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Know Thy Enemy: top hitters on the Tampa Bay Rays

A look at Tampa Bay's top hitters, in advance of tonight's big game

Al Messerschmidt

The Rays are seen by most as a great pitching team with a mediocre lineup. This is due in part to them playing in one of the better pitchers' parks in baseball, which makes their pitching numbers look a bit better than they are, and their hitting numbers look a bit worse. They're also viewed that way because they were a legitimately great pitching team in 2012, and baseball fans are often a season (or more) behind in terms of their perceptions compared to reality. They are a great defensive team, so their run production is in fact above average, and with Alex Cobb starting for them tonight,the rest of Tampa Bay's rotation is of little to no concern to us.

The more important misconception about the Rays, is the notion that they're a mediocre hitting team. Strip away ballpark factors and make some adjustments for the quality of their opposition, and it turns out the Rays are one of the best-hitting teams in the league. Looking at wRC+ (a hitting metric which adjusts a team's production for park factors and era, and works on a scale where 100 is league average, higher than that is above average, lower than that is below), the Rays are at 108, tied for third-best in baseball. A major factor at work here is that aside from catcher and #9 hitterJose Molinathere isn't a below average bat in their lineup, which means there are no easy outs when facing Tampa Bay.

Most of their hitters aren't far above average either, but the 2 through 4 spots in their order are an exception, that heart of the order is serious trouble, even for a pitcher with stuff as strong as Dann Salazar's.

#2: Wil Myers - Tampa Bay traded James Shields away to land Myers, one of the top prospects in all of baseball. They called him up in early June and Myers has posted a .293/.354/.478 line in 88 games since then, making himself a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. The right-hander hitting Myers has led the Rays in BA, OBP, SLG, and wRC+ since the All-Star break. Myers has prone to striking out, with a K% of 24.4, highest on the team. Myers is sure to develop more power in time (he's only 22 years old), but so far has been more of a doubles threat than HR guy. He's hit well to all fields so far, and didn't show anything in the way of a platoon split this season.

#4: Evan Longoria -The biggest name in the lineup, and probably their best hitter. His .498 slugging percentage and 32 home runs both led the team, as did his 133 wRC+. Longoria is a right-handed hitter, and has done significantly better against lefties for both 2013 and his career as a whole. Longoria was great throughout the season, posting well-above-average numbers in every month but July. He also showed great durability, playing in 160 games. Longoria enters tonight on a roll, having collected 12 hits in the final week of the season, including 3 in Monday night's play-in game. If there's one guy in the Rays lineup you don't let beat you, it's Longoria.

#5: Ben Zobrist - A switch-hitter, Zobrist's overall production is down this year (1 115 wRC+ after averaging a 134 over the previous two seasons), but that's largely due to a slow first half. He's been at a more robust 124 since the All-Star break. Zobrist strikes out less often than most hitters these days and has solid bat control, hitting well to all fields. He also has solid speed and base running instincts once he's put the ball in play. While he hits from both sides of the plate, Zobrist has a pretty severe platoon split this year, with a .287/.376/.436 line against righties, compared to just .250/.310/.333 against lefties. For his career, he's fairly neutral, and has in fact done better against southpaws. IT will be interesting to see which way Indians manager Terry Francona pushes Zobrist to bat late in the game.

Danny Salazar (and whomever comes in after him) will have their hands full with an underrated lineup. Anything can happen in one game but the three hitters listed above are the one most likely to do damage.