MLB Team Roundup: Tampa Bay Rays

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Tampa Bay Rays

2021 Record: 100-62
First place, AL East
Team ERA: 3.67 (4th in MLB)
Team OPS: .749 (10th in MLB)

What Went Right

Despite losing two members of their starting rotation, Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, the Rays found a way to play their best regular season in the history of the franchise. In addition to a seemingly weaker rotation compared to their 2020 team, the Rays also were faced with an alarming number of injuries in their bullpen. Pete Fairbanks, Nick Anderson, Chaz Roe, and other major bullpen pieces were unable to contribute, but in typical Rays fashion underestimated pitchers stepped up to allow the Rays to end the season with the third-best bullpen in baseball in terms of reliever ERA (3.24). Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh in particular both had incredible seasons with a 1.88 ERA and 1.55 ERA respectively. The Rays' offense also helped overcome any pitching woes. With Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena, and Austin Meadows as key contributors, the Rays had one of the best offenses in team history. They ended the season second in runs scored and weighted runs created plus (wRC+). Mike Zunino broke out this season, with a .559 SLG and a barrel rate which was among the best in the league. The call-up of baseball’s number one prospect Wander Franco in June also helped maintain offensive consistency throughout the rest of the season. Franco hit .288/.347/.463 with a strikeout rate of only 12 percent. Arozarena and Franco in the first and second spots in the lineup ended up being a deadly combination come playoffs. Franco had the opportunity to be called-up because the Rays traded Willy Adames in May for J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen, two pitchers who ended up being very influential in the team’s success. The Rays also traded for now free agent Nelson Cruz at the deadline. While his offensive numbers took a hit during the second half of the season, his veteran presence and offensive contributions were still of high value to the lineup.

What Went Wrong

After MLB initiated substance checks league-wide for pitchers, players like Tyler Glasnow had very little time to adjust to the new rules. He had to grip the ball tighter in the two starts following the update and ended up with a partial UCL tear and flexor tendon strain, causing his season to end in June. With the Rays already down two of their starters from 2020, Chris Archer only pitching in six games this season, and Rich Hill being traded at the deadline, the Rays had to depend on rookie starters and the bullpen to make up the innings. While this worked for the regular season, it was a riskier move in the ALDS that ended up not working in their favor. Rookie Shane Baz and Drew Rasmussen both struggled against the Red Sox lineup in their starts, having trouble locating their breaking pitches. Shane McClanahan was dominant in his first game, but struggled in Game 4 when he was brought in to relieve opener Collin McHugh. Additionally, the Rays offense did not perform up to their regular season standard. Key contributors Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino, and Nelson Cruz had a tough time getting on base.

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Fantasy Slants

** Wander Franco made his MLB debut and showcased why he was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He has excellent contact skills and gets on base consistently, with plus strike zone recognition and a very low strikeout rate. If he played in more games this season, he would be in strong consideration for AL Rookie of the Year.

** Randy Arozarena is the presumptive favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Hitting .274/.356/.459 this season, Arozarena proved that his dominant 2020 postseason performance was not a fluke. While his strikeout rate is on the higher side, he also has a strong walk rate. He also became the 11th rookie in MLB history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases.

** Tyler Glasnow had season-ending surgery in August, and he will be out for the entirety of the 2022 season. Shane McClanahan stepped up as the Rays’ ace and finished the year with 141 strikeouts and 1.27 WHIP. While the Rays typically do not allow their starters to go very deep into games, McClanahan was given some more flexibility and was able to provide an average of about five innings in his starts.

** Mike Zunino had one of the best seasons of his career, with a .860 OPS and 33 home runs. This is due in part to a swing change that allowed him to get quality contact and barrels more consistently. He has a $7 million club option this offseason, which is on the more expensive side for the Rays. That being said, Zunino had an excellent year offensively and since the Rays rely so heavily on the success of their pitching staff and Zunino is a plus defensive catcher, they decided to exercise the option over the weekend.

Key Free Agents: Chris Archer, Nelson Cruz, Tommy Hunter, Collin McHugh, David Robertson, Chaz Roe, Michael Wacha

Team Needs: Starting pitching is a major need for the rookie heavy Rays' staff. At least two rotation spots can be upgraded for more reliable and consistent production. The bench can also be upgraded, specifically with a corner infielder (1B/3B). Due to the competitiveness of the AL East it is difficult to predict their 2022 season, but the Rays have a lot of depth and young talent that will keep them in the playoff race.