The Tampa Bay Rays made several big trade acquisitions this offseason. Two of them, however, have been major disappointments. Heath Bell managed just a 7.27 ERA in 13 appearances before the Rays released him. Logan Forsythe, meanwhile, is still in the major leagues for reasons that fans cannot comprehend. With that in mind, let’s exactly who Forsythe is a player and why the Rays have not yet sent him down to Triple-A.
The Tampa Bay Rays have played 11 games against a left-handed pitcher in 2014. Logan Forsythe has started in all 11 and has even started four games against righties as well. Sean Rodriguez has played much better than Forsythe, but he he has started only 10 of the 11 and two games versus right-handers. Then there is Brandon Guyer, who has started just six games against lefties and that’s it. That playing time distribution seems quite uneven, but the first big thing to note is that Forsythe is the youngest of the three players at 27. Clearly the Rays perceive him to have more potential than the other two. Forsythe was also the highest draft pick (supplemental first round), and ranked the highest among the three in any Baseball America prospect ranking (#5). You can also add in that he is the only one of the three to manage an OPS+ above 100 in a major league season of 225 or more plate appearances. Forsythe is receiving this opportunity because the Rays believe that he has the ability to be the best long-term player of the trio. On the other hand, the way the Rays have used him have demonstrated that they are not fully willing to recognize his weaknesses.
Forsythe is a classic example of a team idealizing a player who had been through injuries. In 2013, Forsythe managed just a .214/.281/.322 line, but a major reason for his struggles was that planar fasciitis bothered him most of the season. In 2012, he had his best season for the San Diego Padres, hitting to a .273/.343/.390 line (107 OPS+), and that was despite being sidelined until June after he broke a bone in his left foot. But the list just keeps going. He had a meniscus injury in his knee in 2011, a fracture in his hand in 2010, thumb surgery in 2008, and a broken bone in his right foot in 2007 while he was still at the University of Arkansas. 2009 has been the only healthy season of his career, and it is no surprise that he was ranked the Padres’ #5 prospect at the end of it. Logan Forsythe is a talented player who has never stayed healthy, and the Rays want to see what he can do now that nothing is physically wrong with him. The flaw with that reasoning is that the upside he has left is really only against left-handed pitching.
Prior to this season and last year, Logan Forsythe had always his lefties. He had a ridiculous 1.010 OPS against them for the Padres in 2012. In 2011 at Triple-A, he had an .830 OPS, and he managed a .734 mark in 2010, a .940 mark in 2009, and a .956 mark in a handful of plate appearances in 2008. In the two healthy seasons, 2012 and 2009, he showed just how unstoppable he can be against them. Right-handed pitching, though, has been a different story. In parts of four major league seasons, his highest OPS against them has been .603. The last time he has seen any success was a .724 OPS in 50 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2012. Maybe somewhere deep inside, Forsythe has the ability to hit righties, but it has been a long time since he showed any reason to believe he can tap into that.
Logan Forsythe belongs on a major league team to be a good platoon bat against left-handed pitching. He may have an ugly .219/.278/.313 line so far, but he is bound to improve and will prove his worth by the end of the season. Against righties, however, there is no reason to believe that he can succeed and it is time for the Rays to stop trying. Rodriguez and Guyer have to be getting those starts against right-handed pitching, and there is no reason at all for him to be batting against a righty late in a game. The Rays have to recognize the player that Forsythe has become and use him accordingly.