TDG’S Triple Play: Tampa Bay (St. Pete Devil) Rays!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington (@barrington_phil) and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
As this is the last Triple Play of the season, it’s time to recognize the writers, who make this column the best it can be. While we don’t always hit, based on the prior years, we’ve done pretty well recommending guys who have helped your (and definitely my) Dynasty teams. Twelve of the best fantasy minds I know contributed this season. It’s fitting that Greg Hoogkamp is a part of the last Triple Play, as he contributed the second most this season! Picking up the bronze this season is Drew Klein, and a personal thanks to Greg and Drew (and the others writers below) for being willing to hop in as necessary.
Let’s recognize the rest of the group and give them a virtual pat on the back, an attaboy on the way back to the Dynasty baseball dugout, as we all enjoy a much needed off-season break. (Twitter handles in parenthesis):
- Greg Hoogkamp (@GregHoogkamp)
- Drew Klein (@aok_fan)
- Chris Knock (@notnotcknock)
- Ryan Epperson (@ppenayr)
- Ben Sanders (@HPBenSanders)
- Colin Coulahan (@cjc07)
- The Roto Red (@TheRotoRed)
- Bob Cyphers (@FZX_cyph21)
- Sam Wirsching (@SamFBB1)
- Andrew Jurewicz (@amoney2727)
- Aaron Cumming (@SABRtoothTigers)
Thank you all for reading and we will see you in 2024!
Yandy Díaz, Age: 31, Position: 1B/3B
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The legend of Yandy
The Cuban infielder was signed a decade ago by the Indians, and played about half a season’s worth (88 games) over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, before moving to Tampa in December of 2018 as part of a three team deal also including the Seattle Mariners. For a while, he was most famous for his WWE-sized biceps; which we hoped would translate to homers as he rose through the minor leagues; his walk rates, consistently about 15% and high BABIPs would lead to him making the Show.
Yandy knows Hype
As such, Díaz has been a fantasy tease for more than six years. Don’t believe me? Here’s an exert from way back in March 2017, written by former TDG scribe Ryne Alber:
“Another guy who I think is severely underrated, Díaz is an MLB-ready bat who is a phenomenal defender at third but is seeing time in the outfield this spring as a way to get his bat in the lineup somehow. He has more career walks than strikeouts…so he may be a sleeper than is beginning to wake up, so invest quickly.”
He wasn’t alone, as I touted Yandy too (and we weren’t alone), especially once the trade to the Rays happened. Well, after three seasons of hype, Díaz finally produced a fantasy-relevant season in 2022; with a .296/.401/.423 slash line, although nine homers didn’t help much, as well as only 71 Runs and 57 RBI in 137 games. He was a one category performer, and entered the 2023 season ranked as such.
The Yandyman Can
In our 2023 pre-season rankings, we had Díaz at #22 of the third basemen; our prospect guru Ken Balderston wrote at the time:
“With only nine home runs and three steals last season, Díaz managed to become a 3.5 WAR player thanks to a .296 average (good for 16th in baseball). Given there’s not much power (.127 ISO) we’ll need to temper R + RBI expectations, but if you’re falling behind in OBP, Díaz is a cheap addition to help you catch up.”
Well, Yandy added a bit of power in 2023 (22 homers, a career high by eight) and 35 doubles, leading to an OPS of .932, also a career high by more than 100 points. Díaz also had a high batting average (.330) and OBP (.410). But Ken was right on about the Runs and RBI, as Díaz only had 173 total, which was also a career high by almost 50. Everything came together for Díaz in 2023 and he finished as the 32nd hitter on the Razzball player rater.
The Future of Yandy
Entering next season, expecting 22 homers (or more) again is fool’s gold; but if you draft Yandy to get your OBP and batting average up you won’t be disappointed. The righthander brings no speed (eight steals in 609 games, zero this past season) but what we do know is Tampa is going to play him every day (even with his poor defense), as Díaz has averaged 136 games played over the past three seasons with the Rays. Díaz seems perfectly suited to a corner infield spot, but I would not be excited about him being my 1B/3B starter. I’d explore trade offers from the managers who buy into the power as being real and see if a solid return can be had.
Zach Eflin, Age: 29, Position: RHP
Analysis by: Greg Hoogkamp
Zach Eflin was originally a Padres first round draft choice (33rd overall) to the Padres in the 2012 amateur draft. He was traded to the LA Dodgers in the winter of 2014 in a larger deal that involved Matt Kemp and the following day was traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. The Phillies had actually targeted Eflin in the 2012 draft, but missed out as he went seven picks before they were to select. He debuted on June 14th, 2016 where he allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 2.1 IP against a high powered Toronto Blue Jays offense.
