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A Tampa Bay Rays Blog: Ball on a Budget

Updated: 2017-12-14T17:10:51-05:00


Rays constantly fail to live up to their third-order winning percentage


By all predictions the Rays should be much better than they have been The Rays have posted four straight losing seasons. That is a fact. They finished below 81 wins each of the past four seasons, and in a sense, that’s all that really matters. But on the other hand, each of the past four offseasons should have given Rays fans some amount of hope heading into the following seasons, because in each of these losing seasons (yes, even 2016) the Rays finished the season over .500 by Baseball Prospectus’ third-order winning percentage. In fact, by BP third-order winning percentage, the Rays have been over .500 every season since 2007, and they have been a playoff-worthy team six of the past 10 years (with added playoff appearances in 2012, 2015, and 2017, and a lost playoff appearance in 2011). “What exactly is Baseball Prospectus third-order winning percentage?” you may be asking yourself right now. The BP website defines the metric as: 3rd Order Winning Percentage: A team's projected winning percentage, based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents. Uses Adjusted Equivalent Runs scored and allowed, which adjust the Equivalent Runs totals for the quality of each team's opponents' pitching and defense. In other words, third-order winning percentage tries to strip out some of the inherent luck involved with a single year of baseball and determine how many wins and losses the team truly deserved in a neutral context. Most baseball fans know about Bill James’ Pythagorean winning percentage formula (based on runs scored and runs allowed), and third-order winning percentage is that idea taken to its natural next step. Instead of looking at wins and losses through the lens of runs scored and allowed, third-order winning percentage goes even more granular and looks and wins and losses through the lens of runners on base and runners allowed on base. In theory, it should be even more predictive than Pythagorean winning percentage, in terms of season-to-season comparisons. So how is it possible that the Rays have underperformed their third-order winning percentage for seven seasons on the trot? Here’s a crazy chart for you: That’s the past eight seasons of difference between actual wins and third-order wins. No team comes even close to the Rays level of malaise. The difference between the bottom-ranked Rays and the top-ranked Royals has been an average swing of over 11 wins a season. That’s the difference between a .463 winning percentage (75 wins) and a .531 winning percentage (86 wins). It’s no wonder that the Rays would have been to three additional postseasons in the past six seasons if they had done as well as their underlying metrics said they should have. So why haven’t the Rays actually been a perennial playoff team? Lets go over some possibilities. The AL Beast Notice the team right above the Rays in terms of worst third-order success since 2010. It’s the Boston Red Sox. Up five more spots are the Toronto Blue Jays, and after last season, the Yankees are now below water when it comes to third-order wins in the past eight seasons, as well. In a sense, this is logical. The AL East has long held the “strongest division in baseball” title, a claim supported by two of the best teams in baseball this millennium (Sox and Yanks) calling the division home. Toss in one of the sneaky-biggest markets in baseball (Toronto, who gets all of Canada) and a pesky Orioles team (more on that in a second), and the division has power at the top, and depth throughout, at least when it comes to 21st century talent. If everyone in the division is winning, it kind of breaks the third-order formula, which tries to strip out schedule difficulty. As such, the only AL East team to win more real games than third-order wins since 2010 is the Orioles. The Orioles have been the third-best team at overperforming their third-order winning percentage since 2010, with only Kansas City and Pittsburgh topping them. They are basically the anti-Rays. They have overperformed their third-order winning per[...]

Rays re-sign LHP Jonny Venters; announce seven minor league signings and Spring Training invitations


The Tampa Bay Rays announced this morning the following minor league contracts (with an invitation to major league spring training): LHP Jonny Venters Venters continues to defy odds with his baseball career. Once among the best relievers in baseball, Venters has undergone three Tommy John surgeries and ended his 2016 season with a fourth elbow injury that did not require surgery. He returns to the Rays for his fourth season in the organization in 2018, having risen to the Triple-A level last season. This time, the signing finally comes with an invitation to major league Spring Training. Is this the season he returns? Read More: Former Braves relief ace Jonny Venters could be the story of the year in Tampa Bay RHP R.J. Alaniz Alaniz, 26, split time between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo in the Detroit system over the past two seasons after signing as a free agent out of Houston organization. With Detroit he pitched to a 2.94 ERA (144-IP, 47-ER) in 95 appearances (10 starts). RHP Cody Hall Hall, 29, has made a combined nine appearances in the majors with the San Francisco Giants (2015) and Miami Marlins (2016). Per the team press release, he started last season pitching for Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League, and finished the season with Double-A Richmond in the Giants organization. RHP Colton Murray Murray, 27, signed out of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, where he made 32 appearances in the majors from 2015-16. Last season he pitched at Double- and Triple-A. UTIL Brandon Snyder Snyder, 31, is a previous first round draft pick from 2005, and has appeared in the majors in parts of five seasons with the Orioles (2010-11), Rangers (2012), Red Sox (2013) and Braves (2016). Per the team press release, he spent all of last season with Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington Nationals organization, batting .263/.356/.490 (110-for-418) with a career-high 23 home runs. LHP Adam Kolarek and LHP Vidal Nuño Previously announced, these pitchers were signed early in the off-season, and their presence allowed the Rays to move on from veteran LHP Xavier Cedeno at the 40-man roster deadline. Nuno is a journeyman who could function in a long relief role, while Kolarek (who debuted with the Rays last season) is known for an extreme groundball rate. Read More: Tampa Bay Rays sign LHP Vidal Nuno and LHP Adam Kolarek to minor league deals In addition to the seven free agents above, the following minor league players have received invites to major league spring training: outfielder Jason Coats, catcher Nick Ciuffo, outfielder Johnny Field, right-handed pitcher Ian Gibaut, first baseman/outfielder Joe McCarthy and infielder Kean Wong. Coats was claimed off waivers last offseason, but had a season lost to injury in 2017. Read more about Coats here. He and Field have the right handed bat profile the Rays need to platoon with Mallex Smith in LF next season. Ciuffo, a multiple time system defender of the year, was at risk to be taken in the Rule 5 draft, but fortunately remained with the club. He ranks third on the catcher depth chart and could easily make his MLB debut in 2018. Read more about Ciuffo here. Gibaut is likely to join 40-man roster relievers Diego Castillo, Chih-Wei Hu, Andrew Kittredge, Austin Pruitt, Jaime Schultz, Ryne Stanek, and Hunter Wood on the Durham shuttle next season. McCarthy is an early success from the 2015 draft, and has rocketed up through the Rays system. The left handed hitter boasted a 149 wRC+ in Double-A last season with a staggering 16.2% walk rate and seven home runs, and was profiled by Fangraphs in a piece looking for the next Matt Carpenter: Rays prospect Joe McCarthy‘s capacity to elevate hasn’t translated to markedly above-average power numbers. He’s recorded an isolated-power figure of .150 this year, not significantly higher than the Southern League average of .124. His home park suppresses left-handed homers a bit, it seems, so you can mentally adjust for that a little bit. At a basic level, though, McCarthy possesses the foundat[...]

