Worry or Not? Struggling MLB Teams

Tampa Bay Rays 4-6 

Many people picked to win the American League pennant were the Tampa Bay Rays.  The stellar pitching staff along with a manager that knows how to manipulate the lineup to out think opposing clubs, they are a sabermetric dream of a squad.  All was looking good after taking three of four from the defending NL East Champs the Atlanta Braves. Then they took a trip to Baltimore.  The Orioles swept the hapless Rays holding their lineup to just eight runs over a three game stretch.  

Looking deeper into the numbers, if not for an explosion of offense (14 runs) in the fourth game of the season the Rays bats have been relatively silent.  As a team the Rays are hitting just .213 with an OPS under 700.  Individually other than Brandon Lowe (OPS 1.032) and Willy Adames (OPS .919) the rest of the lineup has underperformed.  

Charlie Morton and Blake Snell have been less than impressive in their combined starts.  Morton most notably losing a little zip on the fast ball.  The depth of the pitching staff has kept them relevant and will continue to keep them relevant.   Tyler Glasnow has stepped up and shown glimpses of number one starter potential. The bullpen still has ridiculous talent that can pick up the slack of a struggling top of the rotation. 

The Rays have to get more consistency up and down the lineup.  Jose Martinez has been given more at bats lately and has shown the ability that made him a target in the offseason for the Rays.  The key for the lineup though is finding more power.  Hunter Renfroe has blasted a few but they still need more feared power hitters in order to be a serious threat for the Yankees in the east and the rest of the American League. 

Verdict: Not worried

Texas Rangers 2-5

The Rangers intrigued me entering the 2020 season.  With wholesale changes made to the starting rotation they seemed to have fixed a problem in 2019.  With Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Corey Kluber at the top of the rotation along with a powerful offense the Rangers should be ready to take the next step from rebuilding club to potential playoff contender. That hasn’t been the case through the first seven games of the season.  

It has been the offense that has looked sluggish out of the gate.  In fact it doesn’t seem like they even left the gate.  Choo, Andrus, Frazier, Santana, Odor and Calhoun were all guys that were supposed to be carrying the load offensively and it has not happened. With Danny Santana now hitting the injured list this team is looking for a spark that just isn’t there.  

With the expansion of the playoffs I had the Rangers pencilled in as one of the last spots but in a very crowded AL West they have a hell of a mountain to climb. 

Verdict: Very worried

New York Mets 3-7

New York was looking to compete even without Noah Syndergaard in 2020.  A revamped bullpen and a lineup featuring 2019 rookie of the year Pete Alonso looked like the beginning of what could be a very successful season.  

The lineup has generated a lot of production.  Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and JD Davis have all produced above the anticipated level.  As a team they have a .342 OBP, the problem hasn’t been getting people on base; it’s been driving them in. They are hitting just .228 with runners on and an OPS of .666.  The Met’s have multiple proven run producers that have been unable to come up with the big hits. 

The Mets have gotten great contributions from their rotation,  Offseason signing Michael Wachs and rookie David Peterson have both shown glimpses of what they can do in the regular season.  

Edwin Diaz’s continued struggles are very worrisome but the depth of the Mets bullpen should be able to bounce back.  The question of whether you believe that the bats will come around or  not.  I believe that the power they have up and down the lineup will eventually come through. 

Verdict: Not worried

Arizona Diamondbacks 3-7

I was one of the people that thought Arizona was going to be taking major steps in the right direction in 2020.  The addition of former All-Stars Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte to an already developing potential powerhouse seemed like a great fit.  Their start to the season has not shown the results.  

The bats have been silent. As a team they are hitting just .192 with a slugging percentage at just .265.  The struggles are throughout the lineup, other than Christian Walker, Starling Marte and Ketel Marte no player on the Diamondbacks has an OPS over .630.  

The complete lack of offense has not been helped out by the pitching staff.  The D-Backs have a team ERA 5.44, highlighted by the struggles of starters Luke Weaver and Robbie Ray.  Ray’s command most notably has led to crooked numbers on the scoreboard.  

