Mid-Season Review: The Infield | The Process Report

Mid-Season Review: The Infield

The All-Star Break is here. The Rays are 55-41, 2 1/2 games back of the division lead, and sit atop the American League’s Wild Card standings by half a game. Here is a look at the performance of Tampa Bay’s infield:

Jose Molina: Molina remains one of the best receivers in the league. His strong leadership skills and above-average caught stealing rate make it easier to overlook his poor mobility and issues with blocking balls in the dirt. The offensive expectations of Molina are always low, however, it’s worth noting his current on-base percentage would mark the second-best of his career in a season in which he made 100 or more trips to the plate.

James Loney: Early in the season Loney made a few mechanical tweaks designed to improve his timing and get him into the hitting position quicker. Those alterations have worked. Loney, always an excellent contact hitter with a solid approach at the plate, has added more power to his game this season. To wit: He’s topped his extra-base hit total from last season in 100 additional plate appearances. Loney’s defense is as good as advertised. He marries soft hands with a strong throwing arm, though he does over-pursue balls hit to his right at times. Loney seems to avoid the arrow celebration at all costs.

Ben Zobrist: One of the Rays’ two All-Star Game representatives, Zobrist is having a mundane season by his standards. He’s tried a few tricks to get himself in gear. First adding a bat waggle, which in Zobrist’s case is synonymous for trying to get his hands involved more, then going sans batting gloves at one point—a trick used by Evan Longoria when he feels he’s expanding his zone too much. The decline in power is a bit concerning, though Zobrist does so much well that he’s still an asset.

Yunel Escobar: Escobar’s defensive game is more entertaining than some players’ offensive games. His strong arm and flare for the dramatic have led to some mesmerizing jump-throw exhibitions. But, as good as Escobar is defensively, it’s important to not overshadow his offensive production. He’s not the on-base machine he once was, but he doesn’t strike out much and shows occasional pop. That he’s kept his game void of mental gaffes this season is an encouraging sign.

Evan Longoria: The best player in franchise history continues to excel across the board. He does just about everything well. The one knock on Longoria is his baserunning, which has suffered after last season’s hamstring injury. Otherwise he remains an excellent hitter and fielder. He’s probably going to be the the most-productive player in franchise history for a long, long time.

Jose Lobaton: Lobaton altered his posture and hand position at the plate entering the season, and it’s easy to wonder if those tweaks led to his improved offensive performance. He’s cut into his strikeout rate while improving on his power production; good signs from a player whose only positive offensive contribution last season was taking walks. Defensively Lobaton remains okay. He rates as an average receiver and well-below-average thrower. He could stand to show more on-the-field leadership qualities, which appear lacking in comparison to Molina.