When drafting Tampa Bay Rays players for a fantasy team I usually go by this principle: do I have to? Like in years past, the Rays have a core group of players that need to be drafted and started in all formats. Wander Franco (80 ADP), Tyler Glasnow (86), Shane McClanahan (33), Randy Arozarena (38), Jeffrey Springs (186), and Drew Rasmussen (187) are all players to comfortably take at their given ADP.
After that is where things can get complicated. The Rays are known for closers by committee, platoons on offensive players, and overall frustration when it comes to fantasy baseball. This year will most likely be no different, but a few players look to be lining up as useful fantasy options for 2023. Let’s dig into these players, as well as some players to avoid due to the Rays doing their devilishly Rays thing.
2022 stats (325 PA): .213 AVG, 53 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 14 SB
Jose Siri was acquired by the Rays at the 2022 Trade Deadline from the Houston Astros as a part of a three-team deal. Immediately he became the Rays’ everyday centerfielder due to Kevin Kiermaier going down with an injury.
Let’s talk about defense for a second. The Rays put tremendous value on defense and Jose Siri provides elite defense in center field. Outs Above Average (OAA) is not a perfect measurement for defense, but it does show, in a snapshot, who is performing better than their peers at their defensive position. For the 2022 season, Siri ranked 7th overall with 15 Outs Above Average.
Why am I talking about defense in a fantasy baseball article? The Rays are going to try and play Jose Siri every day of the 2023 season in center because of this fantastic defense. Not to mention, Siri showed signs of life at the plate in a Rays uniform even though his numbers were not eye-popping: .241/292/.367 with 4 home runs and 8 stolen bases. Take a look at Jose Siri’s weighted on-base average for 2022.
Not thrilling, but nice. Can you guess where on this graph Siri was acquired? Yep, the bottom. The minute Siri put on a Rays uniform, they helped him figure something out offensively. Or maybe he just loves Florida… someone has to.
He had an average exit velocity of 87.5 mph but also maxed out that velocity to 112 mph. Exit velocity is not the end-all, be-all stat for an offensive baseball player, but when a player hits the ball hard, usually good things happen.
I don’t think it is out of the question for Jose Siri to flirt with 10-15 home runs and 20-25 stolen bases. The slash line might not be pretty at the end of the year, but that power speed combo is looking mighty enticing, especially since he projects past the 20th round (308 ADP).
2022 stats (266 PA): .221 AVG, 31 R, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 1 SB
Brandon Lowe is a player for the upcoming season that does not need much explanation as to why he made it onto the sleepers list.
Take Lowe’s 2022 stats with a massive grain of salt. Throughout the 2022 season, Lowe was dealing with lower back issues limiting him to only 65 games, and he did not look comfortable in those 65 games. In 2021, Lowe had a monster year with 39 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a triple slash of .247/.340/.523. 2021 may be Lowe’s ceiling but 2022 is certainly not his floor.
A quick glance at his average and max exit velocity shows that not much changed in 2022. The blue line is his career percentages, the bottom grey line is 2022.
His average EV remained about league average whereas his max is among the best in the game.
His advanced stats across the board for 2022 looked similar to what he was producing in years past. There was an uptick in groundball percentage (34% to 37%), which is definitely something to keep an eye on to start the year, but that’s minimal.
Lowe’s ADP right now is 170. Taking the gamble on a guy who recently hit 39 home runs and had a bad luck injury season after is an easy one to take.
2022 stats (75.2 IP): 4.04 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 65 K, 3 W, 4 QS
A wise man named Brian Windhorst once said “Why would they do that?” The Tampa Bay Rays gave Zach Eflin a 3-year $40 million dollar contract this off-season. This is the largest free agent contract given to a player in their franchise history. Everyone could’ve and should’ve predicted that it of course would go to Zach Eflin.
Seriously, why would they do that? So far in his career Zach Eflin, to put it plainly, has been rather run of the mill. He has a four-pitch mix: sinker, curveball, four-seam, and cutter. He will add a slider and changeup to the mix at times, but they aren’t the main weapons.
The Rays are one of the best teams at developing successful starting pitchers that can rely on two main offerings, the examples right now being Tyler Glasnow and Drew Rasmussen. Both of these pitchers do have a third offering. Glasnow developed a slider in 2021, and Rasmussen has a tighter slider that acts more like a cutter. But at the beginning of their careers, they were starters who made it work with only two pitches. This is, of course, difficult to do, but the Rays seem to find a way.
Eflin has two strong pitches. His curveball and four-seam fastball grade out tremendously as far as swinging strike percentage goes, whereas his other offerings do not. The curveball grades at 20.8% and the four-seam, which he uses as an outpitch, grades at 13.9%.
