Check out Daniel Pardi’s 2022 Season Preview article for the Rays here.
Image: AP File Photo/Spectrum News
2022 Record: 86-76 (3rd in the AL East)
2022 Payroll: $104,313,773 (25th in MLB)
1. 3B Yandy Diaz (R): .296 AVG/.401 OBP/.423 SLG, 3.8 fWAR
2. SS Wander Franco (S): .277 AVG/.328 OBP/.417 SLG, 2.3 fWAR
3. LF Randy Arozarena (R): .263 AVG/.327 OBP/.445 SLG, 2.7 fWAR
4. DH Harold Ramirez (R): .300 AVG/.343 OBP/.404 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
5. 1B Ji-Man Choi (L): .233 AVG/.341 OBP/.388 SLG, 1.3 fWAR
6. 2B Isaac Paredas (R): .205 AVG/.304 OBP/.435 SLG 2.4 fWAR
7. RF Manuel Margot (R): .274 AVG/.325 OBP/.375 SLG, 1.5 fWAR
8. C Christian Bethancourt (R): .255 AVG/.265 OBP/.436 SLG 1.2 fWAR
9. CF Jose Siri (R): .241 AVG/.292 OBP/.367 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
10. OF Kevin Kiermaier (R): .228 AVG/.281 OBP/.369 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
1. Shane McClanahan (L): 166.1 IP/2.54 ERA/0.93 WHIP, 3.5 fWAR
2. Tyler Glasnow (R): 6.2 IP/1.35 ERA/0.90 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
3. Drew Rasmussen (R): 146.0 IP/2.84 ERA/1.04 WHIP, 2.9 fWAR
4. Corey Kluber (R): 164.0 IP/4.34 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 3.0 fWAR
5. Jeffrey Springs (L): 125.0 IP/2.66 ERA/1.07 WHIP, 2.6 fWAR
2022 Top 4 Relievers:
1. Jason Adam (R): 63.1 IP/1.56 ERA/0.758 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR
2. Jalen Beeks (L): 61.0 IP/2.80 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
3. Pete Fairbanks (R): 24.1 IP/1.13 ERA/0.67 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
4. J.P. Feyereisen (R): 24.1 IP/0.00 ERA/ 0.49 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
Regular Season Recap
Once again, Tampa Bay entered the season with one of the league’s lowest payrolls. Checking in at $104,313,773, Tampa Bay placed 25th overall in total payroll among MLB teams. In typical Rays fashion, Tampa Bay was quiet during the offseason, entering 2022 with a roster almost identical to its 2021 team.
While most teams do not need to worry about making a lot of offseason moves, Rays fans had reason for being upset at Tampa Bay’s lack of moves. The Rays had potent competition going into 2022. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays all had ninety-plus win seasons in 2021, and ranked in the top half of baseball in total payroll. Unlike their competition, Tampa Bay lacked the financial resources to make deadline acquisitions that could potentially help them down the stretch.
Still, Tampa Bay had reasons for optimism. In spite of their low payroll, Tampa Bay showcased that they can compete against upper-echelon teams. The Rays are notorious for outperforming people’s expectations.
In 2021, Tampa Bay won the AL East, and recorded an astonishing 100 wins. In 2020, Tampa Bay advanced to the World Series, and made a serious run for the chip in an intense six game series.
Tampa Bay was no stranger to being labeled an underdog. However, 2022 was different. Teams stopped overlooking the Rays. They featured a star-studded young roster brimming with talent, with almost half of the roster still years away from their prime. Following a season where Tampa Bay ranked second in offensive WAR and top five in ERA, Tampa Bay’s goal was no longer to win the division. Tampa Bay wanted more. Tampa Bay needed the chip. It was a do-or-die season for the Rays.
Unfortunately, there were some glaring red flags entering the season. Tampa entered the year with prominent injuries. Ace pitcher Tyler Glasnow fell victim to Tommy John Surgery in August of 2021. Glasnow was projected to miss most of the season. This left a massive hole in Tampa Bay’s pitching staff. The Rays were without a guy that they could consistently count on to deliver in that one spot in the rotation.