Rays fortunate Nick Ciuffo survived the Rule 5 draft



On November 6th, 2017, the Rays outrighted Curt Casali to the minors and off their 40-man roster and he subsequently elected to become a free agent and signed late with the Los Angeles Angels. On the same date, Mike McKenry and Justin O’Conner also elected to become a free agents, leaving the depth at catcher extremely thin among the top of the minors system for the Rays.

For a player to be eligible to be selected, they must not be on the 40-man roster. If a player was drafted or signed when they were 18 or younger, they must have been under contract for at least five years. If a player was drafted or signed when they were 19 or older, they must have been under contract for at least four years.

The Rays have a couple of players eligible, that are projected as likely to being with RHP Burch Smith and C Nick Ciuffo among the names being suggested.

If a player is selected, the team who chose the player will pay his previous team $100K in order to retain his contract rights. The player will then have to remain on the team’s 25 roster throughout the regular season. If the team wishes to keep the player, but option him to the minors, they’d have to first offer the player back to his original team and then place him on waivers.

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Four Rays could be taken in the Rule 5 draft


JJ Cooper comes down with Rule 5 fever every year and puts out the most comprehensive list of prospects that could be taken. The list ends up around 100 deep. Usually only about 15 are taken and of those 15 only about 25-30% of players stick with their new organization. Cooper’s list of top five prospects available include players in the Tampa Bay Rays minor league system. RHP Burch Smith Coming in at number one is right hand pitcher Burch Smith. Smith missed all of 2015 and 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery but came back looking like the player who was once an intriguing prospect. Both at the end of the season at Triple-A Durham and in the Arizona Fall League, Smith sat 94-96 mph with his fastball, flashed a knee-buckling 74-76 mph curveball and showed a swing-and-miss 79-81 mph changeup. Though he’s 27 and has had serious arm health issues, Smith is major league ready and has the stuff to help a team as a back-end starter or move to the bullpen. This is a decision I think the Rays know is coming. Smith is as close to a lock as I think there’s been in a rule five draft recently. He has some major league experience. A team could give him the opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation or put him in the bullpen. The Rays didn’t feel he’s worth the roster spot. Maybe that’s a mistake, but it’s probably best for Smith. He won’t get an opportunity to start unless severe injuries hit the Rays rotation. This is similar to the decision to designate Chase Whitley for assignment. They both could be used by the Rays this year, but they also have comparable or better arms that need to get major league experience. C Nick Ciuffo Coming in at number five is catcher Nick Ciuffo. As a lefthanded hitting catcher with developing power, Ciuffo could be picked as a backup catcher much like Stuart Turner, who stuck with the Reds all year last year in a backup role. Turner is a little better than Ciuffo defensively, but Ciuffo has more offensive upside, as he started to show signs of hitting for more power in 2017. Ciuffo has an average arm, is a steady pitch framer and calls a solid game, but his feet limit his blocking ability. Ciuffo is solid defender who might be fine in a backup role today. His bat still needs time to develop. I think Ciuffo is probably the one the Rays hope isn’t taken, but the risk is definitely there. You’re never going to be able to protect everybody who can be taken. Last year Cooper listed twelve players as cream of the crop, including Yonny Chirinos. Only two were selected and both were returned. Last year 18 players were taken and only five stuck. Three of the five that stuck were selected by or traded to the San Diego Padres. There are still a couple that will have rule five rules follow over to next year until they earn 90 days on the major league roster. I would have protected Ciuffo, but understand it’s hard to keep a prospect who you don’t expect to see playing any role on your 2018 team. They chose to protect an arm like Jose Mujica over Ciuffo. This is definitely the most controversial of those exposed. This is going to be the most scrutinized decision if he’s taken. Without knowing who did select him I don’t know how likely he is to stick, but if a team doesn’t care about 2018 he’s gone. The odds could vary from 0% to 100% depending on destination. Catchers don’t typically stick but we did lose Oscar Hernandez when he was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He collected a major league paycheck, but it likely hindered his development long term. LHP Travis Ott Left handed specialists are a popular option in the rule five draft and Travis Ott is a possibility. Ott was part of the mammoth Wil Myers/Trea Turner/Steven Souza deal. He's been a slow-mover as he's yet to pitch above Class A. He's a skinny, low-slot lefty with plenty of funk. He has been effective as a starter but would profile better as a matchup lefty where his bag of tricks (quick pitches, big leg[...]