March 22, 2012; Bradenton, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the bottom of the first inning of a spring training game at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Florida Series Preview: Chatting With Rays Colored Glasses Robbie Knopf

The 2012 baseball season is fast approaching us! The Miami Marlins are gearing up to take the field for the first time ever. Excitement for baseball season is pretty high in Florida, and for good reason. The Marlins are opening up their new ballpark, but the Tampa Bay Rays are also in the state. The Rays are a very well run organization that has found more recent success then the Marlins.

I had a chance to have a Q/A session with Robbie Knopf, the Editor over at Rays Colored Glasses. Robbie runs the best Rays blog on the internet, if you get a chance, please go and reason some of the great content they post over there.

Here is a look at some of the questions that I had for Robbie:

1.There is a lot of talk about last years rookie of the year and the luck that played into his strong rookie campaign. I personally fall into that camp that believes he was extremely lucky, but is a talented pitcher. What do you make of his BABIP last season, how much luck did he have, and what do you see him doing in 2012?

Fact: Jeremy Hellickson was lucky in 2011. Another fact: he could pitch just as well without luck in 2012. Hellickson’s ERA was nice and sparkly at 2.95, but he struck out just 5.6 batters per 9 innings, walked 3.4 (well below a 2-1 strikeout to walk ratio) and allowed 1 homer per 9 innings, leading to a ghastly 4.44 FIP. He also forced just a 35% ground ball rate against him but was still lucky in terms of fly balls staying in the park, with just 8.1% going for homers compared to the 10% league average, and overall almost everything put into play against him turned into an out as he allowed just a .223 BABIP. That suggests a big regression for Hellickson this coming season. But that could easily be canceled out (at least mostly) just from the fact that Hellickson has a year under his belt facing major league hitters. Hellickson always looks so comfortable on the mound, but he was somewhat tentative, relying almost exclusive on his fastball-change up combination that he threw for nearly 90% of his pitches. His fastball has nice late run and his change up is a true plus pitch, but in this age of advanced scouting reports, you can’t survive as a starting pitcher with a two-pitch arsenal unless both pitches are plus-plus, and that is not the case with Hellickson. Both his pitches are relatively hard to square up, meaning that Hellickson’s wasn’t a big of a fluke as it could have been, but there will still be some BABIP regression for Hellickson and it’s obviously alarming that he could not post a 2-1 strikeout to walk ratio. The big things for him will be to use his curve ball more often after he didn’t trust it nearly enough in 2011 and used it just 11% of his pitches despite its nice potential, and he’s been working on a cutter that could help him force more ground balls. If Hellickson can understand major league hitters better and utilize his entire arsenal more effectively, he can remain a very good major league pitcher. I would project Hellickson’s ERA to go up to around 3.25, which would still make him a nice pitcher and one of the best third starters in baseball.

Mar. 14, 2012; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) pitches in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

 

2.Been reading some rumors that the Rays are currently looking for more catching depth. What does that position look like right now and is that a major concern moving forward for the Rays?

The Rays are in trouble right now at the catcher position. Jose Molina is lined up to be a starting catcher for the first time in his career, and the catchers he’ll share time with, Chris GimenezJose Lobaton, and Robinson Chirinos, all profile best as backups as well. Stephen Vogt can hit better than any of the four, but he doesn’t play well enough defensively to be a starting catcher. The Rays do have some talented catching prospects, but the most advanced of them will spend 2012 at High-A. The Rays desperately need a stopgap until a player like Luke Bailey is ready, and their organization doesn’t have a player who could give them any offensive production from the catcher role. That’s why the Rays continue to look for a catcher, offering starting pitching in return. It would not be surprising if the Rays trade the loser of their 5th starter battle between Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for a catcher. The Rays need a catcher, and they simply don’t have one right now. Their offense has improved so it may not be as pressing of a need to get a catcher who can actually hit, but when you have no proven starting catchers or potential starting catchers at all anyone near the big league you’re in trouble.

