Friday, January 20, 2012

Rays Outfield: Cheap, but Extremely Productive

Despite losing Carl Crawford to free agency last year, the Tampa Bay Rays had one of the best outfields in all of baseball. For the first part of the season, Matt Joyce, B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld manned the outfield. During the second half, top prospect Desmond Jennings took away most of Fuld's time. At first glance you wouldn't think that a combination of these four would be a top outfield. If you dig a little deeper you will notice that they combined for a total of 13 WAR, which was good for 8th overall in all of baseball. Offensively, they had the 7th best wRC+. Defensively, the Rays came in second in UZR and first in DRS.

A big part to the offensive contributions came from Florida native, Matt Joyce. Joyce has always had talent, and last year he finally put it together. In his first full season in the majors, Joyce had a .277/.347/.478 slash line to go with a 129 wRC+. Joyce has been known for his solid power and last year he finally showed flashes of that, hitting 19 home runs to go with a .201 ISO, which is above league average. Joyce also showed a good eye at the plate, posting a league average BB% as well as K%. Joyce's defense is pretty much average. His arm isn't the greatest, so that hampers his potential in the field.

On the defensive side, Sam Fuld gave more of a contribution than offensive. Offensively, Fuld had a .240/.313/.360 slash line and a 92 wRC+. He doesn't supply much power but he does a solid job at not striking out. His 9.5 UZR was above average but he's only logged 1,000 innings in the outfield for his career and before this year he's never had a UZR above 1, or  played more than 250 innings in a season. As a result, we can't say for sure how good Fuld is defensively but this year he did his part. Thanks mostly to his defense, he was good for 1.9 WAR, essentially making him a league average player.

Desmond Jennings provided a pleasant surprise for the Rays. Everyone knew he had talent but in 63 games last year he showed he has a good eye at the plate and can supply some power. His .259/.356/.449 line and 131 wRC+ was impressive. Keep in mind that this is a small sample size but it could be a sign of things to come. He had a 2.6 UZR but you can't really take anything out of that. With that, he produced 2.6 WAR. In 63 games that's quite impressive, rookie or not.

B.J. Upton continued to do his thing. He posted a decent .243/.331/.429 line and 115 wRC+. He strikes out a little more than average but still showed he has a good eye, walking slightly more than average. His defense wasn't great but all of those factors together he still managed to post 4.1 WAR. Upton has been in his share of trade rumors so it will be interesting to see how much longer he will be with the team.

That's not even the best part though. The Rays have all four of those guys for extremely cheap. B.J. Upton is the highest paid player, coming in at $7 million, Sam Fuld is making $418,300, Matt Joyce is making $426,500 and Desmond Jennings is making $414,000. I'm just assuming Desmond's salary because I'm pretty sure that's the minimum and I couldn't find it online. All together that adds up to $8,258,800. The Rays have those guys tied up for extremely cheap, and for that production it doesn't get any better.

B.J. Upton hits free agency at the end of the year and depending on the Rays situation during the trade deadline they may deal him. If the Rays can keep this core together next year though and if they can produce close to what they did last year then the Rays will have one of the best outfields in all of baseball while spending less than $10 million for the position.

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