Additionally, pitchers Yonny Chirinos, Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, Brendan McKay, and Shane Baz all saw themselves join the 60-day Injured List before the season even started. This left the Rays with some notable pitching holes, so they appeared destined for some slight regression offensively.
In 2021, Tampa Bay featured a lineup full of players with limited track records. These players enjoyed breakout seasons in 2021, but there is always some uncertainty of these players regressing back to their mean performances. Nevertheless, these problems seemed somewhat minor coming on the heels of a 100 win season. Tampa Bay appeared to have enough young talent to warrant a playoff berth at the very minimum.
The Rays went into the All-Star Break with a record of 51-40. Tampa Bay closed the season with a less than impressive 35-36 record, ending the season with a five game skid. Even so, they showcased undeniable talent throughout the season. The year was headlined by an elite pitching staff and dominant bullpen.
Tampa Bay particularly benefited from the development of Shane McClanahan. McClanahan had a breakout season in 2021, his first full season, where he recorded a 3.43 ERA/1.27 WHIP/123.1 IP. In 2022, in Glasnow’s absence, McClanahan emerged as an ace-level pitcher.
On the season, McClanahan had a line of 2.54 ERA/0.93 WHIP, 166.1 IP, and also accumulated an impressive 3.5 fWAR for the season. McClanahan received the nod to start in the All-Star Game, and solidified his role as the new head of Tampa Bay’s pitching staff. He slightly faltered in the second half, but that is likely a result of an increased workload.
There were also notable performances from fellow pitchers Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. Rasmussen was an effective relief pitcher in 2021, who occasionally started games. This led to many question marks in his transition to a full time starting role. He erased all those questions in a complete breakout season where he recorded a 2.84 ERA/1.04 WHIP/146.0 IP stat line, good for 2.9 fWAR.
Similar to Rasmussen, Springs was a relief pitcher in 2021. However, in contrast to Rasmussen, Springs had only started two games in his whole career which both date back to 2018, his rookie season. Springs had mixed fortunes throughout his career, having never displayed an fWAR over 0.2, but he defied all expectations and recorded an absurd 2.66 ERA/1.07 WHIP/125.0 IP, good for 2.6 fWAR in 2022. Amazingly enough, Springs did this as their fifth pitcher in the rotation, further showcasing Tampa Bay’s elite pitching depth.
Collectively, Tampa Bay’s pitching was a highlight across all of baseball. Both their pitching staff and bullpen were particularly effective down the stretch. The Rays finished the season top five in ERA and WHIP, and also had a bullpen with a top three ERA in the American League. Strong pitching performances from Jason Adam (1.56 ERA, 1.3 fWAR), Pete Fairbanks 1.13 ERA, 1.2 fWAR), J.P. Feyereisen (0.00 ERA, 1.0 fWAR), Brooks Raley (2.68 ERA, 0.9 fWAR), Garrett Cleavinger (2.41 ERA, 0.5 fWAR), and Jalen Beeks (2.80 ERA, 0.6 fWAR) carried a dominant bullpen throughout the year. However, Tampa may have become too dependent on this pitching staff throughout the season because the offense was a completely different story.
Following a season where the Rays ranked second in offensive WAR in baseball, Tampa Bay’s placement at the bottom half in all of baseball the next year was vastly underwhelming. They were especially disappointing when it mattered down the stretch after Tampa Bay’s bats went completely quiet in September.
How did this occur? It seems like Tampa had a metro area-wide power outage. From 2021 to 2022, Tampa Bay’s slugging percentage dropped from 8th place to 25th place in baseball. Their home run leader in 2022 was a two-way tie between Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredas, and neither of these players had over twenty home runs, highlighting a noticeable decrease from 2021 (Brandon Lowe and Mike Zunino both totaled over 30 home runs in 2021). As a whole, Tampa Bay ranked only 25th in baseball in total home runs.
Tampa Bay’s offense was plagued by injury. Brandon Lowe missed 55 games during the season due to a stress reaction in his lower back, and Mike Zunino also missed a significant portion of the season as well after surgery July 28 for thoracic outlet syndrome in his left arm.