Eflin was a free agent signing by the Rays over the 2022 offseason after pitching for the Phillies for seven seasons to start his career. They snatched him up early, agreeing to a three-year, $40 million contract, the largest in Rays history. The now 29-year old had been a serviceable back-end starter to that point in his career, bouncing between 1.4 and 2.3 WAR over the last 5 seasons. It was a very targeted signing by the Rays and it was clear that they had a plan for the 6 ‘6″ righty.
“We’ve Got It Goin’ On”
The Rays have a way of tweaking and adjusting a pitcher’s arsenal so that they can maximize their skillset. The Rays noticed that in 2022 Eflin was very successful with his curveball (.196 wOBA), a pitch he threw 20.1% of the time. He was also getting hit hard on his sinker (.358 wOBA) , a pitch he threw 39.9% of the time. What did the Rays do? They raised the usage of his curveball up to 26.5% which resulted in a .238 wOBA, still a great outcome. They also lowered his usage on his sinker to 31.9% and his wOBA dropped to .295. One other adjustment that Eflin made was to change the velocity and shape of his cutter. In 2022 he threw a harder cutter (90.0 mph) that had 22 inches of vertical movement and just 0.8 inches of horizontal movement.
This season, he threw the pitch at 88.5 mph, but the pitch had 26.3 inches of vertical movement and 2.4 inches of horizontal movement. He also bumped up the usage of this pitch from 15.0% to 26.1% and the wOBA went from .471 down to .391. Still not a great pitch, but an improvement and another pitch shape and speed that the hitter has to cover during an at bat. These three pitch adjustments led to an overall improvement of his wOBA from .295 to .276 and a FIP improvement from 3.56 to 3.01. These adjustments also led to a higher strikeout rate (26.5% in 2023 vs 20.8% in 2022) and higher ground ball rate (50.4% in 2023 vs 45.6% in 2022). What’s truly amazing about all of these improvements is that his velocity dropped in 2023. He was down marginally in velocity on all of his pitches except the curveball.
“Larger Than Life”
It was by far, his best season in the major leagues, one which produced a 23.0% K-BB%, 4th best of any qualified pitcher in MLB. His 3.4 BB% was 2nd behind only George Kirby of the Mariners. If you drafted Eflin, or had him rostered on your dynasty team, you reaped the rewards of the adjustments he made this season. There is no reason to believe that he can’t continue to be a very productive starting pitcher for at least the length of this contract which concludes after the 2025 season. He commands his pitches very well and his combination of inducing whiffs and weak contact raise his floor to a level where you really can’t go wrong rostering him. He should still have good value for the amount of production he can contribute; target him with confidence.
Cooper Kinney, Age: 20, Position: 1B/2B, Level: Single-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Hanging with Mr. Cooper
Drafted out of High School as the 34th overall pick in the 2021 Draft, Kinney made his debut later the same season. He appeared in 11 games for the Rookie Ball Rays, providing a promising slash line of .286/.468/.371 (not a typo, his OBP was almost 100 points higher than his slugging).
The tall lefty slugger (6’3”, 210 lbs listed) missed the entire 2022 season due to shoulder surgery; and that may be why his power was down in 2023; he still finished 2023 with ten home runs, a reasonable 21.2 K Rate and 8% BB rate with a slash of .274/.341/.393 in 505 plate appearances. He also hit better in the second half of the season, so that’s a good sign as well. Check out this home run from a few weeks ago; very smooth as the ball sails over the rightfield wall.
When he was drafted, Kinney was rated lower (84th overall of 2021 draft picks) by mlb.com, but they factor in defense, and that is not Kinney’s strong suit. In 2023, he split time between second base and first base, and he may profile in the bigs as a third baseman. While not great an any of the positions, a trip to the big leagues relies on his bat (in his short minor league career he has faired better against righties than lefties, and one thing we know is Tampa loves to platoon).
Cooper for the Future
Kinney hopefully will start 2024 in High-A, and continue to regainthe power he had lost due to the shoulder injury. For deeper Dynasty leagues, he is a good target, as a first-round pedigree in one of the best run organizations is not a bad bet. If he has a good 2024, we will see him climb prospect lists. If he is unrostered in your league (and he’s only on 5% of Dynasty teams in Fantrax), Kinney is a recommended dart throw.