Having clinched the Wild Card at the end of the most dramatic evening of baseball in recent memory, the Rays should again prove a formidable foe for the Red Sox and the New York Yankees in the American League East. The Red Sox have to right their foundering ship soon, and there’s no team better to do it against than the Rays. Ok, maybe one team, but that’s next weekend.
David Price (facing Josh Beckett on Opening Day) had a down year in 2011, but is the bloom off the rose for this one-time “can’t miss” prospect? The numbers only slightly support that proposition. In 2010, Price had a 2.72 ERA but a 3.42 FIP and a .270 BABIP, so it could be said that 2010 was his lucky year. In 2011, Price had a 3.49 ERA versus a 3.32 FIP, and his BABIP went up to .281. But was Price slightly unlucky in 2011? Maybe not. His K/9 went up in 2011 and his BB/9 went down. The change can be explained by the fact that Price gave up 15 HRs in 2010 but 23 in 2011. Will Price keep the ball in the park in 2012?
Jeremy Hellickson (versus Clay Buchholz on Saturday) was the textbook definition of lucky in 2011. Hellickson’s stats scream regression: 189 innings pitched, 117/72 K/BB, 21 HRs allowed, only a 35% GB rate, a 2.95 ERA vs. a 4.44 FIP and a .223 BABIP (really?). You can sustain such a low BABIP when you put up raw K/BB numbers like a Justin Verlander, but you don’t sustain it with raw numbers like Hellickson circa 2011.
Matt Moore (against Felix Doubront on Sunday afternoon) is the latest stud pitcher to come to the majors from the Rays vaunted minor-league system (and really, Andrew Friedman, you can stop that any time now, ok?). Moore’s numbers have improved when he advances a level. From A ball to AAA, his FIP went from 2.83 to 2.38 in A+, to a small blip of 2.62 (vs. 2.20 ERA) in AA to 2.02 in AAA. Moore’s lowest K/9 was 11.52 in AA, but he matched that with his lowest BB/9 of his minor league career (2.46). He is a power lefty with control. If he could cook I’d marry him.
James Shields (facing Daniel Bard on Patriot’s Day morning) was the workhorse for the 2011 Rays and they need him to be as good in 2012 if they want to take the division. In 249.1 innings pitched, Shields had a 225/65 K/BB and a 4.9 fWAR. However, he did give up 26 homers and had a .258 BABIP and a 3.42 FIP (vs. a 2.82 ERA). The addition of Moore to the staff should take a little pressure off of Shields, but “Big Game” James can be a big threat for the Rays once again.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
For the last time, only spring training stats, but Reid Brignac (.333/.375/.367), Desmond Jennings (.327/.377/.531), and Stephen Vogt (.323/.382/.484) had good spring stats for the Rays, while Carlos Pena (.107/.254/.214), Matt Joyce (.156/.229/.313), and Elliot Johnson (.169/.258/.288) weren’t out there having fun in the warm Florida sun.
On the 15-day DL are LF Sam Fuld (right wrist surgery), out until at least July, RHP “Professor” Kyle Farnsworth (right elbow strain), out until May, CF B.J. Upton (back), out until about April 20th, and C Robinson Chirinos (concussion), due back at an undetermined date. LF Luke Scott is day-to-day with a tight left hamstring.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
Well, it wasn’t 0-6 this year. However, the 1-5 Red Sox haven’t put it all together yet. When they hit they don’t pitch, and vice versa. Beckett and Buchholz need good starts, if not wins, to give the fans some hope in this team. It would also help if Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis would start hitting. Yeah, that would be great.
The Tampa Bay Rays may pitch even better than they did in 2011 with the addition of Matt Moore to the rotation. If they continue hitting, they should be there or thereabouts in the American League East. Damn.