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10 Possible Tampa Bay Rays Defensive Alignments Versus Lefties

By Robbie Knopf
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Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays infielder Tim Beckham (29) works out prior to game four of the American League divisional series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now you’ve made it to quite possibly the most interesting part of all of this: how often we could expect each lineup to be used and what it would say about everyone’s playing time. We said above that the Tampa Bay Rays have faced an average of 50.6 left-handers per season the last five years, so let’s say that they are going to face 51 lefties in 2015.

After looking at all the lineups, the three arrangements that will be used far more than the rest are Lineups A, B, and C. James Loney and Kevin Kiermaier have enough of a track record hitting lefties and–especially in the case of Kiermaier–delivering great defense that they will receive plenty of chances to play against them. Tim Beckham, meanwhile, looks like the best combination of offense and defense at shortstop that the Rays have versus left-handers.

After some fiddling around, the Rays’ may be best off using Lineup A 16 times, Lineup B 12 times, and Lineup C 10 times. They will most commonly play both Loney and Kiermaier, but Kiermaier could see a shade more time because of his defense, at least when Rivera is behind the plate. When only one of Loney and Kiermaier is playing, the Rays will occasionally sub in Nick Franklin for Beckham. Let’s say that he appears in three times each with the rest of Lineups B and C.

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From there, the next most common lineups look like Lineups F and G. Rivera will play alongside Bobby Wilson a decent amount, especially in those cases, when he will have the opportunity to DH. Let’s say that the Rays will use F four times and G three times. That would leave four games where Logan Forsythe would play shortstop (Lineup D twice, Lineups H and I once each) and three where Rivera would play first base (Lineups E, I, and J once each). Franklin would also sub in for Beckham once in Lineup F.

If the Rays used their lineups that amount of times, Loney would start 32 games against lefties and Kiermaier would play 32 as well. That number be a shade over 60% of the Rays’ games against lefties, which sounds about right for both of them. Kiermaier’s defense is better, but the Rays believe a little bit more in Loney’s ability to hit same-side pitchers.

In terms of the middle infielders, Beckham would play 40 times against lefties, Forsythe would play 31 times (16 at 1B, 11 at DH, 4 at SS), and Franklin would play 7 times. That would obviously be subject to change–it would all depend on how much Beckham hits. If he struggles, the Rays could start using Forsythe a lot more often whenever Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, or Alex Colome (all flyball pitchers) are on the mound.

The most interesting aspect of all of this, though, may be the look at the catching situation. We have already accounted for 11 games for Wilson, and it could be reasonable for him to play 13 of the other 40 because of just how bad he is against right-handed pitching.

Of the remaining 111 contests, meanwhile, Rivera could make 78 starts versus just 33 for Wilson. That would mean 105 starts total for Rivera at catcher plus 11 more at DH and first base. He has averaged 113 games between the majors and minors the last three years, and while not all of them were starts, it is realistic to expect him to start at least 100 games at catcher this season. He wouldn’t be a true starting catcher, but he would be as close to it as the Rays have seen in a long time.

It’s also worth noting that Curt Casali or Luke Maile will be ready at some point in the year. Whenever that is, the Rays could decide to designate Wilson for assignment and then play the new guy a little bit more to ensure that Rivera’s workload doesn’t get so crazy. But Rivera wants to play as often as possible and has a clean injury history. If he hits–and the standard is not is not so high for “hitting”–he will play a lot.

This has been as free-flowing of an article as I’ve written in a while, but it is finally time to wrap it up. The bottom line is that Kevin Cash has a lot of work ahead of him as he hopes to figure out which defensive alignments to use against left-handed pitching, and he will constantly need to make adjustments depending on how everyone is hitting. At the end of the year, we will have to take a look at which lineups he decided to use and how often he utilized them.

(The next page is just the one-page view of this article.)

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