Tampa Bay Series Lead-in
Written by Brendan Gawlowski on July 20, 2012 @ 04:51AM      Jump To Comments

Getty Images The Tampa Bay Rays are rightfully lauded as one of the most well run teams in the industry. They compete with the financial Goliaths on a shoestring, are innovative with shifts and bullpen deployment, and have have been successful at locking up superstars at below market rates. But no management team is perfect and the Rays have to be kicking themselves for the John Jaso trade.

As Wilbur chronicled in his debut post, Jaso has been spectacular at the plate in limited action this season. He leads the Mariners in all of the slash categories, isolated power, and, contrary to the broadcast's perception of Jaso as an extremely aggressive hitter, he's also pacing the regulars in walk rate.

Meanwhile, the Rays have received less offensive production from the catcher position than any other team in baseball. Catchers in Tampa Bay have hit just .198/.268/.268 this season, which is actually a worse output than what the Mariners have put up at home. Jose Molina is often touted as one of the best defensive catchers in the league, but he'd have to playing the position extraordinarily well to compensate for his lack of value at the plate. Adding insult to injury, the Rays shipped Jaso to the Northwest in exchange for Josh Lueke, who has been a: terrible on the mound and is b: a public relations problem. Suffice to say, the Rays might like a do-over on that deal.

On to the other notes:

1. The Rays house one of the most underrated players in baseball: Few great players receive less media attention than Ben Zobrist, who has been one of the cogs of the Rays since the team's ascension to relevancy. All Zobrist has done is post 23 fWAR since the start of 2008, including a league leading (among position players) 8.7 figure back in 2009. He plays two positions well, hits for decent power, and walks more often than he strikes out. He's a hell of a player, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't think I'd recognize him if he sat next to me.

2. Fernando Rodney's lesson: There is a lot of talk about the fungibility of relief pitchers, but I don't think the term is quite right. Fungibility suggests that relievers are essentially commodities hanging around a big scrap heap that clubs visit when they need to fill out a roster. Instead, relievers are fickle. They are capable of wild performance swings from year to year, and bring an element of uncertainty towards any bullpen construction.

Rodney serves as exhibit A of reliever volatility. He was a mess last season for the Angels, striking out more batters than he walked and posting an xFIP north of 5. Armed with good control in 2012, Rodney is getting ground balls while posting the best walk and home run rates of his career. His ERA is under one, his FIP is under two, and he was a very deserving all-star representative. I haven't watched him enough in his career to know if he made any mechanical adjustments or not, but he's clearly a different pitcher this season. Examples of pitchers like Rodney make you wonder why teams ever give $30+ million to a closer.

3. A brief overview of Alex Cobb: James Shields and Matt Moore (TB's Friday and Sunday starter respectively) are already household names, so I'll skip them in favor of a short introduction to Cobb. Cobb, a twenty-four year old righty, employs both a two and a four seam fastball as well as a curve and a splitter. The splitter is his out pitch, and he relies on it nearly forty percent of the time. Cobb's velocity sits in the high eighties.

Considering that his best pitch is a splitter, it's not surprising that Cobb is an extreme ground ball pitcher: among starters with at least sixty innings, only Derek Lowe has induced more grounders. Despite pitching down in the zone, he still posts decent strike out numbers (6.41 k/9) and has a much shinier FIP/xFIP combo (3.53/3.78) than his 4.92 ERA would indicate.