 

3.Last week in a game against the Marlins, B.J. Upton and Desmond Jennings had an extremely ugly collision on a fly ball hit by Austin Kearns. It did not look too good at that time, what are their statuses right now?

Luckily for everyone involved, both are fine. Jennings came back without a beat while Upton has missed time with a back injury since then, but he’ll be back within a couple of days.

Mar. 14, 2012; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Sean Rodriguez (1) attends to left fielder Desmond Jennings (8) and center fielder B.J. Upton (2) after Upton and Jennigs collided while going after a fly ball in the outfield during the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Charlotte Sports Park. Both players were carted off the field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

 

4.Everyone knows that the Miami Marlins got their new stadium and will be opening that April 4. The Rays are also in the process of searching for a new stadium. Can you give us any updates? Are we any closer to having a resolution to keep the Rays in the state of Florida or is Tampa dangerously close to losing their professional baseball team?

The Rays are not about to leave Florida. Part of that is increased fan support. Stu Sternberg and the Rays ownership were confident enough that attendance and TV ratings would rise in 2012 that they raised payroll by 20 million dollars, and that’s definitely a good sign. Another big factor is that the Rays are trapped in a lease for Tropicana Field that takes them through 2025, still quite a long time away. The buyout for that lease would be costly. But an even bigger issue is the mayor of St. Petersburg, Bill Foster, who refuses to let the Rays leave. If they build another stadium, it would likely have to remain in Pinellas County and would likely be even farther away from the nearest big market, Tampa. The Rays are hoping that sustained commitment to their ball-club’s success will lead to more fan support and that in turn will resolve their problems.

 

5.I heard that the Rays have a new catch phrase “mormentum,” what is that all about?

Mormentum (n.)- not to be confused with Moorementum
The act of gaining more momentum when you already have momentum to begin with.
Pretty much it’s a contraction for “more momentum.” Not exactly sure why it was necessary.

 

6.Everyone knows that the Rays starting rotation is their building block. Right now, who do you see as the ace of the Rays staff? Also, who do you think you guys could least afford to lose, Evan Longoria or the ace of your staff?

The Rays ace right now is James Shields. In reality, Shields doesn’t really have ace stuff and he has the 3rd or 4th most upside in the Rays rotation, but he’s so dependable and a 230-inning second starter is a valuable commodity in this day and age. David Price could get back towards his 2010 numbers this coming season, something we know he can do especially since he actually improved his strikeout to walk ratio in 2011, he’ll be the team’s ace again. Matt Moore may be the Rays ace someday, but even though he’s an incredible prospect, we have to expect some growing pains during his first big league season, even though he may very well win the Rookie of the Year Award in the process.
Losing a pitcher like James Shields would be annoying for the Rays. Losing Evan Longoria is a crippling blow. We saw that after Longoria went down early in the season, the Rays started 1-8 before Sam Fuld and then Matt Joyce started playing out of their minds. Nevertheless, when Longoria struggled in July, the Rays were below .500. We also know how the Rays surge when Longoria catches fire. The Rays lineup may be improved, but they have no player with anywhere near Longoria’s ability, and without Longoria, their lineup is a complete joke. If Shields goes down, the Rays could move Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis from the bullpen to the rotation or go down to the minor leagues to grab Alex CobbAlexander TorresChris Archer, etc all. Maybe the rotation would lose some effectiveness if that happened, but it would still be well above-average and the Rays would have no problems winning games.

I also answered some questions for Robbie regarding the Marlins. You can read my answers on Rays Colored Glasses right now!

Tags: Alex Cobb Alexander Torres Austin Kearns B.J. Upton Chris Archer Chris Gimenez Desmond Jennings James Shields Jeff Niemann Jeremy Hellickson Jose Lobaton Jose Molina Luke Bailey Matt Joyce Matt Moore Miami Marlins Robinson Chirinos Sam Fuld Stephen Vogt Tampa Bay Rays Wade Davis

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