In the last 21 years, nine players have regularly called first base their home for the Tampa Bay Rays (and Devil Rays). When compared to the ballclub’s messy turnover rate at catcher, first base has enjoyed relative stability. In fact, selecting the top five Rays to play the position was easy. Ranking their individual performances proved a lot trickier. Relying on Baseball-Reference.com for the numbers and my own opinionated heart for the rest, here are one fan’s picks, from worst to first, for the High-Five of Tampa Bay First Basemen.
Travis Lee brings the glove.
No. 3: Travis Lee
The Tampa Bay Numbers
Home runs: 42
Batting average: .261
Fielding percentage: .997
Right or wrong, when one thinks of Travis Lee, one thinks of a gloveman. His career numbers certainly bear this connection out. Look no further than his .997 fielding percentage over nine years at first base to prove the point. During that stretch which included 8,725 chances, Lee participated in 771 double plays, collected 584 assists while being tagged for only 29 errors. Impressive numbers, indeed. And with three of those fine fielding seasons being spent in Tampa Bay, Travis Lee earns the No. 3 spot on the High-Five of first basemen.
Let’s zero in on those Tampa Bay years. As a Devil Ray (2003, 2005-06), Lee played 3,026 innings at first base. Of his 3,188 chances, he recorded 2,954 put-outs and 225 assists, featured in 301 double plays while making only 9 errors. It’s important to remember that those were lean years for Tampa Bay. There were only 191 Devil Rays’ wins during Lee’s three-year tenure with the club. Also, nestled within those seasons was Lee’s 170-game errorless streak between May 2003 and June 2005.
On the offensive side of Lee’s game, the San Diego, CA native could also hit. His career batting average was .256 (he hit .261 with Tampa Bay) and his lifetime OPS was a sound .745 (a .757 OPS with the Devil Rays). Of note, his career numbers not only spanned the ‘growing pain’ years in Tampa Bay, he also put in 2 ½ seasons with the shiny new Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-2000). Considering that 5 ½ of his 9 seasons were played with expansion teams, his 115 career homers and 488 RBI take on a keener significance.
Admittedly, Travis Lee did not set the baseball world on fire. He did, however, light up Tampa Bay with his glove during three of the Devil Rays’ hardest years.
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There are two big-name first basemen left to fill out the Rays’ High-Five. So, who will take the top spot and who will have to settle for No. 2? Carlos Pena or Fred McGriff? Find out tomorrow.