The Rays failed to outperform the projection for the first time in quite a while. They are usually ever-present over-performers due to their roster construction method being difficult to predict and their ability to pull relievers out of nowhere. This season they were decimated by injuries, but despite that still managed to make it to the postseason and a pitchers-duel defeat to Cleveland.
Record: 86-76 (3rd AL East)
Preseason Projected Wins: PECOTA 85.4 & Fangraphs 86.0
Playoffs: Reached Wild Card Series
The walking wounded
You cannot really describe the Tampa Bay Rays season without talking about the injuries. Across the 2022 season, the Rays had 31 different players combine for 2,295 days on the IL. The Baseball Prospectus’ injury ledger tool estimates that they lost 30% of their possible WAR due to these injuries, equivalent to about nine wins.
These predominantly affected their pitching with 21 of the 31 injured players being hurlers. Some of which they knew about coming into the season with the likes of Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos coming back from TJ. This level of injury was only second to the Twins this season and would be in the top five for the last three seasons.
The Rays team is already more of a patchwork team than most which means they could potentially ride injuries better than others, but this year they really struggled on occasions. So, let’s look at how that played out.
With many other teams, I wouldn’t start with the relievers but I think it shows the Rays’ difficulties. They used 33 relievers in 2022, which is four less than in 2021, but the big difference from the previous years was that 12 of those relievers were below-replacement level and they pitched a lot of innings. Here is how it looks over the previous years.
You have to go back to 2016 to find a year that the Rays had more relief innings pitched from below-replacement players. This nearly three-fold increase in innings pitched by sup-replacement-level players hurt the Rays as reliever management is usually their strong point.
They still got an outstanding season from Jason Adam and an immense 24 games from Pete Fairbanks once he was back from injury. Fairbanks, 1.13 ERA in a 24-inning cameo, was potentially the best bit of relief pitching we saw in Tampa over the last decade and that is really saying something.
Let’s continue with the happier topics and look at the starting pitching of Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. These three were fantastic; they all pitched over 125 innings with an ERA below 3.00.
McClanahan improved his control which meant, at times, he was untouchable at the start of this season. A few late-season beat-ups and a stint out on the IL took away his CY Young chances and might have worried some fans, but his great performance against Cleveland in the Wild Card Series should have alleviated any fears that he’d lost it.
Rasmussen joined the Rays rotation in 2021 and finished the year in impressive fashion. He continued with that throughout the 2022 season, matching his 2.84 ERA. He looked good either side of his 20 days on the IL for a hamstring strain. He’s one to watch out for in 2023; I’m really wondering if he can keep his BABIP as low as he has for the last two seasons (.260 v .291 league average).
And Springs started in the bullpen (like Rasmussen did the season before) but by mid-May, he was starting for the Rays and looked very good at it. Unsurprisingly for the Rays, he never pitched more than six innings and only faced batters for a third time 30% of the time. Springs’ changeup was a great put-out pitch for him and I look forward to seeing what he can do in 2023.
Elsewhere, Corey Kluber reliably ate up starts and innings, being a solid number four and thanks to the aforementioned injuries, they had the other 50 starts split over 14 people. I’m not certain if 19 different starters is a record but it is definitely very high.
On the hitting side, they were led by the man mountain that is Yandy Diaz. His continued resurgence is due to the fact that he is finally improving his launch angle while he continues to obliterate the ball. His Statcast percentiles are always fascinating to look through.
Behind Diaz, there was a solid if not remarkable season from Randy Arozarena who hit 20 home runs and stole 32 bags. Arozarena brought his strikeout rate down a bit but it is still high enough that you always worry. Randy by the way was the only Ray to get more than 560 plate appearances; he managed 645.
If you’d asked me to guess who was the third-best hitter on the Rays by fWAR, I don’t think I would have ever said the answer, Isaac Paredes!! It was only 2.4 WAR which probably tells you a bit about how the Rays’ hitters fared in 2022 when they were on the field.
Paredes came to the Rays as part of a trade with Detroit for Austin Meadows just before the start of the season and spent the first month of the season down in Triple-A. He then put up a 116 wRC+ over 381 plate appearances as a versatile infield fill-in for the Rays. He played innings at first, second and third becoming exactly the player that the Rays wanted him to be. Meadows on the other hand, sheesh. Let’s just say it looks like the Rays have won this trade.
Wander Franco only managed half a season thanks to a couple of injuries and looked like his awesome self when he was on this pitch. Others missed big time like him; Manuel Margot, Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier all missed over half the season, which meant the Rays were really spreading out their plate appearances.
For every positive, there was a negative. Strong performances in a short time span from Jose Siri and Christian Bethancourt were counteracted by a poor showing from Vidal Brujan and Taylor Walls.
They ended the season on a losing run, losing 18 of the last 30 and there weren’t many positive Rays fans going into the postseason. Only the return of Tyler Glasnow was giving hope to some. Their exit to Cleveland in a pitching-dominated series only further highlighted the struggles they had with the bat this season.
There are reasons to be positive about this season though. I would very much expect the team to have fewer injuries next season, and they have seen great development from some young players who should be the core of this team for a few years.
Estimated 2022 Payroll: $86M
Estimated 2023 Payroll: $68M
My model really likes the Rays squad as it is right now compared to the other rosters. Obviously, there are a few teams that will pass the Rays due to them spending money when we know Tampa won’t. Franco is the best shortstop who is on a team right now and will play the full season.
Tampa doesn’t have a glaring weakness, just catcher and right field which could use some improvements, but I don’t expect much from the Rays in regard to these areas. They have a number of players who are multi-positional so I expect them to utilise that to fill-in issue spots rather than sign free agents.
I think they will sign one or two older guys who are innings eaters like they did with Kluber in 2022, especially as they non-tendered Ryan Yarbrough.
Bad offseason: No signings and a few injured players in the offseason and spring training
Ok offseason: No signings and players fit for the seasons
Good offseason: Andrew Heaney & Andrew Benintendi
Best offseason: Jacob deGrom & Brandon Nimmo (But they ain’t spending this much)
Featured image of Peter Fairbanks by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
This is part of a series of articles by Russell Eassom. Make sure you check out the others. Russell is Bat Flips and Nerds’ resident analytical genius, and arguably Europe’s finest sabermetrician. If you’re not following Russell on Twitter @REassom then you’re doing baseball wrong.