Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Tampa Bay Rays
Fernando Rodney for really real, yo?
This right-hander entered 2012 with a lifetime ERA of 4.29 and BB/9 of 4.88. The huge gains he made in the latter have a good deal to do with his improvement in the former. Is this kind of dramatic change possible without the intervention of bribery or sorcery?
It certainly is, but, as the Rays have proven time and again, they have one of the most forward-thinking organizations in baseball. They invest time and energy in their processes, which are always evolving, in large part because they must in order to compete with teams that can afford more talent. But they remain pure at heart and committed to those ideals. ... Well, who knows if that's true. But imagine what other clubs could accomplish, if only. ...
Anyway, Tampa Bay's staff made some suggestions to Rodney about his mechanics that allowed him to get much more from his ability, but he almost certainly exceeded even their expectations in 2012. It's almost a given that he won't repeat his record-breaking performance (0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP). He gave up only one more earned run (five) than he did runs on error.
But, for your sanity's sake, hopefully those aren't your standards. There is good reason to believe that the soon-to-be 36-year-old will retain much of the leap forward in his indicating marks, such as his rate of walks per nine innings. He's posted a ground-ball rate of 50 percent or better in each of the past four seasons. He has strikeout stuff, thanks to regularly mid-90s fastball velocity with and a superb changeup. And Tampa Bay's tinkering should help to aid Rodney's quest to avoid injury.
Doubters should do a lot to alleviate interested bidders' worries about Rodney's price point. You determine whether it's enough for you.
Which rotation member is closest to his next breakout?
The easy answer: Matt Moore, the stupendously talented left-hander. It should be noted that he hadn't experienced control problems like those he had in 2012 since 2009, in A ball. He improved on his first-half ERA of 4.42 by posting a 3.01 mark after the break thanks in part to his drop in BB/9 from 4.52 to 3.59. A 3.59 BB/9 isn't great; prospectors should prefer to see more stability in his 2012, but he has the tools to make a number like that hold up, and he could take a bigger step forward in 2013. Still, he's 23, so don't expect a Cy Young Award just yet.
Moore overshadows two pitchers rounding out the rotation, beginning with Jeff Niemann, who's entering his age-30 season. Health problems have been his most recent, although hopefully not biggest, hurdle. He's upped his ability to limit base runners and home runs; he may have been on his way to a career year in the strikeout column had a liner not fractured a bone in his leg in May. Hopefully, the shoulder inflammation he encountered when he came back was not a long-term concern, but it's not his first bout. There's a lot of room for profit here.
The other is Alex Cobb, another right-hander who's better-versed in the art of fly-ball limitation than Niemann. Under Tampa Bay's tutelage, he cut down on the poor control rate that had plagued him for the past year between the parent club and the Rays' Class AAA affiliate, Durham. In what should be the 25-year-old's first full big-league season, he could easily be an above-average pitcher who costs very little.
When will Tampa Bay promote Wil Myers?
There will be a lot of rotisserie excitement about Myers, fueled at least in part by the 2012 campaigns Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had, but also because of the clippings that Myers generates. Folks using those rulers are probably setting themselves up for disappointment.
First, Myers is a great prospect, but he's not quite in the class of the Washington Nationals' stud-to-be, or that of the record-setter from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Second (a), the 22-year-old is virtually assured of beginning this season in the minor leagues. Second (b), the franchise hasn't been in a hurry to promote some prospects, especially position players, until they prove that they have an understanding of certain skills the organization values. See Desmond Jennings, 2011, for evidence.
Tampa Bay must be frugal, but only arbitration clocks are enough to keep the club from bringing up youngsters when the Rays' evaluators are confident that they're ready for The Show. Myers could probably stand to work on his control of the strike zone, among other things. Mid-May is the earliest, and it's not a given.
Don't be surprised if Tampa Bay signs a well-traveled vet or two in hopes of providing competition for projected left fielder Sam Fuld's playing time, at minimum.
Who's the organization's reclamation project this year?
Perhaps it'll be that guy. (See the last line of the answer to the previous question.)
If not, why can't it be James Loney? The dutifully disappointing former Los Angeles Dodger failed to add the home run power that his old organization tried to instill in him for years. In the process, they probably corrupted the left-handed swinger's better-than-average approach and line-drive stroke and turned him into something less productive. He turns 29 in May. There's still time for the Rays to resuscitate his inner Casey Kotchman.
Or, how about Ryan Roberts? In 2011's first half, he surprised the roto globe on his way to 19 homers and 18 stolen bases with the Arizona Diamondbacks, albeit with a batting average that dipped to .249 by season's end. His mediocre plate discipline hurts his chances to get on base, but the club's acquisition of him for a low-level prospect at last year's trade deadline suggests there may be something worth salvaging. The 32-year-old vet is expected to play a variety of infield positions, at least, or man second base.
In your deep (or, perhaps, very deep) leagues, don't write off players like these completely. You never know.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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