After six years of winning records beginning with the 2008 season, the Tampa Bay Rays have spent the last two years recapturing the losing ways more familiar to their Devil Ray past. With their long-time GM Andrew Friedman departing to run the Los Angeles Dodgers, they will have their work cut out for them. David Price is gone and the core built around Evan Longoria has fractured. That said, in 2015 the Rays still finished at 80-82. Tampa bay isn’t done just yet, even in the AL East.
Since the days when signing Barry Bonds was a potential run-booster, the Rays have been looking for offense. The pitching is always strong, but a few more runs here and there would have been nice the last few years. 2015 was no exception: the Rays were sixth from the bottom in runs scored with 644, although the team was above average is both doubles (278), triples (32), and homers (167).
Evan Longoria was a career .275/.357/.512 hitter entering 2014. Since then he’s hit .261/.324/.419. After posting walk rates of greater than 10 percent from 2009 to 2013, Longoria fell to 8.1 percent in 2014 and 7.6 percent in 2015. However, his strikeout rates of 19.9 and 19.7 percent compare favorably to a career average of 20.2 percent. Is a rebound coming for the third baseman entering his age 30 season?
Steven Souza hit .225/.318/.399 with 16 home runs after coming over from the Washington Nationals. His outfield partner Kevin Kiermaier chipped in with a .263/.298/.420 line of his own with 10 homers. The veterans Grady Sizemore (..257/.318/.429) and David DeJesus (.259/.323/.375) chipped in with minimal production. Desmond Jennings, long hoped to be the replacement for Carl Crawford, appeared in just 28 games before hitting the DL.
In the José Molina-esque fashion, René Rivera hit a paltry .178/.213/.275 with only two more runs (16) than doubles (14).
There were some bright spots: Logan Forsythe (.281/.359/.444, 17 HR) and John Jaso (.286/..380/.459, 5 HR) came on strong. As for former No. 1 overall pick (2008) Tim Beckham, he contributed minimally in a utility role with a line of just .222/.274/.429.
Pitching has long been the Rays forte. In 2015, the staff had an ERA of 3.74—11th best in baseball. What they didn’t have was their pre-2015 aces: Matt Moore began the season on the DL and Alex Cobb, who ended up missing the entire season with injuries of his own. Luckily for the Rays, there were still enough pitchers to build a good staff.
Chris Archer broke out as an ace with a 3.23 ERA (2.90 FIP), 29.0 percent strikeout rate, and 7.6 percent walk rate. Archer made his first All-Star Game and finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting. He also led the staff with 212 innings pitched.
Jake Odorizzi had a 3.35 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 169.1 innings. A 21.4 percent strikeout rate and 6.6 percent walk rate helped him cement his value as the return for James Shields.
Drew Smyly, acquired in 2014 for David Price, was limited to just 12 starts over 66.2 innings.
Matt Moore returned from Tommy John surgery for 12 starts with a 5.43 ERA (4.82 FIP) and a reduced strikeout rate of 16.6 percent. It’s a reminder that not everyone returns at full strength immediately.
Was it a successful season?
The Rays have shown they can compete in the AL East even with a small payroll. In a sense, that makes every year at or over .500 a success. But after a run of years in the black the team has had back-to-back losing seasons. For the fans that have watched and waited for years, the ultimate payoff—a second long playoff run—has eluded them. In that context, 2015 just wasn’t successful for a team that has been so close so many times.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs