R.I.P. 2009 Rays

A week ago, the Rays were still the defending American League champions, and while their playoff odds weren’t good, they had a chance. They stood at 71-59, five games behind Boston in the wild card race, but with a chance to show they could hang with the best the AL had to offer. They had eight games scheduled in the last seven days, with three against the Red Sox, three against the Tigers, and then a double-header against New York. A strong week would put them in position to chase down the wild card leaders this coming weekend when they travel to Fenway Park.

Instead, that series is now meaningless, because the Rays fell apart in epic fashion. Seven losses later and we can officially shut the door on Tampa Bay’s chances of repeating. The collapse was a complete team effort, with every part of the club destructing en masse.

The offense struck out in 29% of their plate appearances, which led to a .222 average and a .286 wOBA. The pitching staff ran up 40 walks in 70 innings, and didn’t even offset the damage with strikeouts, ringing up only 50 batters on their way to a terrible 5.45 FIP.

No one was worse than Andy Sonnanstine, whose miserable season somehow got worse. In two starts, he managed to give up 13 runs over 6 2/3 innings. J.P. allowed seven of the 13 batters he faced to reach base while pitching exclusively in high leverage situations. Grant Balfour walked four of the 10 batters he faced. Six members of their pitching staff posted a FIP higher than 6.00 in the last week. Given the disasters on the mound, its no surprise that the team allowed 6.4 runs per game.

Even improved pitching wouldn’t have helped that much, however, as the offense was nearly as bad. They managed just 29 runs thanks to the “contributions” of players like Carl Crawford (2 hits in 30 plate appearances), Akinori Iwamura (.201 wOBA), Ben Zobrist (one extra base hit), and Pat Burrell (4 for 25 with one extra base hit). The team’s best hitter over the last week was Carlos Pena, but even that ended badly when he had his hand broken while being hit by a pitch and is now done for the season.

With the collapse, the Rays have to wonder what could have been. There is no doubt that this is a talented team that they put together, with both tremendous ability and depth at most positions. However, it is not a team without flaws, and Tampa Bay will have to spend the winter addressing those flaws if they’re going to topple Boston and New York again.

2009 was a missed opportunity. If Tampa Bay wants to remain in the mix with the big money teams, they can’t afford more missed opportunities. The Rays need to reload their roster this winter, and if it takes a willingness to part with some of their young talent in order to do so, than so be it. Building for the future is great, but they can’t let too many chances to bring a World Series title slip through their grasp.

Perhaps watching the 2009 season go up in smoke in one week will instill the needed sense of urgency.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

34 Responses to “R.I.P. 2009 Rays”

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  1. mike says:

    Reload their roster? That’s a little drastic, no?

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  2. Adam says:

    Grant Balfour? More like Grant BALL FOUR!

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  3. Tommy says:

    They went from 6 games out to 7.5 games out of the wild card. I’d hardly call that falling apart in “epic” fashion. Their chances simply went from slim to none.

    It’s been bad recently, but realistically the Rays have been chasing all season. I don’t know what re-tooling they could do with the roster except upgrading at catcher and re working a few bullpen arms.

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    • Sam A says:

      In the future they need to be more careful about investing in over-the-hill bullpen arms. They spend a lot of money on marginal old guys that didn’t contribute very much.

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    • Richie Abernathy says:

      Next year, they’ll replace Andy Sonnanstine with Jeremy Hellickson.

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    • Jay says:

      They went from -6 games with 32 left to play to -7.5 games with 24 left to play. Looked at another way, they had a golden opportunity to gain ground and fumbled it completely. Looked at a third way, independent of the other teams in the race, the Rays fell apart completely based on their own performance alone.

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  4. Matt B. says:

    I wonder what would have happened if Price made the team out of camp. He pitched well enough in ST and I think he did not deal well with the demotion. He might have helped solidified a weak #5 spot with a decent start to the season.

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    • mymrbig says:

      I don’t know, Niemann has done well enough and his peripherals have generally moved in the right direction. The competition wasn’t Sonnanstine vs. Price, it was Niemann vs. Price.

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  5. RC says:

    Their biggest mistake was letting Andy Sonnanstine start 17 games this year.

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  6. Ted says:

    Ready to admit yet that your pre-season ” most likely to win world series in the future” rankings yet.

    This year is a perfect example of why many of your rankings were just awful, and based on biases from one year of observation.

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    • JB says:

      Dave explained that “future” is not limited to just 2009. Besides, your criticism of “one year of observation” is based on “this year is a perfect example”. Nice.

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      • Alex says:

        Yeah, this sort of reactionary, reflexive fangraphs criticism has really gone over the edge. That comment was borderline incoherent and just frankly incorrect (look at the position players they’re returning next year, etc). Normally I’m one for unrestricted debate but I feel as though recently a decent number number of responses to articles have been not only critical but overtly hostile, and I think fangraphs might need to start moderating these types of comments in the next year if they want to maintain commenting as a decent forum for discussion.

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      • Ted says:

        well JB last time i checked the Yankees and Red Sox will still be in the AL East and the Rays will be in the division as well. That I believe goes beyond 2009. The main reason the Rays are not the 2nd most likely team to win the world series in the next 100 years, is because they are the 3rd most likely team in there DIVISION to win the world series.

        If the Rays were in ANY other division in baseball they might be the favorites next year to win there division, but they are going to be predicted to be third next year. Not because there team is not good, but because the Red Sox and Yankees have better teams. Not only that, but both of those teams can spend money to improve their teams. Whereas the Rays have to trade Kazmir for help 2-3 years down the line. Not to mention the Rays have a pathetic fanbase, which won’t even support their team when they are winning. (That’s just pathetic)

        The Rays have to be more lucky and perfect with there moves then almost every other team in the AL, or even the ML. If keys players for the Rays get hurt or have subpar seasons, it will hurt that team much more then it does the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Angles, or most other contenting teams.

        So why should Dave get a pass on an awful article. It was a bandwagon jumping reaction to put them 2, maybe in the top 5 or 10 BUT 2?!

        Further may point about this year being a good illustration of why the Rays are not the most likely to win, is that the Rays have a good team and yet the Red Sox and yankees are better. This is only the 2nd season the Rays have ever been good, so there is no historical basis to show its hard to win the East, but just ask the Jays and Orioles.

        When the teams you are competing with can spend your payroll on a couple of players, it makes it much more difficult to win and win on a consistent basis.

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      • Omar says:

        Yeah, except they traded Kazmir so that they could pick up a fairly cheap option on Crawford. If Ownership isn’t willing to spend more money on the team, having them behind either the Yankees or the Red Sox is completely inexcusable. The Yankees and Red Sox both have good GMs and pour wads of cash into the farm. The Rays failed to sign their first round draft pick this year, and I’d like to see how they are able to do without a top five pick every year…I doubt they’ll keep on having a top three or four prospect every year. Their talent base is also EXTREMELY overrated, BJ Upton had an awesome post season and oodles of talent yet he STILL hasn’t had a full season where he came anywhere close to playing to that talent level, unless Price takes the next step to an elite starter (which he can) I don’t see that rotation being that good in the AL East, Crawford is only there for at most another year, and Desmond Jennings looks very promising…but so did lots of players that never turned out to be much. Zobrist has been a revelation and Jason Bartlett is playing about five times over his actual talent level, but outside of that…the shine of that team has worn off after a year. Besides, the Yankees and Red Sox also have an extremely impressive collection of talent, great farm programs, and oh yeah money to bring in big name free agents. Yeah the Rays have Longoria, who will always make them somewhat competitive…but they just happen to play in the division with two teams that are consistently the best in baseball. Ranking them that highly was inexcusable.

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    • minesweeper says:

      Amazing that somehow Dave’s projections offended you to such a large extent that you felt obligated to come and snipe him months later.

      +1 on the incoherent point.

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      • Ted says:

        Sorry the post didn’t make all that much sense, but I wrote it on my phone. My point was that him putting the Rays as having the 2nd best chance of any franchise in MLB was crazy. And this year is a great example of why.

        The Rays played amazing last year, in fact had pretty much a perfect season. This season however everything didn’t break the right way for them. If they played in a different division they would probably be going to the playoffs, but they don’t. They play in the AL East, where the Red Sox and the Yankees can buy tons of talent, and make up for mistakes and weaknesses in their teams by trades and FA signings.

