With the signing of Carlos Pena the Rays have ostensibly filled the last gaping hole on their Major League roster. Sure, we'll probably see some more signings like Will Rhymes, but the opening day lineup can fairly accurately be prognosticated at this time. A central tenet of Rays skipper Joe Maddon is to put players in situations where they can be expected to thrive. Conversely, he'll often shield a guy from having to expose a major weakness. When it comes to deriving a lineup this primarily means that guys with wide platoon splits can be expected to ride the pine with the hopes that they'll be able to make a difference in the later innings when they may be inserted into a favorable situation.
According to The Book, you can't merely look at how a player has performed against same-handed and opposite-handed pitchers because, for the most part, you're dealing with small samples relative to what you need to feel confident predicting what a batter will do in these situations. Regression allows us to look at what a player has actually done while also factoring in what an average batter has done in similar situations to get a much better idea of how that batter will perform going forward. We will heavily use The Book's approach (a great summary can be found on page 181) to project how you can expect the various Rays batters to perform. One caveat is that with players with obscenely small plate appearance numbers, you're going to find that players are so heavily regressed that it tells us more about the average player than the one we're concerned with. Luckily, this will only be a factor with a couple of guys that are hoping to make a name for themselves. We will look at each batter on the 40-man roster to get an idea of how things will shake out.
I've created a sheet that can help out with this that I'd like to share so that you can see that this stuff isn't just magic:
We're using wOBA here in all instances. Career would be the total career wOBA that the player has shown. Under V. LHP/RHP we have the number of plate appearances, % of usage and wOBA that each player has already shown. You should notice right off the bat which players have really small samples here. The Platoon Skill section shows the actual split they've shown and what that would look like when regressed using the proper number of plate appearances. The Adjustment section shows how much impact you would expect from each regressed split on each player's projected wOBA. Lastly, the Forecasted wOBA comes from the translated Zips figures that I used in our Team War Projection that includes stolen bases and caught stealing expectations.
We can rank these by pitcher-type so that it's a bit easier to see who beats whom:
Blue indicates players that should be playing full-time as they represent a better option than an alternative player. Green indicates guys that should be part of a platoon and red shows players that should be coming off the bench as either part of the platoon or as a mostly full-time bench role. Note that we're strictly taking into account offense in this analysis, but you could easily factor in defense to present a different idea.
Evan Longoria is leaps and bounds ahead of our next best option against lefties, while Zobrist is no slouch either. Jennings and Upton would both be above-average (.330ish) against lefties. Carlos Pena comes in as our 5th best hitter even against same-handers while I think it would make sense to use Russ Canzler as the DH. Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, and Robinson Chirinos round out the lineup with Luke Scott, Jose Lobaton, Elliot Johnson, and Sam Fuld coming off the bench in this lineup.
Some surprises for me were seeing Pena expected to post a .329 wOBA against lefties and Matt Joyce profiling as a guy that should stay in the lineup compared to the alternative. Part of this is due to the low wOBA projection for Brandon Guyer (.309), in particular, as well as his own extremely small sample. For the purposes of this look we're going to go strictly by the numbers with some overall points at the end to tie everything together.
Again, we see that Evan Longoria is just a monster as he also projects to hit righties better than anyone else on the team. Pena shows where he'll be doing most of his damage and Matt Joyce and BenZo profile as the next best batters. New addition Luke Scott looks like he will be an adequate DH versus righties and rounds out the last above-average bat. We then move on to Upton and Jennings before sliding down further into Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton. Robinson Chirinos, Elliot Johnson, Sam Fuld, and Russ Canzler form the bench.
The guys that weren't mentioned should start the year in AAA with an eye on coming up in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness with Ruggiano probably finding a new home. One sticky wicket is that the Rays just signed Jose Molina and he's going to play. I could see Chirinos starting the year with Durham letting Molina face lefties and the switch-hitting Lobaton getting a legitimate shot against most of the righties. It might not be ideal, but clearly Chirinos has some things to still work on and we have to see if Molina will be an average or better option. Another controversial call is Elliot Johnson getting the nod over Reid Brignac. The transactions database at Baseball Prospectus show Brignac as only being optioned twice meaning he should still have one final option. Elliot Johnson is not so blessed. EJ brings a similar glove as Brignac and is actually expected to hit better so it would make sense to utilize Helliot as a utility infielder that could see some starts at SS while Brignac works on his swing in Durham. The Rays are loathe to give a player away even if he's had the backstory that Elliot has.
Brandon Guyer is another guy that I would start in Durham as unlike Russ Canzler, he can actually field a position so you'd like to have him playing everyday. Canzler is a nice player to have starting against lefties and have off the bench when Luke Scott faces a less than ideal matchup. Sam Fuld would be the 4th outfielder that can play all three positions and makes a decent option as a bat off the bench when a right-handed reliever gets called from his cage. These are the numbers behind my thoughts, but I'd love to see yours or at least your own rationale for what you would do.