Around this time every year, Daniel and the good folks at the Cards Conclave ask a number of questions of blogs that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball. And for the third consecutive year, X-Rays Spex is fortunate to be one of the blogs included in this ongoing series, called Playing Pepper.
The premise is simple: we were asked six questions as a way for others, not familiar with the Tampa Bay Rays, to better acquaint themselves with our small market team. As we’ve done in the past, below are the answers to three of the six questions. When Daniel publishes the piece in its entirety, we’ll post the other questions and responses, along with a link so you read what everyone has to say.
1. What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?
Even though the Tampa Bay Rays traded away a couple of key pieces (Nathan Karns and Jake McGee), they picked up Brad Miller ― a player that projects to be better than his predecessor, Asdrubal Cabrera ― a cache of sluggers in Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson; as well as Danny Farquhar and David Carpenter, both of whom could make an impact out of the bullpen.
Could Matt Silverman have added a few more pieces? Sure, and there were trade whispers involving Tampa Bay and Chicago for Javier Baez. However, the PECOTA projection system likes the Rays as they are, and given that PECOTA is pretty accurate ― give or take six games ― I’ll take it.
2. Will Chris Archer be in the conversation for the 2016 Cy Young Award?
First, let me preface things by saying that online gambling site Bovada foresees David Price as the overall favorite to win the Cy Young Award with a 4/1 chance. Yet sitting just behind Price is his protege, Chris Archer, with a 6/1 chance of winning the highest pitching honor.
Archer is already known for an explosive upper-90s fastball and an elite slider. But he’s also been tinkered with another weapon ― an effective change-up.
In a recent Spring Training game against the Boston Red Sox, Archer admitted to focusing on his change-up, throwing it more frequently than normal, while using his slider just three times. Archer spoke about the reaction to his change-up by Boston’s A lineup, saying,
That was one thing I was happy about, every batter I faced is probably going to be in their Opening Day lineup, so it was good to get positive feedback from that.
Worked on the changeup quite a bit (Friday). I know that I threw quality changeups when the scoreboard said slider, and it really was a changeup. And that happened probably four or five times because I only threw three total sliders. So I was really happy with that.
Sometimes you find small things that validate your work, and that’s it. Because those guys are supposed to be professionals at identifying pitches for the fans. If it has the same late action and depth as my slider, then mission accomplished.
Rays pitching coach, Jim Hickey, also had a difficult time distinguishing that pitch from his slider from the viewpoint of the dugout.
Getting back to the question, ZiPS and Steamer both project Archer to take a step back in 2016. Here’s the thing about projections though, they should be viewed as a good starting point when looking at a player’s peripherals. That is, projections aren’t word as law, nor should they be viewed that way.
For Archer, there’s never been a concern about his stuff. Rather, the question has more to do with whether he can control his repertoire of pitches at the same time. If Archer can master both his change-up and lapse in control, he will have what it takes to put together a Cy Young Award caliber season.
3. What’s the strength of this team?
The team’s strength, hands down, is the starting rotation. Archer has become a true ace, Jake Odorizzi has been excellent when health concerns haven’t gotten in his way, and Erasmo Ramirez proved that he can be a solid, dependable hurler since coming over from Seattle in 2015.
Matt Moore and Drew Smyly missed a lot of time last season due to injuries. And while Moore posted some ugly numbers upon his return from the disabled list, he finished 2015 strongly and carried that momentum into Spring Training. His velocity is up too, which is a very good sign. Smyly was very good even when working around a shoulder problem. For him, it’s about staying healthy.
Then there’s LHP prospect Blake Snell waiting in the wings, and Alex Cobb should return midseason from his stint on the DL. Cobb could provide the club with a big boost in the second half of the season.
To be continued…