With 40 games under their belts its time for the team's first quarter report card.
Just like the old days the grading will be a simple A+ through F scale. There will be a grade for each player with as short an explanation as possible (I'm sure you've got better things to do than listen to me drone on), as well as a grade for the coaching staff and for the team as a whole.
(all stats are as of 5/19)
JAMES SHIELDS: C-
Shields (3-4) is supposed to be the ace, but has struggled to find the strike zone at times, which is uncharacteristic, and has been very hittable at times as well (56 hits in 52 innings). We need to see more out of the top of the rotation soon. Very soon.
SCOTT KAZMIR: C
Kaz has managed a 4-3 record, but I'm not sure how. Kid K's mechanics have been off and he's averaging just over 5 innings per start (surprise). Kaz has walked 25 while only managing 32 K's. At what point do we become truly concerned?
MATT GARZA: B+
Garza (4-3) has been the best of a bad bunch so far this season. He has the best ERA of the starters (3.50), the most innings per start, and the most K's (45)
ANDY SONNANSTINE: D+
Sonny has the highest ERA of the staff (7.36). Andy is one of those coin flip guys; either he's on or he's off, but the one thing that has always been historically true is that he doesn't issue walks... until now. Sonny has already walked 14 batters this season (or 1 BB every 3 innings) after only walking 37 all of last season (1 BB every 5 and 1/3 innings).
JEFF NIEMANN: D+
As the number 5 guy you can't expect much (especially from a rookie), but until last night Niemann was bad. Very Bad. Jeff has shown that he's got some filthy stuff if he can find it, and hopefully last night was the confidence boost he needed. Niemann does have the 3rd best ERA of the starters at 4.97 but has a 1:1 strike-out to walk ratio.
For the Rays to be successful these guys have got to become way more consistent. They cannot continue to be a wild card if this team expects to compete down the stretch. If the starters can't start eating more innings the residual effects on the bullpen will be enough to sink the ship as they head toward September.
LANCE CORMIER: A-
Cormier has been an inning-eater thus far, having pitched 11 and 1/3 innings more than the next closest reliever (Balfour). Lance also has the best ERA of all the pitchers, starter or otherwise (2.17). Cormier has flown under most pundits radars, but today he gets his just desserts [sic], receiving the only "A" on the pitching staff.
JP HOWELL: B+
Howell has been up and down thus far, but has had more ups than downs and has posted the second best ERA on the staff (2.60), and has, for the most part, been hammering the strike zone striking-out 20 (the most among the relievers) in just 17 and 1/3 innings of work.
JOE NELSON: B-
Nelson and Balfour have fairly similar numbers so far this season, and both are middle of the road. Nelson is 2 for 2 in the save department, but has walked 12 in only 16 and 2/3 innings of work. That number has to come way down.
BRIAN SHOUSE: C
Shouse is supposedly the lefty-specialist, but hasn't been overly special, and will probably be the first one pushed out of the bullpen if the need arises (and it will).
GRANT BALFOUR: B-
As I said, Balfour and Nelson have similar numbers at this point, but Balfour is going to have to get better for the Rays to compete consistently (and he has as of late). Balfour has gotten a lot of work so far this season and is walking way too many batters (12 walks to 17 K's).
DAN WHEELER: C-
Wheels has been the biggest disappointment out of the 'pen so far and has the highest ERA of all the relievers on the staff (5.79). Wheeler has allowed 9 earned runs in 14 innings pitched. Not quite what I'd call "set-up guy" numbers.
TROY PERCIVAL: B
Troy, Troy, Troy. What a conundrum. Percy has, at times, looked as bad as I've ever seen a "closer" look, and has rarely looked good, but somehow, someway he's managed to pull-off 6 saves in 6 opportunities and I've got to give credit where credit is due. His job is to record saves and that's what he's done, even if it comes at the expense of my blood-pressure.
The bullpen has really been the Rays' saving grace over the past week or so, and have represented themselves fairly well, but they can't be expected to keep it up for long. With the addition of Isringhousen yesterday we'll see how the 'pen can maintain themselves. If these guys start getting a little help from the starters they should be fine. I believe that the race for the AL East will come down to bullpens, so these fellas are going to have to keep it together.
DIONER NAVARRO: D-
Navi has been a shell of his 2008 self so far in 2009. He has at times looked nothing short of lazy behind the plate, and can seemingly only contribute offensively by sac. bunting (BA .179). The Rays need Navi to step up his game- the sooner the better.
CARLOS PENA: A-
El Gato started the season red-hot from the plate, sending balls over walls at a ridiculous rate (13 HRs, leads the AL), but has slowed considerably over the past 10 days. Pena has had an all-or-nothing approach at the plate so far this year and is striking out way too much (50 K's). Carlos' defense has shown that his Gold-Glove was well deserved, and that his first shouldn't be his last.
