Wil Myers Could Roil the Tampa Bay Rays’ Lefty Lineup
[quote]“Injecting one more bat against right-handed pitching that we felt had a chance to do some damage was something that we wanted to do.”[/quote]
That’s Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman talking about calling up top prospect Wil Myers to join the big league club. Throughout his press appearance Sunday, Friedman emphasized the rookie’s success against right-handers, admiring how Myers had been “driving the ball against right-handed pitching,” and that his arrival would “give us our best chance against right-handed pitching.”
At first glance, it seems strange that the Rays would need this particular kind of help from the right-handed Myers, as the team is loaded with left-handed bats. Among regular starters, natural lefties James Loney and Matt Joyce are joined by three right-handers who swing from the left side – Jose Lobaton, Kelly Johnson, and Luke Scott. Throw in the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist, and right-handed pitchers frequently face a Rays lineup with no fewer than six hitters coming at them from the left side.
Yet as so often is the case, the numbers bear out Friedman’s view. Against southpaws, the Rays are hitting a sizzling .290/.354/.455 thus far this year. Against right-handers, it’s only .245/.318/.411. Loney, Lobaton, Johnson and Scott actually enjoy significant positive splits against left-handers.
When Myers arrives in the lineup Tuesday night against the Boston Red Sox, the Rays’ starting right-handers aren’t going anywhere. Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, and Yunel Escobar are well ensconced at their positions, so a lefty will be the odd man out.
Here is a rundown on the prospects for the starting left-handed bats for Tampa as Wil Myers comes to town.
James Loney: The Rays’ batting leader for most of the season won’t be sitting. Loney enjoys a positive split against southpaws, but the .285/.347/.453 he brings against right-handers is plenty good enough. And no one on the team matches his defense at first base.
Matt Joyce: Joyce’s recent power surge puts him on a 40-HR pace. He’s hitting .281/.378/.556 against right-handers and mostly sits against lefties. This won’t be affected by Myers’s arrival.
Jose Lobaton: Lobaton has enjoyed an offensive resurgence this year, hitting a credible .279/.343/.443, and enjoying more of his success against left-handers. Although Myers was drafted as a catcher, those days are over; Lobaton will continue to split time with Jose Molina and remain the better offensive option.
Kelly Johnson: Johnson’s torrid May has given way to a lackluster June, and not for the first time. For his career, May has been his best month with an OPS of .847; June has been his worst with an OPS of .641. Still, Johnson’s positional versatility should keep him in the Rays’ lineup if he is hitting. With Myers in right, he’ll be pushed around the field, platooning with Joyce against left-handed pitching, spelling Zobrist, Longoria and even Loney, and stepping in to DH if Scott falters.
Luke Scott: Following an injury-marred 2012 campaign, Scott returned to the Rays as a free-agent on a one-year contract. So far in 2013, he is hitting .240/.340/.388, disappointing production from the DH slot. Now that Johnson is without a position and Longoria’s battles with plantar fasciitis will probably keep him from playing at third every day, Scott could easily be pushed to the bench.
Tampa’s team versatility makes it relatively straightforward for them to find a place for Wil Myers to play. With the front office looking to their prize prospect to improve the Rays’ offense against right-handed pitching, it looks as though a left-handed hitter who would normally carry this weight will be the one watching the new kid from the dugout.