April 7, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings (8) first baseman Carlos Pena (23) and teammates high five each other after they beat the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 8-6. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The Competition: Tampa Bay Rays


Continuing our 5 part series “The Competition” comparing the Tigers to other likely AL playoff teams, today we look at Tampa Bay – our next scheduled opponent.

First Base: Prince Fielder vs. Carlos Pena
Advantage – Detroit
Despite the average, Pena is a perfectly acceptable option at first for a team that can’t afford to stack every position with an MVP candidate. Prince Fielder, on the other hand, would be a perfectly acceptable option for a team that could. Add on top of that the hints that Pena is – in fact – on the downward side of his career (and league-average guys typically don’t age all that well) and the gap here is pretty huge.

Second Base: Ryan Raburn vs. Ben Zobrist
Advantage – Tampa Bay
Zobrist is one of the best, if not the outright best, defensive second baseman in the majors – according to those advanced metrics. Raburn remains gaffe prone wherever you put him on the field. I would argue that there isn’t all that much separation between the two at the plate (though Zobrist would still come out on top) but the defense makes it a blowout.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta vs. Sean Rodriguez
Advantage – Detroit
Sean Rodriguez puts up Ramon-Santiago-type numbers with bat and glove. Despite the presence of Ramon Santiago on the roster, the Tigers prefer to start Peralta at short.

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Evan Longoria
Advantage – Tampa Bay
This one goes the same way as the Cabrera vs. Youkilis and Cabrera vs. Beltre matchups. Longoria is another very good hitter (though not as good as Cabrera) who is also one of the better defensive third basemen in the game. He’ll add 10 fewer runs with his bat, but save 20 more with his glove.

DH: “Committee”/Andy Dirks vs. Luke Scott
Advantage – Detroit
Luke Scott (aside from being a renowned Tiger-killer – with a career 1.384 OPS in 21 games) has been a pretty decent overall hitter throughout his career. But… he’s a mediocre first baseman that will turn 34 this June and posted an OPS of only .703 last year. The odds are awfully good that Mr. Scott is over the top of the hill and rolling. There will be some stink in there in the Tigers DH mix, but some very good bats as well.

Catcher: Alex Avila vs. Jose Molina
Advantage – Detroit
This one is not close, though Molina is the better defender he’s also an old man with a career .630 OPS. To be honest, it’s probably more of a blowout than Fielder over Pena and that’s saying something.

RF: Brennan Boesch vs. Matt Joyce
Advantage – Nobody
These guys are pretty similar hitters, when you come right down to it. With my Detroit bias, I’m probably inclined to see more unfulfilled potential (as far as raw power goes) from Boesch – but Joyce has had slightly more success to date and has slightly better projections. Joyce would, in fact, win it if I wasn’t partial to DRS as the advanced defensive metric of choice. According to DRS, it’s actually Boesch with the slightly better glove that compensates for Joyce’s slightly better bat.

CF: Austin Jackson vs. B.J. Upton
Advantage – Detroit
I no longer get the impression that Upton has unfilled potential to develop or even potential to bounce back. He is what he is and he strikes out way too much to ever hit for average. He has a bit more power than Jackson, but Jackson more than makes up for it with his glove. Tampa Bay might be the best defensive team in the game, but Upton might be the worst of the Rays in that respect. One thing that worries me here… In Upton’s first full season his BABIP was .393. In his second it was .344. Remind you of anybody? The following three seasons have been .310, .304 and .298 for Upton. Let’s hope Jackson does not follow the pattern…

LF: Delmon Young vs. Desmond Jennings
Advantage – Tampa Bay
This one honestly could go either way – fate is not always kind to top prospects with great numbers in their first half season of pro ball… come the following spring. Jennings numbers could be something like .220/.290/.390 by September… That said – we know that Jennings has legs that Young no longer has and as a result is going to steal bases and cover ground. Young is going to have to pound a lot of balls over the fence to make up for that. A note of interest: you all probably know that Jennings was a BA top prospect… did you know that the Rays managed to pick him up in the 10th round of the draft???