AKINORI IWAMURA: B
Aki has been a little less consistent on D than he was last season, but is still doing a fine job at 2nd, and has picked up his game offensively hitting .291 from the bottom of the line-up.
EVAN LONGORIA: A
Longoria has cooled-off as of late, but still leads the league in doubles (16) and RBI (46) and is tied for 3rd in the AL with 11 HRs. Just because expectations are so high, I've been surprised at a few fielding gaffes thus far, but let's not split hairs.
JASON BARTLETT: A+
Bartlett has been ridiculously good so far, hitting .384 which is good enough for 3rd in the league. He also has an OBP of .423 and 11 stolen bases. On top of that JB has already matched his career high HR total of 5 in a season.
CARL CRAWFORD: B+
CC has been excellent in the field (3 assists which already matches his '08 total), formidable at the plate (BA .327) and unstoppable on the base paths (24 steals, which is 7 more than the next closest player in the league (Figgins)).
MELVIN UPTON: F
This bad apple has been spoiling the bunch all season. The player formerly known as Bossman has shown sparks at the plate lately, but is still miles away from where he ought to be. Upton is hitting a ridiculously low .183. His performance in the field has been above average, but not nearly good enough to counter his troubles at the plate. A lesser player may get the benefit of the doubt due to his defense, but we know what Melvin is capable of, so expectations are high.
GABE GROSS: B-
Gross should get more love from fans and Maddon. He is by far the best defensive rigthfielder on the roster and isn't half bad at the plate. Gross is hitting .254 and is great at grinding-out at-bats. As far as I'm concerned he should never be sat in favor of the other Gabe.
PAT BURRELL: D
Pat has disappointed so far, to say the least. I, for one, was very excited about the Burrell signing despite hearing about his 'streaky" nature, but this is ridiculous. They didn't bring Pat on-board to hit for average they brought him in to hit home runs, plain and simple, and so far he's failed miserably, plain and simple (1 HR). To be "streaky" is one thing, but streaks (or down cycles) don't last 40 games (or at least they shouldn't). Hopefully a week or so off (15 day DL) is what Pat the Patient needed to get his swing back in-line. We'll see.
A few players are bringing the average down for the whole squad, but overall the starters aren't doing too bad. They'll need to be better to play in the fall. Pat Burrell and Melvin Upton are the keys here, if they can do what's asked of them, and everyone else plays the way they have so far (with the exception of Navi), the Rays can win every time they take the field, regardless of who's pitching or for how long.
BEN ZOBRIST: A-
Zobrist has been amazing. Better than his numbers show, and better than advertised. All this guy does is make clutch plays. He can legitimately play 5 positions (some say 7), and he can hit from both sides of the plate. Zobrist is hitting .279 and has 7 HR's in 86 AB's.
WILLY AYBAR: B+
Aybar is another versatile bench player who can play several positions and can hit from both sides of the plate. Aybar is hitting .263 for the season, and is a consistent contributor. Having Burrell on the DL should give Willy a chance to shine (like he did last season in place of Pena/Longoria).
GABE KAPLER: D
Nope. Waste of a roster spot at this point. Matt Joyce is ready for the call-up and Gross is better in the field and more consistent at the plate. Kapler has been consistently out of position in RF, and has been anemic at the plate (.212).
MICHEL HERNANDEZ: B+
Since Navi doesn't want to play baseball this year (and Riggans is hurt again) someone has to do it, and Michel has done a fine job behind the plate and has held his own beside it as well, batting .258 and contributing 8 RBI. Just to put this into perspective; Navi has 7 RBI in 31 games while Michel has 8 RBI in 9 games.
With the exception of Kapler the bench has shouldered much more than their share of the load. Once Joyce joins the team and Gross heads to the bench in place of Kapler it may be one of the strongest benches in all of baseball.
COACHING STAFF: C+
Maddon has made some ridiculous errors (ie Sonnanstine as DH due to line-up issue), and his refusal to bump Upton out of the lead-off spot just seems stubborn at this point. Maddon has to realize that there's a fine line between genius and luck. Maybe last year shows that he wasn't so much genius as he was lucky. Also of note, Jim Hickey has been missing something with his starters. The top of the rotation is too good to be so bad, and Hickey makes big bucks to fix it.
OVERALL TEAM: C
The team finally clawed their way back to .500 with a big win v. Oakland last night. Now its time to string together some series wins and play consistent ball as they march toward the dog days of summer. For now their 1st quarter grade reflects their record- right down the center.
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