The Diamondbacks have a lot of questions followed by very few answers. They will need Ketel Marte and Starling Marte to lead their offense until Eduardo Escobar, David Peralta and company can figure out a way to return to the form of 2019.  This team is in some serious trouble. 

Three teams that will surprise you in 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks continually surprise the baseball community.  Trading their star Paul Goldschmidt last season seemed to be a sign of a rebuild.  Arizona however put together a competitive season as a new star began to develop, Ketel Marte.  Marte made his first All-Star game leading the Diamondbacks in most offensive categories, doing this while playing multiple positions.  Finding a player to build around on the field meant that Arizona was ready to begin a push into legit relevance in the national league. 

Adding Starling Marte to the lineup brings a  former all-star still in the prime of his career.  Starling saw a career best .200 ISO to go along with the lowest K% of his career.  Marte can bat anywhere in the lineup while playing an above average center field. The pickup of Starling allows Ketel to move to a single position at second base. The Diamondbacks also added veteran Kole Calhoun with career highs in HR, RBI, ISO, Slug %, and BB %. Both should have a big impact on the lineup adding depth to an already promising roster. 

Oh..they also added Madison Bumgarner.  He is still pretty good. The Dodgers are the clear favorite in the NL West but the Diamondbacks have the pieces to be in the mix for the wild card.  The Padres are the team getting the headlines but it is Arizona that brings the biggest threat in the division to the mighty Dodgers.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers had glaring weaknesses in the rotation last year.  Behind mainstays Lance Lynn and Mike Minor was a cast of unknowns and underachievers. Koby Allard, Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson highlighted a cast of starters that were never going to be competitive in the top heavy AL West.  Texas made the moves necessary in the offseason to fix their biggest problem. Adding Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Corey Kluber gives Texas a formidable and experienced starting rotation that is built for the regular season.  

Replacements 2019 Rangers

Kyle Gibson: 3.80 xFIP, 4.25 SIERA Koby Allard: 5.08 xFIP, 5.37 SIERA

Jordan Lyles: 4.61 xFIP, 4.53 SIERA Ariel Jurado: 5.00 xFIP, 5.10 SIERA

Corey Kluber: (2018) 3.08 xFIP, 3.28 SIERA Adrian Sampson: 5.33 xFIP, 4.84 SIERA

Nomar Mazara was moved to the Chicago White Sox opening up an everyday position for former super prospect Willie Calhoun.  The Rangers also added some veteran bats that should fit in perfectly along with the developed star Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo, and Danny Santana.  Todd Frazier will fill in a hole at third base and Robinson Chirinos will give them an offensive weapon alongside the defense of Jeff Mathis.  

The Texas Rangers will have stiff competition in the AL West.  Oakland has not regressed and Houston is still Houston. The Astros though have enough distractions to take them down a notch while the A’s have some issues with their starting rotation.  Texas has the chance to take the next step this season and most will just look past them. 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies underperformed in 2019 finishing 4th in the division after signing the premier free agent of the offseason Bryce Harper. Harper was not the biggest problem in 2019, the Phillies had to deal with injuries of Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.  In 2020 Robertson will not be joining the team but with the delay of the start of the season it is reasonable to see McCutchen come back sooner than originally thought.  

The Phillies made moves to improve the infield moving on from longtime roster mainstays Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco.  With those two walking out the door in comes Didi Gregorious to upgrade the defense up the middle. The pick up of Didi moves Jean Segura over to third base opening up 2nd base for Scott Kingery who finally began to show the skills that made him a top prospect.  Philadelphia has a great core to their lineup with Harper, Hoskins, and Realmuto. The offense has to focus on getting on base in 2020 to set up for the vaunted middle of the order. The addition of Gregorious provides more power but it’s Jean Segura and Adam Haseley that will compete for the top of the order.  They have to improve their OBP. Haseley in triple A had an OBP of .360 which would be a twenty point improvement from his time in the majors last year. If Philly is able to get Andrew McCuthen back to start the season this team’s offense will be a force in the NL East that saw the Braves lose Josh Donaldson and the Nationals lose Anthony Rendon.  

