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Mar 5, 2014; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) works out prior to the game against the New York Yankees at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Their Predictions: Corner Infielders

Part of the fun of the pre-season is projecting just how good or bad each individual team and player could be. This is the third part of a series in which I will break down the projections for every Tampa Bay Rays’ player and why they will play better than their projections or play worse than their projections. You can check out part one (middle infielders) here and part two (outfielders) here. For this series, I am using three of the most popular projection systems: Oliver, Steamer, and ZiPS. Each one features differences on how they calculate a player’s regression, which leads to variation in projected stats. Oliver also standardizes each player’s stats to 600 plate appearances while the other two attempt to project the number of plate appearances a player will have. That has an effect on counting statistics, but I will keep things simple and use none of those in this article. Without further ado, here are the 2014 offensive projections for the Rays’ corner infielders.

*Note that the Rays’ backups at these two positions are Logan Forsythe, Sean Rodriguez, and Ben Zobrist, but I listed them as middle infielders because they will see significant time there unless there is an injury occurs elsewhere

Evan Longoria- .269/.343/.498 (133 wRC) in 693 PA in 2013

Steamer- .263/.349/.487 (133 wRC+) in 640 PA
Oliver- .260/.338/.474 (126 wRC+) in 600 PA
ZiPS- .260/.345/.477 (129 wRC+) in 588 PA

Why he will beat the projections

Last year, Longoria was once again the Rays’ best hitter, but he very well could have been even better. His 133 wRC+ was the second lowest of his career, ahead of only his 128 mark in his rookie season. Yet, each projection thinks he is either going to regress or remain the same. Last season, Longoria went through what will probably be the worst slump in his career. In the month of July, he hit just .194/.288/.347 while looking completely lost at the plate. Minus the slump, his overall numbers would have looked much better. We all know of Longoria’s documented injury problems, and once again in 2014, he struggled with injures. This go around, the culprit was plantar fasciitis, an injury that you can play on, but one that hurts performance. It significantly altered Longoria’s performance in July, leading to the slump. The thing is, it takes so long to heal that it isn’t worth going on the DL to wait for it to heal. Longoria struggles to stay healthy, but with such a weird injury, we can at least expect that Longoria won’t have an injury that affects performance so much without sending him to the DL. If he is healthy, he should outhit all of these projections.

Why he won’t beat the projections

As mentioned above, Longoria has struggled with injuries the last three years. In 2011 and 2012, he missed significant time due to injury, and while he played 160 games last year, the plantar fasciitis affected his performance. He probably won’t have such a weird injury again, but injuries could still be what causes Longoria to underperform. With him being more injured than not the last three years, it is getting to the point where we can almost expect him to have some kind of injury next year. Longoria realizes he is such a key part of the Rays’ lineup, so if he misses time due to injury once again, there is a chance he would rush himself back to the field, even if that was not the Rays’ intention. If he is healthy he most likely will hit better than the projections, but injuries affect performance, and Longoria has struggled mightily with injuries in his career.

James Loney- .299/.348/.430 (118 wRC+) in 598 PA in 2013

Steamer- .266/.323/.389 (99 wRC+) in 536 PA
Oliver-.283/.339/.407 (110 wRC+) in 600 PA
ZiPS- .270/.320/.382 (96 wRC+) in 569 PA

Why he will beat the projections

Loney experienced the second best season of his career last year, and each projection thinks he will have some negative regression, although Oliver does not think he will regress nearly as much as the other two systems. Two of the last three seasons Loney has posted a 110 wRC+ or above, so who’s to say he can’t accomplish this feat in 2014? There is one thing we all know- Joe Maddon gets the absolute most out of each and every player that he coaches. Loney was no exception in 2013. With Loney once again playing under Maddon, we could very well see him put up numbers similar to his 2013 season.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Loney’s BABIP was .326 last season, which indicates he was a bit of a lucky hitter. BABIP generally fluctuates from year-to-year, but it is hard to find a scenario in which Loney’s BABIP would be higher than it was in 2013. In addition, Loney hit .299/.339/.390 against left-handers last year, a pretty big increase over his .256/.308/.361 mark against same-sided pitchers in his career. We probably can expect Loney to regress against lefties in 2014, although Joe Maddon could counter this regression by playing a lefty-masher like Sean Rodriguez at first against left-handers. 2013 was also Loney’s best season at the plate since 2007, so it might be hard for him to put up similar numbers again in 2014. He showed some weakness at the plate in 2012, when he put up just a 70 wRC+, and while he won’t stoop to levels so low in 2014, this does give precedence in his career for subpar hitting. The good news is that Loney is outstanding defensively, so even if his bat slips a bit below projections, he will still hold down the first base position on an everyday basis.

The Tampa Bay Rays have two pretty good everyday players at the corners in Loney and Longoria. The key with Longoria is simply for him to stay healthy, but if he does he could easily find himself in competition with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout for the MVP award. Loney had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013. Even if he can’t replicate the offensive numbers, he will still compete for a gold glove defensively, and at the very least will hold his own with the bat. Overall, these two guys give two more reasons to be excited about the Rays in 2014. Check back at Rays Colored Glasses in the next couple of days to take a look at projections for the Rays’ catchers.

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Tags: Evan Longoria James Loney Tampa Bay Rays

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