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May 13, 2012 posted by Chuck Anderson

Position Battles: Replacing Longoria

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Jeff Keppinger, TB

On May 1 the Tampa Bay Rays placed Evan Longoria on the DL with a hamstring tear.  The team’s best hitter will be lost for six to eight weeks.  It is difficult enough for the low budget Rays to field a starting nine that is competitive with the big money teams in the AL East, and practically impossible to have a comparable veteran rostered as a backup.  They are getting by with multi-position utility players who do not have the offensive profile of a traditional third baseman.

To sum up Jeff Keppinger, he is the antithesis of a three true outcomes hitter.  He never exceeded 10% in walk rate or strikeout rate nor has he reached double digits in home runs.  He has some punch in his bat however, with 20+ doubles in three of the last four seasons while averaging just 455 plate appearances per year.  He is fairly easy to peg in batting average, he will finish in the .270 – .290 range.  His counting stats are dependent on the hitters around him.  With this year’s Rays that may sound damning, but they are a surprisingly respectable 18th in runs scored during May.

Keppinger has a career .861/.664 OPS split, in favor of facing left handed pitchers.  Tampa is not using him as a platoon player however, he started eleven games against right-handed pitchers.  He made headlines by landing on the restricted list but only missed one game before getting back in action.  He has negative UZR/150 at every position, but is not a horrible defender.  The Rays seem content to start him most days.

Will Rhymes is in the picture as well.  He spent limited time in the majors with Detroit in 2010 and 2011 before landing in Tampa for 2012.  He does not have much power, but boasts a near 1/1 K/BB ratio since 2010 when factoring in minor league and major league time.  He has one major league steal but four seasons of 20+ as a professional.  He hits left-handed but is below average against pitchers from both sides.  He offers some speed potential, but Keppinger is far more proven at the major league level.  For AL-only players that need a body he is the best bet.

Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez are in the infield mix as well.  Since they have career OPS+ marks of 64 and 86 respectively they can be ignored except for those in the deepest of leagues.

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