Philadelphia added Zack Wheeler to go alongside ace Aaron Nola. Wheeler is an underrated starter in 2019 is exactly what the Phillies needed as they have seen a regression from Jake Arrieta.  Wheeler will allow Arrieta to slot into the third starter and move Zac Eflin into the fourth spot. The Phillies are being overlooked in most preseason outlooks. Many are focusing on the improved New York Mets and the obvious world champs Washington Nationals. Harper and company could surprise many around the league.

Klub and MadBum

The title to this blog would make for a great CBS sitcom.  I could see the commercials now, an odd couple of sorts changing cities in order to change their lives…maybe for the better?  Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber are two potential aces that have switched teams in the offseason. The theme of the 2019 Winter meeting seems to center around pitching.  With Strasburg and Cole signing massive contracts they have overshadowed the mometus moves by both the Diamondbacks and Rangers in order to bolster their staffs. The question I have is who really made the better move??

Bumgarner helps in more ways than one.

The Diamondbacks agreed to a five-year $85 million contract over the weekend.  Bumgarner will join a rotation that features Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Mike Leake, Zac Gallen, Alex Young and Robbie Ray.  With Madbum that makes for seven names for five spots. MLB trade rumors is suggesting that the pickup of Bumgarner means that Robbie Ray will be on his way out in Arizona.  If that happens, did the Diamondbacks really improve themselves? Surprisingly to most Bumgarner just turned 30 years old in August, a five year deal will not have him pitching into the twilight of his career. Bumgarner’s 3.2 WAR immediately puts him at the top of the starting pitchers for the D-Backs.  

Rotation WAR

Robbie Ray 2.0

Luke Weaver 1.8

Merrill Kelly 1.5

Zac Gallen .8

Alex Young .4

The Diamondbacks now have a proven starter at the top of their rotation. They addition of Bumgarner makes the trade market for Robbie Ray a lot better.   The impending free agent has the upside to miss bats that most contending teams are going to want to acquire. Arizona has pitching depth in the minor league system so moving Ray with the addition of Bumgarner will allow Arizona to get the depth the need at first base or the outfield.  The signing of Bumgarner has opened up the possibilities for Arizona, they improved their #1 starter and opened up the market for to continue improving their roster.  

Rangers get an Ace

The Texas Rangers have made their counter move in the stacked AL West adding former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for basically some guys on a spreadsheet.  This deal seemed like a recreation of the Moneyball scene where Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt just threw out a few names to pick up a reliever.  

The Cleveland Indians picked up Delino Deshields Jr. and Emmanuel Clase. Clase is the player that brings the most interest in this trade. Clase is a 21 years old and possesses potential dominant stuff including a 100 MPH cutter.  Clase projects as a future relief option for the Indians. He still has only reached the High A level but immediately jumps into the top 30 prospect list for Cleveland. 

Now let’s talk about what the Rangers got in Corey Kluber.  The Rangers had starting pitching issues all season in 2019 and they were set on reworking their rotation.  Kluber has become the marquee name along with Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson. Those three will join Mike Minor and Lance Lynn making a rotation that can immediately make an impact in the loaded AL West. Kluber is coming off a lost season, dealing with multiple stints on the injured list but the upside he brings is well worth what is ultimate cost was.  While the Indians found him expendable the Rangers have a chance to push themselves into the playoff hunt with a healthy new ace of the staff. We tend to forget that 2018 Kluber won 20 games and added a 5.5WAR.  

Who did better?

Arizona and Texas both have tough divisions to deal with.  The NL West is still the Dodgers and the AL West is still the Astros until further notice.  Both teams were able to add impact starters for little cost. I am going to call Diamondbacks the winner of these two trades  Bumgarner allows the flexibilty to fill in any and all needs they may have. Kluber is a huge move for the Rangers but they still have a lot of work to do to contend for even a wild card spot in the American League.  If the D-Backs decide to hold on to Ray or move Ray they should have the rotational pieces that will make them a force to contend with in the National League.