Bench:
Brandon Inge, Don Kelly, Gerald Laird and Ramon Santiago vs. Jeff Keppinger, Jose Lobaton, Reid Brignac and Stephen Vogt.
Advantage – Detroit
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of those four guys, they do represent an improvement over the Rays bench in almost every way. The Rays’ fourth outfielder, Vogt, looks like he’ll put up Don Kelly numbers at the plate without Don Kelly’s amazing glove. Lobaton might hit better than Laird – he has had some success with the bat in the minors (.758 OPS) – but his major league OPS-to-date is .399. Oh… don’t forget that Laird’s minor league OPS was .751. Doesn’t translate to anything really desirable from a major leaguer. Brignac has a good glove but couldn’t outhit any of the Tigers bench players – including Brandon Inge. And yes, I am aware that Brignac was a BA top prospect (so he theoretically has a high ceiling) and in response I remind you: so was Brandon Inge, and Santiago for that matter. Keppinger is a different story: a guy who is perhaps almost good enough to be a starter (and has been at times in the past). While that may make him unique on the Rays bench, it would not make him unique on the Tigers bench. Over the past 4 years Keppingers OPS has averaged .698 to Santiago’s .710. Throw in a comparison of Santiago’s plus glove to Keppingers minus and that one doesn’t look close either.

Rotation:

#1: Justin Verlander vs. James Shields
Advantage – Detroit
Shields is a very, very good pitcher – as he would have to be to be the #1 in a rotation this deep and this talented. Verlander is the reigning Cy Young and MVP.

#2: Doug Fister vs. David Price
Advantage – Tampa Bay
I’m a Fister believer now, but Price has both better stuff and better results at a younger age. He’s a legitimate ace already and a Cy Young contender.

#3: Max Scherzer vs. Jeremy Hellickson
Advantage – Tampa Bay
This one is probably closer than the gap in performance-to-date would suggest – Scherzer has good stuff and Hellickson is very unlikely to repeat the .224 BABIP that led to his 2011 ROY. Still… Hellickson didn’t just luck into that ROY, it was broadly expected of him – as greater things will be.

#4: Rick Porcello vs. Matt Moore
Advantage – Tampa Bay
Somehow, Moore was actually an 8th round pick out of high school… now he’s the BA #2 prospect in the game. Now it could be that Moore’s stuff doesn’t actually translate in the bigs any better than Porcello’s has, but I have the feeling that it will…

#5: Drew Smyly vs. Jeff Niemann
Advantage – Tampa Bay
Niemann isn’t exactly a Cy Young candidate (though he is definitely not without value) but for a couple of years he has been giving the Rays roughly what scouts expect Smyly’s ceiling to be.

Closer: Jose Valverde vs. Kyle Farnsworth
Advantage – Detroit
Farnsworth was arguably better than Valverde last year – despite not being actually perfect in save situations. His longer term track record does not suggest that he is likely to repeat.

Rest-of-Bullpen: [Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Luis Marte, Collin Balester & Daniel Schlereth vs. Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, Burke Badenhop & J.P. Howell]
Advantage – Detroit
I’m not a big supporter of Fernando Rodney, nor was I when he wore a Tigers uniform. I’d much rather have Joaquin Benoit, and I’m sure the Rays feel the same way. Still, Tampa Bay’s patchwork bullpen isn’t really all that bad. I’m just saying that because you’d expect this to be an out-and-out landslide and it really isn’t. Peralta and McGee vs. Dotel and Coke is very, very close. So is Balester and Schlereth vs. Badenhop and Howell.

All-in-all, I think that the Rays are the better team – though they obviously face much tougher divisional foes and a much tougher road to the playoffs. Though the remaining 20 roster spots break towards Detroit, the amazing rotation depth that the Rays have gives them the edge overall. This is a team with four aces and a reliable fourth starter. Of course..,. in a short series, some of that advantage is lost. In a 5-gamer, with 2 starts from Verlander, 2 from Fister and 1 from Scherzer (or Porcello, to be honest, if Max can’t get his act together) I think the odds might slightly favor Detroit. In a 7-gamer, they would tip towards Tampa Bay.

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  • valordesign

    I fully believe Matt Moore is a legitimate superstar that will be comparable to the type of stuff Kershaw has. Despite what Tampa and detroit’s offenses have done so far I wouldn’t be surprised to see a low scoring game Tuesday.

    • ChrisHannum

       @valordesign Kershaw became a legitimate ace by his sophomore season, but in his rookie year there were a few bumps.  Same might very well be true in Moore’s case.  Or Hellickson’s – in which case his FIP this year matches his 2011 ERA…

      • valordesign

        @ChrisHannum If Moore turns out like suspect he will, and Hellickson, you saw what he can do today, along with Shields, Price, and Niemann that rotation is awe-inspiring

  • jgorosh

    Hellickson is going to strike out more guys, and that will balance his inevitable BABIP regression.