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Analyzing the Tampa Bay Rays’ Lineups Vs. Righties, Lefties

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Kevin Cash has released the primary lineups that the Tampa Bay Rays will use against both righties and lefties. That is certainly an unusual step by Rays standards–Joe Maddon certainly never did something like that–but it comes with its advantages, particularly in regards to giving players stability in their day-to-day approach. However, do Cash’s lineups truly maximize the abilities of his team? Let’s take a look at the released batting orders and look at their strengths and weaknesses.

Vs. RHP

1. John Jaso, DH
2. Steven Souza, RF
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Desmond Jennings, LF
7. Logan Forsythe, 2B
8. Rene Rivera, C
9. Kevin Kiermaier, CF

The biggest thing that jumps out about this lineup is Steven Souza batting second. Some people questioned whether Souza should be on the Rays’ Opening Day roster at all, but clearly the team has a ton of confidence in him. Souza has stood out for his plate discipline this spring, certainly a good attribute for a top-of-the-order hitter, and he also features solid speed and even the ability to lay down some bunts like he did on Friday.

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The success of Souza’s rookie season will primarily be determined by how much contact he makes and whether he is able to tap into his power. His secondary skills will take a back seat to those storylines. However, putting Souza at second in the order reminds him to be himself at the plate because he doesn’t have to be the big run-producing power hitter immediately and could also give him some better pitches to hit. Souza’s lineup placement is aggressive, but it also makes a lot of sense.

Beyond that, it is also interesting that Jennings is batting sixth. Apparently the Rays are done having him lead off and are going to give him a full season to adjust to batting farther down in the order. With Forsythe, Rivera, and Kiermaier behind him, Jennings will have a lot more opportunities to steal bases and he could also take more aggressive swings when he is ahead in the count. After all, he won’t be taking the bat out of an established hitter’s hands anymore.

Two stretches in the lineup that come with their concerns are 6-7-8 and 9-1. It seems pretty clear that teams should bring in a right-handed reliever for Jennings, Forsythe, and Rivera, and then a lefty for Kiermaier and Jaso. Did the Rays really have to bunch together arguably their worst three hitters against righties and their worst two against lefties?

On the other hand, those spots are exactly what the Rays have their bench for. Late in games, expect for the Rays to pinch-hit for Forsythe with David DeJesus and Jaso with Brandon Guyer. Then, if the Rays want, they can even replace Kiermaier with Tim Beckham and then simply move players around (Beckham to 2B, DeJesus to LF, Jennings to CF) to arrive at a strong defensive alignment. The Rays’ backups will complement this lineup extremely well late in games.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the return of Nick Franklin will only make this lineup stronger. Franklin is better than Forsythe versus right-handed pitching and will remove the problem area from 6th to 8th in the order. There is reason for optimism about the Rays’ batting order against right-handed pitching, and it should only get better once Franklin is healthy.

Vs. LHP

1. Brandon Guyer, LF
2. Steven Souza, RF
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Desmond Jennings, CF
6. James Loney, 1B
7. Logan Forsythe, DH
8. Rene Rivera, C
9. Tim Beckham, 2B

Having Guyer lead off is a smart decision on the part of the Rays. Desmond Jennings has always hit lefties well and could conceivably lead off against them, but given the inconsistency that has defined his career, they are best off leaving him farther down in the order. Jennings does move up to fifth as the Rays will give him a chance to drive in more runs and compensate for Loney’s weakness against lefties without limiting Jennings’ opportunities to steal bases.

Back to Guyer, he looked very good against lefties last season in every aspect except for his power, and the Rays won’t ask him for many home runs out of the leadoff spot. We know that he is capable of hitting the ball with more authority, but the biggest thing for Guyer this season may be how much more he will steal bases.

Guyer was always a high-percentage basestealer in the minor leagues thanks to above-average speed and good instincts, and he will look to swipe at least 15 to 20 bases in 2015. Presumably he was held back last season because of his health, but after he showed what he could do last season, the Rays are set to take the training wheels off. If Guyer can add more steals to his solid discipline and gap power, he could be a valuable leadoff hitter versus lefties.

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As it stands right now, Kiermaier will head to the bench against lefties, and that was their best move for a couple of reasons. He struggled mightily against them last season, and if he was playing regularly against them, Beckham would have no clear path to playing time. Kiermaier will still get starts when the Rays elect to bench James Loney instead, and the team will also have to reevaluate everything if Franklin’s return forces Beckham back to Triple-A.

The Rays have five straight right-handed batters in a row from Forsythe to Souza in this lineup, but that isn’t something that is really much of a negative. After all, Jaso, DeJesus, and Kiermaier are three excellent pinch-hitting possibilities if a righty reliever is brought in, and both Souza and Guyer may be too good against righties to be pinch-hit for. Guyer finds himself in a funny situation because he hit righties slightly better than Jennings did last season yet will sit against them most of time.

On the whole, it is interesting the way that these lineups demonstrate the Tampa Bay Rays’ thinking with regards to Jennings and Souza and how valuable their bench will be from game to game. Even if the Rays would have rather traded DeJesus, it seems clear that he will see pinch-hit opportunities in nearly all of the Rays’ contests. The Rays are doing what they can to get every position player on their roster the comfort level and the playing time to be productive.

Next: Spring Game 30: Erasmo Ramirez Debuts As Rays Lose 1-0

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