings if you end up unable to get the guys you’re there to get. If the starters can get back to giving an extra inning or three each time through the rotation then maybe you can get more creative with how you use Jepsen, but until then I think he’s going to get the 7th. He has been pretty good, but watch out for stacked lefties.
So we know that the starters coming out of the break are:
P Name wRC+ vRHB/vLHB
SP1 Odorizzi 101/104
SP2 Ramirez 100/110
SP3 Archer 93/104
SP4 Moore 106/100
SP5 Karns 103/108
Again, teams stacked with lefties could pose a challenge, but I think we match up well against righties, especially if Archie gets a spin. I think this allows you to hide the long bullpen games of Moore and maybe Karns by bookending them between the two guys that are allowed to go longest. Ramirez is slowly gaining a little more leash, but he’s also in a good position to have a somewhat rested pen. Which looks something like this:
Leverage Name wRC+ vRHB/vLHB
Highest McGee 94/95
High Boxberger 104/100
Med-Hi Jepsen 95/109
Medium Geltz 100/106
Low/LHB Cedeno 116/101
Low/RHB Gomes 100/111
Low/Eat IP Colome 103/109
The unfortunate thing about this pen right here is that it doesn’t allow the team to do the most ingenuitive thing that I had seen since the shifts. In order to be able to shuttle guys up and down you need at least one of your bullpen guys to have an option. My guess is that the team is eventually going to have to choose between Cedeno and Gomes with the other being DFA’d. It’s difficult to see whoever ends up getting dropped making it through waivers.
While that obviously sucks the upside is that now you can bring up guys like Enny Romero and/or C.J. Riefenhauser in the same series if you’re facing a team with a bunch of lefties. Let one pitch in one game with the other replacing him somewhere else in the series so that the first guy can go get rested at Durham for ten days. Facing a monster offense so you think you might need a bunch of outs mid game, well maybe you want Bellatti or Andriese to come up for an appearance or two to soak up innings and keep the rest of the pen sheltered. Hell, maybe you need to throw Kirby Yates to the wolves for a couple of innings because when you’re out of ammo you have to go to the knife.
The point is that the bullpen was able to walk the line of use and over use when the team was able to transition players back and forth (well, that and Odorizzi being there for an extra nine outs each turn.) I’d probably cut the cord on Gomes even though he has his uses and open the train station back up so that things can start flowing more properly again. This isn’t a bad pen when you’re able to hide weaknesses better, but that day may never come.
The Rays have been somewhat fortunate to be a game over .500 at the break with the amount of injuries they have suffered and the general malaise that is the offense at times. The keys to the second half will revolve around getting back to what was working in the first half. The offense has been poor, but early on when we saw a conscious turn to prioritize defense over offense this team showed just how very stingy it can be when it comes to run allowance. That’s tough right now with the lineup because you’re always going to have a subpar corner outfielder and SS could be a mess while Cabrera is out. Going offense over defense will just cause the sand castle to be swept away with the outgoing wave, however. A small influx to the offensive side of the game is not worth the defensive trade off. Let’s see if the Rays realize that.
On the pitching side there obviously needs to be health, though one minor injury to Cedeno or Gomes could unlock the full potential of a pen that has gotten the job done more often than not. The starting staff is going to be good. A lot of the time. Karns and Moore are going to be prone to blow ups, but I think the front three are going to be consistently good just as they have been all year long. Pitching and defense are going to win this thing for the Rays.
Coming into the season I had the Rays as an 85 win team on paper. If they play at that pace the rest of the year on top of the 46 wins they already have then you’re talking around 83 wins. Like Mulder, I want to believe. I think these guys outplay the projections and go something like 40-31 the rest of the way. That gets us to 86 wins and firmly in the wild card hunt if not the division lead. Beating the shit out of our division mates wouldn’t hurt, either. What say you? Send your guesses for the number of Rays wins over these final 71 games to @sandykazmir