Needless to say, there are a lot of interesting things about the Rays this season. As of today, they have an 89% chance of being in the postseason this year, which is ridiculous considering the division in which they reside. Tyler Glasnow, Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz, and Austin Meadows join veterans Charlie Morton, Tommy Pham, and Kevin Kiermaier as players already surpassing 1 WAR for the season. For those of you who may not follow WAR that closely, if you have that many players on pace for over 4 wins for the season, you’re a legit World Series contender. They also will get Joey Wendle, currently recovering from a fractured wrist, back later this season. (Wendle, you may remember, was one of at least three rookies better than Miguel Andujar last season, despite what the shills at Simpleton Summer Camp tell you.)
Also in the over 1 WAR group is Avisail Garcia, perhaps the most interesting of the bunch.
Among AL right fielders, Garcia is 2nd in bWAR and 3rd in adjusted OPS. And very surprisingly, he’s in the “who’s been the best defensive outfielder in baseball this season” discussion. According to Statcast’s measurements which factor in the difficulty of balls hit into a player’s area and compares that to the percentage the player actually caught, Garica is 1st among all MLB outfielders in catch percentage added and tied for 3rd in outs above average, only trailing guys with names like Buxton, Kiermaier and Cain.
What makes all of the above notable to me is his contract. He signed a one year $3.5 million contract with Tampa in January, which needless to say, is a steal. I think it’s safe to say Tampa GM Erik Neander did a little better than Phillie’s GM Matt Klentak did in assessing free agent right fielders.
Even more interestingly, there didn’t seem to be any major changes in Garcia’s approach or philosophy that would explain the big improvement over his career and in particular, his 2018 numbers. Yes, his chase rate is down, his walks are up his strikeout rate is down. But that can be said of any player that improves and his improvements in those areas aren’t drastic.
What changed is that he’s healthy. He had a great season in 2017, posting a 138 adjusted OPS and 4.6 WAR while earning an All-Star appearance. He then had knee surgery in 2018 forcing him to miss two months and then play at less than 100% for the rest of the season – hence the poor 2018.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn didn’t agree with that assessment and let Garcia go. Erik Neander read the situation correctly and Tampa is in first place at the quarter pole as a result of that and many other smart decisions.
I’m looking forward to watching the Rays again this weekend. Besides the rooting for the underdog angle, they’re a fun team to watch.
Of course, rooting for the underdog is a season-long thing, not for this weekend. Although given current circumstances, I’m not sure who the underdog is this weekend…?
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