Additionally, sophomore sensation Wander Franco saw his season cut short. Franco underwent surgery on his right wrist, which took a noticeable punch out of the two spot in the lineup. Tampa Bay also missed the presence of veteran outfielder Kevin Kiermaier who underwent season-ending left hip surgery on August 3.
A bright side for Tampa Bay’s offense was the development of Isaac Paredas and Yandy Diaz. Paredas struggled mightily with the Detroit Tigers before being picked up by the Rays. Despite a lackluster .205 AVG, Paredas showcased his power with a .230 ISO. Diaz also emerged as an elite on-base threat, and should play a pivotal role as Tampa Bay’s leadoff man in 2023. More importantly, Diaz helped contribute mightily to Tampa Bay in their goals of a 2022 playoff run, posting one of the best offensive seasons in baseball.
Against all odds, Tampa Bay persevered through injury and found themselves in the playoffs once again. They recorded 86 wins on the season, which secured them a spot in a best of three Wild Card series, which meant their opponent was the ever-dangerous Cleveland Guardians. The Guardians had 92 wins on the season, and displayed one of baseball’s most dynamic offenses. Tampa Bay needed to be at their absolute best in this series.
It was time for Game One. Progressive Field was packed. The smells and sounds of October baseball were in the air. With both Cleveland’s and Tampa Bay’s seasons on the line, stakes were at an all-time high. It was a best-of-three series, loser goes home. This series was crucial for establishing much-needed momentum, especially after the Rays’ lackluster finish to the season. Game One was headlined by two of baseball’s best pitchers, Shane McClanahan and former Al Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber.
Unfortunately, similar to much of the 2022 season, Tampa Bay’s bats went quiet. Bieber bested McClanahan in an electric pitching duel. McClanahan’s two earned runs across seven innings was not enough to top Bieber’s stellar pitching performance. Bieber pitched an incredible seven-and-two-thirds innings allowing one run, across three hits, and eight strikeouts. The Rays’ only run came in the top of the sixth on account of a solo shot by Jose Siri. Guardians player Jose Ramirez followed this up with a go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth to give the Guardians the lead. Cleveland reliever Emmanuel Clase closed the game out with one-and-a-third scoreless innings. Game One ended poorly for the Rays, as they took the loss in a well-fought 2-1 game.
The Guardians also had home field advantage in Game Two, placing the Rays at a noticeable disadvantage. Once again, pitching was on full display. Through 14 innings, there was scoreless baseball. Tampa Bay’s arms were lights out, but the Rays could not escape their offensive woes. Following the 13th inning, the Rays and Guardians set a record for the longest scoreless game in playoff history.
This all came to a halt in the fifteenth inning. In the bottom of the fifteenth inning, Tampa Bay’s season came to a close. Oscar Gonzalez destroyed an 85 mph slider from Corey Kluber to walk off the series. Tampa Bay’s season was finished, and the conclusion was quite fitting. Impressive pitching, but not quite enough offense.
M-SABR Predicted Record (88-74) vs. Actual (86-76):
Wow! Rays season preview author Daniel Pardi almost perfectly predicted the 2022 Tampa Bay Rays record. Obviously, the Rays fell victim to injuries throughout 2022, which helped factor into a smaller win total. Following an astounding 100 win 2021 season, Pardi’s prediction seemed conservative, but he was almost perfectly on the mark.
It seems that Pardi would have nailed his prediction if Tampa Bay had some of their key players stay healthy down the stretch. However, Pardi’s predictions on players to watch for the 2022 season were not nearly as accurate.
Pardi highlighted Shane Baz as a key player to keep an eye on in 2022. Baz was a highly touted pitching prospect in 2021, and displayed flashes of dominance in his limited 2021 pro stint. Baz failed to keep this momentum going, recording an underwhelming stat line of 27.0 IP/5.00 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR. Baz will undergo Tommy John Surgery and miss all of the 2023 season.