Curveball over the MLB average.
Four-seam over the MLB average.
Sinker over the MLB average.
Eflin’s sinker gets him to favorable counts. The problem is, his sinker can get hit hard at times.
Look at the CSW% (called strikes + whiffs) of all three pitches. The sinker and curveball get him there, but the sinker does not generate whiffs whereas the curveball does. The low CSW%, and high SwStr% on the four-seam shows he is using this pitch out of the zone to generate whiffs.
The Rays can be faulted for a few things, but for the most part, they are a very smart organization. They see something in Zach Eflin and right now, we don’t know what that is. I would wager that they lower the usage of Eflin’s sinker and utilize his four-seam more to go with his already golden curveball. The question is whether the four-seam can be a reliable pitch to get him to favorable counts and if they are able to up his spin rate.
I know I am absolutely trying to read the tea leaves on why Eflin is now a Ray and understand that sometimes when reading tea leaves you are just looking at compost. But, the Rays went out and got Zach Eflin right away in free agency. It really felt like a “we got our guy,” moment. Due to this, and the track record the Rays have with pitchers, I think Eflin (321 ADP) could put up a sneaky solid season in St Pete.
2022 stats (24 IP): 1.13 ERA, .67 WHIP, 38 K, 8 saves
Pete Fairbanks is the truth and I would put him in the top ten as far as relief pitchers in the game right now. I do not take pleasure in adding Fairbanks to the Busts section of this article, but I must for the simple fact that he is in the Rays’ bullpen.
This has nothing to do with performance. In fact, here.
It’s beautiful, truly beautiful.
Fairbanks possesses an elite fastball alongside a slider that could make a grown man cry, which I’m sure it probably has. Again, this is not a knock-on performance, this has to do with fantasy history and being burned in the past by the usage of the Rays’ bullpen.
Jason Adam, Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson, Emilio Pagan, and Sergio Romo are all names that need to be brought up when referencing past, or technically present, Rays closers. Since Alex Colome put up 47 saves in 2017, the Rays have implemented a closer-by-committee strategy with one pitcher sometimes getting the lion’s share. Romo had 25 saves in 2018, and Pagan had 20 saves in 2019. Since then the highest save total from a Rays closer was 14 from Castillo in 2021 with Adam and Fairbanks topping out at 8 each last year.
Fairbanks is a better pitcher than all listed above, besides maybe prime Romo (never forget). Colome tallying 47 saves in 2017 could show that when the Rays are confident in a closer and have their guy, they are willing to throw him out there more. And down the stretch in 2022, Fairbanks definitely felt like the closer.
If anything this bust pick is a precautionary tale. Fairbanks’ ADP right now is 211 but climbing; the highest he’s gone is 136 so do not be shocked if he goes earlier than expected. If he’s there around the 200th pick, of course, take the risk. But, given the history with the Rays’ bullpen and how they approach closing out games, it might be worth looking elsewhere instead of pulling your hair out when Adam gets a save. Cause Adam will get saves.
2022 stats (558 PA): .296 AVG, 71 R, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 3 SB
Yandy Diaz is who Billy Beane dreams about when he’s not dreaming about Brad Pitt. The man can play first base, always works the count, and is an on-base machine with a career OBP of .372. The issue with Diaz only lies within the realm of fantasy baseball; he is a player that is much better in real life than he is in fantasy.
Diaz has 37 career home runs and 8 career steals. He also has a career OPS+ of 120, which is very good. He bats leadoff at a decent clip so he can produce runs and the RBIs can get above 50. But, besides that, Diaz doesn’t provide much when it comes to counting stats.
In the 2022 season, Diaz was fantasy relevant due to his absolutely top-tier batted ball data and the aforementioned ability to get on base. In fact, Diaz improved his average exit velocity in 2022.
The issue with Diaz is with that fun stat to the far right, launch angle.
The ideal launch angle varies from hitter to hitter and like with all advanced hitting stats, it is not the only thing to focus on. 15 to 20 degrees is what many hitters are looking for as their launch angle sweet spot. In between this launch angle is a great place to be if you want to hit the ball over the fence.
Diaz averaging 5.9 degrees of launch angle means that if I played third and he came up to the plate, I would call my mom and ask her to pick me up, or else I would have to field a 114.3 mph line drive.
I love that the Rays haven’t messed with Diaz’s swing to produce a better launch angle. Clearly, something clicked in 2022 for him as stated in this fantastic write-up courtesy of John Foley. He is a great baseball player and one any team would be better for having. But as a fantasy player, there are better gambles in the late rounds than Diaz.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)