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10 Possible Tampa Bay Rays Defensive Alignments Versus Lefties

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Sep 2, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney (21) is congratulated by right fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) after he scored a run during the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It still isn’t entirely clear who will be on the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster when Opening Day comes around, but it is never too early to start talking about playing time. The Rays have averaged just 50.6 games against left-handed pitchers the last five years, but it turns out that allotting at-bats will be much more complicated for Kevin Cash against lefties rather than righties.

Against right-handed pitching, the team’s optimal defensive alignment seems pretty straightforward: Rene Rivera at catcher, James Loney at first base, Asdrubal Cabrera at second, Nick Franklin at short, Evan Longoria at third base, Steven Souza in left field, Desmond Jennings in center, Kevin Kiermaier in right, and John Jaso at DH. Backups will certainly see time, but there is little doubt that those nine are the Rays’ best possible arrangement. There is virtually no certainty, though, against lefty pitchers.

When the opposing starter is a southpaw, the Rays know for sure that they will be sitting John Jaso, and Nick Franklin will be on the bench most of the time as well. However, in the team’s most likely roster scenario at this point–that Souza makes the Opening Day roster, David DeJesus is traded, and Tim Beckham is the 25th man–the question will be which other left-handed batters sit for any given game and which righty hitters replace them.

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After some time looking a variety of possible defensive alignments, I found no less than 10 possible starting defensive lineups that the Rays could use against lefties. A starting defensive lineup is an arrangement that has an argument for being the Rays’ optimal use of its players for any particular game. For instance, Bobby Wilson (or Curt Casali) will occasionally replace Rene Rivera while Nick Franklin gets a chance against a lefty once in a blue moon, but the Rays are not going to be better off because of that in that game, especially in the former case.

At least until regular season games are played and we see how players like Tim Beckham and Logan Forsythe are doing, there is no Rays defensive lineup against left-handed pitching that should clearly be used a majority of the time or even close to it. Let’s go through all 10 alignments and see why that is the case.

(This post is in slideshow format, which supposedly makes it pleasing to the eye. I think that’s especially true in this case because this is a pretty long article. However, if you would like a one-page view, you can click here.)

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