Francisco Mejia was also selected as a sleeper candidate. Mejia’s season had a much larger sample size than Baz’s, making it easier to judge. However, similar to Baz, Mejia’s final results were fairly disappointing. All of the adjustments Mejia seemed to make on offense and defense in 2021, disappeared in 2022. Mejia’s slash line read out as .242 AVG/.264 OBP/.381 SLG, 0.2 fWAR. Mejia will likely receive less playing time in 2023 following the return of Mike Zunino, which does not bode well for Mejia’s future.
Pardi’s last selection was outfielder Manuel Margot. Margot performed excellently in Spring Training, making him a dark horse candidate for the regular season. Pardi was closer on this prediction, but still very off the mark. Margot made some limited strides offensively. In 2022, Margot improved his WRC+ from 95 to 106, but Margot’s defense took a drastic dip. Margot transitioned from being a premium defender to a below average one. Margot’s total fWAR decreased from 2.5 in 2021 to 1.5 in 2022.
Players We Watched:
Yandy Diaz showcased impressive plate discipline all season. Diaz recorded 78 walks against 60 strikeouts. Diaz also had an impressive .401 OBP, which ranked top five in all of baseball. On top of that, Diaz had a spectacular 146 WRC+ on the season, which helped him finish first in fWAR (3.8) among all Tampa Bay Rays hitters.
Former Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, filled out the fourth spot of the rotation. On paper, Kluber looked like a shell of his former self with a 4.34 ERA. However, there is room for optimism. Kluber recorded a 3.57 FIP, which suggests he may have been unlucky during the season.
Kluber displayed a stellar 3% BB%, but Kluber had a .317 BABIP, and LOB% of only 70%, which emphasizes that Kluber may be destined for a bounce back season in 2023. All signs are pointing upwards for this Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff.
Prior to 2022, Fairbanks had moderate success, but was never seen as an elite-level pitcher. However, Fairbanks took a massive step forward this season. In 2022, Fairbanks posted an impressive 1.13 ERA and 1.2 fWAR. More importantly, among pitchers with a minimum of twenty innings pitched, Fairbanks ranked first in ALL of baseball in FIP with an astounding 0.86.
Going forward, it will be of crucial importance to see if Fairbanks’ performance was a result of a small sample size, or if he made the proper adjustments to elevate himself to that next level of relief pitchers.
In typical Rays fashion, Tampa Bay will likely be quiet on the big deal market once again during the offseason. There is potential of Tampa Bay acquiring another first baseman or catcher to help cure some of the offensive struggles these positions had during the regular season.
Having said that, something even more important to watch out for is whether or not Tampa Bay extends some of their young players’ contracts. Wander Franco is signed through 2034, and it would not be surprising if Tampa Bay offered similar long-term deals to young stars such as Randy Arozarena and Shane McClanahan.
There is also a possibility of Tampa Bay extending Kevin Kiermaier’s contract due to him being a free agent in the near future, but it would need to be a cheap deal. It is very likely that Tampa Bay will make some off-the-radar acquisitions during the off-season, but the majority of the roster will probably stay the same.
Something to Watch
Tampa Bay’s goal needs to be to have a full, healthy roster. It will be interesting to see how Tampa Bay monitors the workload of Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow, and how Glasnow’s reentry into the rotation affects Jeffrey Spring’s role in the staff. Monitoring Wander Franco’s health will be a key priority, and same with ensuring that Tampa Bay’s young core is given a chance to shine without the threat of injury.
How Tampa Bay approaches player development will also be very interesting. Tampa Bay’s future success is dependent on the development of their young core. Tampa Bay cannot risk having young players such as Isaac Paredas and Brandon Lowe experience any type of regression again in 2023. Also, Tampa Bay needs to carefully monitor their farm system.
MLB.com’s #20 overall pitching prospect, Taj Bradley, is set to make his MLB debut in 2023, and should be a key part of an already potent Rays pitching staff. Bradley posted an impressive 133.1 IP/2.57 ERA/1.04 WHIP line in Triple A in 2022, and looks to make a seamless transition to the MLB next season. The successful development of Bradley would not only help increase Tampa Bay’s chances of being competitive, it would also likely give them enough talent to be far and away the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
In an otherwise disappointing season for the Rays, it appears that they have all the chips for success going into 2023.