Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
The Tampa Bay Rays had an up and down year, but their regular season ended on a high note as the team won three straight elimination games to take on their division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the ALDS. More success wasn't in the cards though, as the Rays fell in four to Boston.
Preseason Prediction: Actually, the best case scenario may not be too far off from what realistic expectations are for the Rays in 2013. They have enough offense to carry them through the regular season and they have one of the best starting staffs in the league. The high profile moves from Toronto and Los Angeles are preventing them from getting the attention that they deserve. But this is a team to be reckoned with in the American League this season.
What Went Right: Evan Longoria was healthy, playing in 160 games, and awesome, hitting .269/.343/.498 with 32 homers and his usual fantastic defense. After playing in just 74 games last year, this was a pleasant turn of events for Tampa Bay. The team bought low on shortstop Yunel Escobar and was rewarded with a .256/.332/.366 stat line along with phenomenal defense, and perhaps more importantly, no incidents on or off the field. Desmond Jennings outproduced BJ Upton, hitting .252/.334/.414 and stealing 20 bases. Once he got called up from AAA, Wil Myers mashed, hitting .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers in 88 games, positioning himself to possibly win the AL Rookie of the Year award. James Loney turned into Tampa Bay's latest scrap heap first base success story, hitting .299/.348/.430 while making just $2 million. Ben Zobrist put together yet another five win season, though his offensive numbers took a hit. Kelly Johnson played very well as yet another reclamation project.
On the mound, David Price made only 27 starts, but was pretty incredible after his DL stint, posting a 2.53 ERA in 131 2/3 innings. Alex Cobb had a breakout yet despite a scary incident where he took a line drive off his forehead, pitching to a 2.76 ERA in 22 starts. Alex Torres had a shutdown year in the bullpen, striking out 62 in 58 innings over 33 games.
What Went Wrong: A lot of the Rays young pitching regressed, let by 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, who had a 5.17 ERA on the season. Matt Moore's strikeout and walk rates slightly ticked in the wrong direction, and his strikeout to walk ratio somehow fell below 2:1. Fernando Rodney's ERA ballooned to 3.38 as his command issues returned, though after a rough first two months to the year, his ERA was 2.45 over the final four months. Roberto Hernandez wasn't impressive at all as the club's fifth starter, and was eventually pushed to the bullpen at the end of the year. Kyle Farnsworth and Josh Lueke were both terrible in the pen as options for Joe Maddon. Sam Fuld's offensive and defensive numbers plummeted to the point of unplayability. Ryan Roberts had an awful year and was excised from the roster.
Most Surprising Player: This has to be James Loney, right? After showing promise as a 23-year old in 2007 with the Dodgers, Loney had been mediocre to terrible in every year since, bottoming out last year with a .249/.293/.336 line between the Dodgers and Red Sox. He hit just six homers, which is unacceptable for a first baseman. Of course, the Rays signed Loney for peanuts, and he delivered in the same way that Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman had in prior years. Loney had his best year since that breakout 2007 season, and posted his highest fWAR ever thanks to a line drive rate just shy of 30%. It's just crazy what the Rays do with guys like this.
Most Disappointing Player: Was there anyone on the Rays that was really disappointing? Hernandez was awful, but no one expected him to be good. The offense was better than expected nearly across the board. Rodney wasn't lights out like he was last year, but no one expected him to do *that* again, and he was still a one win guy. I think Hellickson is the only real choice here, and I'm not sure how fair that is. While his ERA did jump by two runs from 2012 to 2013, Hellickson did lower his FIP and xFIP, raise his strikeout rate, and lower his walk rate, leading to an increase in value by half a win. But a two run spike in ERA is really not a good thing, even if it's spurred on by a 46 point increase in BABIP and a 16% decline in strand rate.
The Future: This is likely the end of the line for David Price in Tampa, as his salary will likely jump to north of $13 million this year in arbitration. The Rays will likely also be bidding adieu to some of their more successful reclamation projects that are due for bigger paydays, like Rodney, Loney, and Johnson. Catching stalwart Jose Molina is also a free agent, but I think the Rays would make a substantial effort to bring him back. But let's be honest: this is what the Rays do. Longoria and Moore are both signed affordably for next year (and far, far beyond), Zobrist and Escobar will both likely be back thanks to affordable club options. Cobb, Jennings, Myers, Torres, Chris Archer, and Jake McGee are all still in their pre-arb years. The Rays are just going to keep rolling along and doing what they do, and I'd never bet against Andrew Friedman making a sneaky good move or three to keep the club in contention next year.