It goes without saying it has been a chore watching the Rays play baseball these days. On June 15th, the Rays shrimped their way to a win in 13 innings when Mike Montgomery walked Logan Morrison with the bases loaded. The next day, I took my father and kids to the afternoon game and the losing streak began. It is all my fault that the shot at .500 up and vanished like a fart in the wind.
In all seriousness, the team has under-performed for a good chunk of the season and the serious injuries to Kevin Kiermaier and Logan Forsythe did not help. Their losses showed up in the lineup, but not as much as they did in the field. We understood that the Rays were going to give up some defense to finally acquire some offense this season, but the defensive effort this season has been tough to watch and during this June/July swoon, it’s been downright brutal.
It’s unbelievable how fundamentally awful the Rays are defensively.
— Up in the Air (@jasoncollette) July 7, 2016
That tweet came after watching the top of the 3rd inning unfold where a blooper by Jett Bandy fell behind Nick Franklin and in front of Steven Souza Jr on a play where Souza Jr should have taken charge as he had the easier play but deferred to Franklin attempting an improbable catch. Later that inning, on what should have been a routine double-play, Nick Franklin took a great feed from Brad Miller and threw it in the dirt out in front of Logan Morrison allowing Mike Trout to move up to second base. Trout stole third base on the next pitch as Drew Smyly paid him no attention and then came home to score on a sacrifice fly by Albert Pujols. That kind of inning is just one of many that the Rays have struggled through defensively allowing the opposing team four and five outs to score runs.
ESPN’s Mark Simon tweeted something out earlier today which showed the rates each team converted ground balls into outs. The league-wide average for that is 73.2%, but the Rays (before today’s loss to the Angels) were a league-worst 69.8%. That is not a nice rate. The surprising thing is, it is not that far off from the most recent performances although it is quite a drop-off from earlier seasons (data from TruMedia begins in 2009):
The high water mark was Yunel Escobar‘s first season with the club and the decline began with him once he got his contract extension and his back pocket got heavier and he seemingly lost a step and half from one season to the next. Last season, the club saw a spike in infield defense from Logan Forsythe while Asdrubal Cabrera and James Loney were on lower tiers.
This season, the club made the decision to add more offense and sacrifice defense and no position has shown that more than shortstop. Brad Miller has been better than expected offensively with a career-best .333 wOBA and 13 homers, but the struggles in the field have been tough to watch. He has struggled with footwork and his throws for a good portion of the season and only San Diego’s Alexei Ramirez has a worse Defensive Runs Saved total than Miller’s -14. Single-season defensive metrics are not rock-solid, but none of them are kind to Miller, especially his -37.3 UZR/150. Compare those numbers to Cabrera’s this year with the Mets who has a -7 DRS score and a -4.2 UZR/150 with similar offensive production as Miller.
This season is what it is, so the second half should be used as an audition for the 2017 season. As the roster stands now, third base and second base are set but the team will need a new first baseman to replace Morrison. It should also be looking for a new shortstop as Miller does not look the part. Once the trade dust settles later this month, Dickerson should be able to shift to DH and open up left field for Miller to work things out there and allow Taylor Motter or even Daniel Robertson to audition for the role for 2017 . The free agent class is rather weak and there is a near-zero chance Willy Adames will be allowed to break camp with the big club next year. According to MLBTradeRumors, Erick Aybar and Ruben Tejada will be freely available while Alcides Escobar and the aforementioned Ramirez are potentially tied up with options. Thus, if the Rays do decide to go to Plan B at shortstop next season, it will likely be an internal move unless the situation is addressed on the trade market.