        Yankess add 3 expensive players in the offseason, Red Sox trade for mutiple 1st basemen to help there offense. And the Rays trade Kazmir.

        I’m just saying the Rays in an isolated situation might be the second most likely to win the world series. But they play in the AL East and that context is not favorable for them.

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      • Jeff says:

        I also think those rankings of future success were very biased towards certain teams.

        This site LOVES Boston, Tampa and Seattle…

        Just as in the Edwin Jackson trade, the writers on this site wont admit they are wrong…

        Even this article is an example… It mentions NOTHING about the Tigers maybe being part of the reason the rays lost…

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      • Raf says:

        The Yanks may have added 3 expensive players, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Jeter, Cano, Posada & Cabrera have improved from last season.

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      • Omar says:

        The opinions were largely stupid…the Indians were what, fourth? After making the playoffs two or three times in the past decade…that doesn’t make me very confident in their position going forward.

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  7. The look on the Rays’ fans faces when Inge hit the grand slam could have been the accompanying photo for this article. It kind of looked like, “Of COURSE he hits a grand slam there.”

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  8. mario says:

    the debate went on all year last year:

    Edwin Jackson v. Andy Sonnanstine

    There was no way you trade Jackson and his potential and keep Sonny and his 86 fastball that he can’t spot

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    • mattymatty says:

      There’s a heck of a lot of hindsight to a comment like that. Show me where you said that last year and what your reasoning was, then I’ll buy it.

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    • Judy says:

      Unless you can get what you want for Jackson and can’t get anything of value for Sonnanstine, then it makes plenty of sense. The part that doesn’t is where you keep using Sonnanstine when you have better options even with Jackson gone.

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  9. big baby says:

    I agree with Dave’s sentiment that the Rays need to “reload.” I think he means that it’s well and good to sit on a good nucleus and have a good farm system, and know that if such and such breaks right they’ll be competing. The goal of every team is to win a championship, and for all of the talk about “Front Office Efficiency,” ultimately you have to bring home a ring.

    So sitting on resources and banking on several things going right is a cop out, to an extent. Sometimes you have to do something bold, take a chance, and put your team over the top and minimize the role luck/fortune plays in your team’s chances.

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    • Raf says:

      I don’t think the Rays will make a big splash through free agency, or a blockbuster trade, but I don’t think they need to. Davis & Price should be with the team for a full season, they should be able to replicate or improve on what Kazmir and Sonnanstine did this year. I don’t know what they plan to do with Upton and Burrell.

      I would think it would be difficult to minimize luck/fortune. I mentioned the Yankees earlier. Even though they spent a lot of money this past offseason, having Cano, Cabrera, Jeter and Posada bounce back helped a lot.

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      • Omar says:

        Price and Davis would have to be pretty bad to not be able to “replicate or improve on” what Kazmir and Sonnanstine did this year.

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    • Jay says:

      Not to put words in his mouth, but Dave seems to imply that the Rays could make some moves to improve the club’s short-term prospects for 2010 … and possibly, that they failed to make moves like that pre-2009 or mid-2009. They were involved in talks for a lot of valuable chips, but they have a knack for not pulling the trigger.

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  10. Steve says:

    what is the deal with BJ Upton?

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    • Casey says:

      That’s a good question–he might be PART of a deal soon enough. Some FO will believe he’ll figure it out and offer decent value in return. With Desmond Jennings on the way, it might be a good time?

      They STILL have top shelf talent to introduce to the roster next year with Jennings, Hellickson, and Davis.

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    • Jerry Seinfeld says:

      Yeah! What he said. Whaaaat’s the deal?

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  11. joser says:

    I think the Rays need to seriously consider taking the buyout on Crawford and letting him go, or picking up his contract and then trying to trade him over the offseason. With Longoria now locked up and others coming on, Crawford no longer matters as “the face of the franchise” and at $10M (about 15% of their total payroll if it holds steady) as good as he still is on the field he’s become an expensive luxury they can’t really afford.

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  12. Raf says:

    You have to have a website to click through

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