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February 21, 2012 posted by Patrick DiCaprio

Top Five Questions: Tampa Bay Rays

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Matt Moore, the next Cy Young?

Here are the top five questions facing the Tampa Rays.

5. Shields and Price and not-so-nice?

James Shields and David Price are as good a top two as any in the American League. But after that, like the 2011 Yankees, there is just a slight chasm between their number two and three starters.

Those who read our Starting Pitcher Preview in our totally free Fantasy Draft Magazine know that I am very optimistic on the Rays’ starting staff, or at least the top three starters. After that it is a crapshoot. But how good can the top three be? This leads us into the next two questions:

4. Is Matt Moore ready to join the top two?

You can bet your bippy on it, to quote Lenny Melnick, our version of Methuselah; Moore is good enough to win a Cy Young Award right now. 155 IP with over 12 K/9 and a K/BB ratio over 4.5 will do that. He has no glaring platoon disadvantage, is on a good team with good defense and pitches for a coaching staff with a proven record of developing pitchers. Personally, and not speaking for the rest of our staff, I like him better than Stephen Strasburg by a healthy margin, at least for 2012.

Next Up:

3. Is Jeremy Hellickson ready to join the top three?

The Rays have three aces at the top of the rotation. Do they have four of a kind?

No, and hell no. Hellickson is as far from Matt Moore and Wade Davis is from Hellickson, at least on cold dope.

Hellickson’s numbers last year were atrocious: 4.47 xERA (thanks BaseballHQ) 5.6 K/9 1.6 K/BB and a 35/45 GB/FB ratio. On traditional fantasy analytics he is expected to regress in a large way this year.

However, he may be one player to whom the Brad Radke Rule applies. This is a rule invented at the Fantasy Baseball Generals Blog, and states that any rookie pitcher that stays in a rotation, no matter how bad his stats, is a big positive bounce candidate in year two. The idea behind the rule is that if the management sees enough to keep a guy in the rotation then we bet on that, rather than the surface stats.

Here, Hellickson doesn’t quite qualify since his surface stats were very good. But the point is that if you are a booster you can hang your hat on the Brad Radke Rule and tilt at the windmill of the hard-core fantasy sabermetricians.

2. Is Sean Rodriguez really going to be the starter at SS?

The Rays have a huge hole at SS with no obvious fixes other than trading for Hanley Ramirez, which they should do right now in my humble opinion. Sean Rodriguez has as much chance at being a credible regular major leaguer as I do at scoring a threesome with Kim Kardashian and Kate Upton. Tony Cincotta will win a Nobel Prize in Physics before Rodriguez becomes a credible hitter.

Roughly speaking, he might be the worst hitting prospect I have ever seen get a chance at a starting job. The next time he has an OBP over .300 in the majors will be his first, and unless an OPS below .700 excites you (it shouldn’t) you may as well cross him off your draft lists now.

His minor league numbers hint at power, until you look at the leagues in which they were accomplished. They make him look slightly better as a prospect in the same way that a cloak made John Merrick look more presentable; an Elephant Man in a mask is still an Elephant Man, and you can quote me on that.

1.  Is Desmond Jennings the real deal?

He sure is if you need speed. But speedy outfielders are as plentiful as grains of sand and that is not what fantasy players expect more from Jennings than being the next Brett Gardner.

Jennings’ power is unlikely to be repeated in 2012; he is not a 20-home run hitter and his 16% HR/FB rate will regress. Or that is what the smart money says. But I am betting with the dumb money here.

Jennings has a good batting eye, is just entering his prime and made improvements across the board in his first stint in the majors as compared to his MLE’s. His profile is one where you need to take of the purely sabermetric blinders and see what might be instead of what is; what might be is that he might be one of the top 15-20 players in the AL this year. He is the type of player that ruins fantasy forecasting accuracy but wins championships.

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