Tampa Bay Rays 2019 Betting Odds, Preview: Young Players Must Produce for Tampa to Excel Again

Tampa Bay Rays 2019 Betting Odds, Preview: Young Players Must Produce for Tampa to Excel Again article feature image
Credit:

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Willy Adames and Brandon Lowe.

  • The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off one of the most surprising (and profitable) seasons in 2018, but it'll be a challenge for them to repeat their success.
  • Kevin Cash will likely utilize "openers" to start games again, a strategy that certainly helped them last year.
  • Tommy Pham and Tyler Glasnow, both of whom were acquired during the 2018 season, will be crucial to Tampa's success.
  • Other important players will be Willy Adames and Austin Meadows, two second-year players, and their upcoming prospects, headlined by pitcher Brent Honeywell.

The Tampa Bay Rays picked a poor time to be good again. Last year, they won 90 games and were nowhere close to Boston’s division leading 108. This year, the AL East will probably be just as good, and Tampa can’t rely on the Orioles failing to reach 50 wins, either.

With the Rays being a small market team, they’ll have to continue to find ways to battle and grind out wins. They did make one big offseason splash by signing Charlie Morton, but will also be relying on upcoming prospects and youngsters to chip in.

2018 Results

  • Record: 90-72 (+21.6 units), 93-69 ATS (+20.3 units, best in MLB)
  • Over/Under Record: 73-82-7
  • Preseason World Series Odds: 200-1
  • Win Total: 74
  • Most Profitable Starter: Blake Snell (21-9, +10.9 units)

The Rays were shockingly good last season. Led by Blake Snell’s Cy Young campaign, they were able to go over their win total by 16 games and consistently win bettors some money on both the moneyline and runline.

They were also able to successfully use the “opener” role, which could lead to more teams around the league trying it out. In games “started” by Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo and Hunter Wood, they went 32-21 for +11.3 units.

2019 Odds

  • World Series Odds: +2500
  • Division Odds: +800
  • Win Total O/U: 84.5
  • Playoff Odds: Make +300, Miss -400

This is probably the first time the Westgate has listed a team at +2500 to win the World Series and +800 to win their division, but this is a unique situation.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the oddsmakers expect Tampa to fall back from their 90 win season, which is the case for pretty much every winning team from the American League last season.

If things go according to plan and the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians and Astros make the first four playoff spots, the Rays will be battling with the Athletics (+240), Twins (+240), and Angels (+300) for the final spot. Of course, a team could come out of nowhere like Oakland and Tampa did last year and win 90+ games, but that doesn’t always happen.

I personally like the Twins the most out of those four teams, but wouldn’t hate on anyone for taking Tampa at +300.


>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest conversation delivered into your inbox each day.


Roster Notes

  • Additions: Charlie Morton, Mike Zunino, Yandy Diaz, Avisail Garcia, Emilio Pagan, Guillermo Heredia, Jake Smolinski (minors), Ryan Merritt (minors), Oliver Drake (minors)
  • Subtractions: C.J. Cron, Jake Bauers, Sergio Romo, Carlos Gomez, Mallex Smith, Chih-Wei Hu, Jaime Schultz
  • Potential Lineup
    1. Willy Adames – SS
    2. Tommy Pham – LF
    3. Ji-Man Choi – DH
    4. Yandy Diaz – 1B
    5. Austin Meadows/Avisail Garcia -RF
    6. Joey Wendle – 3B
    7. Mike Zunino – C
    8. Brandon Lowe – 2B
    9. Kevin Kiermaier – CF
  • Projected Rotation
    1. Blake Snell
    2. Charlie Morton
    3. Tyler Glasnow
    4. Opener
    5. Opener
  • Prospect Watch: Brent Honeywell (No. 28, RHP), Nathaniel Lowe (1B), Brandon Lowe (2B)
  • Key Injuries: Jose De Leon (Tommy John, mid-season), Brent Honeywell (Tommy John, early/mid-season), Matt Duffy (Hamstring, early 2019)
  • MVP Candidates: Tommy Pham (+10000)
  • Cy Young Candidates: Blake Snell (+1800), Tyler Glasnow (+8000), Yonny Chirinos (+20000), Ryan Yarbrough (+20000), Brent Honeywell (+20000)

Analysis

Player to Watch: Tommy Pham

In December, Tommy Pham said that the Rays “really had no fan base at all,” which upset a few thousand people in the greater Tampa area.

In all seriousness, one of the players Tampa will be relying on the most got off to a bad start this offseason with those remarks.

After breaking out for the Cardinals in 2017, Pham was dealt to Tampa at the deadline last year. In his 39 games with the Rays, he posted a 191 wRC+ — the same number Mike Trout posted for the entire season.

The Rays missed on landing Nelson Cruz and said farewell to both C.J. Cron and Jake Bauers, two bats that combined for 41 home runs last year. Pham won’t put up huge home run numbers himself, but he’s capable of 25+ and can get on base a ton.

Don’t expect Trout-like numbers all season, but Tampa will need him to produce in a lineup that really lacks any other bats with a consistent, productive track record.

Pitcher to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Part of the Chris Archer return, Tyler Glasnow is a high-potential arm that could be a bonafide No. 2 starter behind Blake Snell.

The 25-year-old was a highly-rated prospect in the Pirates season for some time before getting dealt, but had already started emerging as a reliever for Pittsburgh last year. Once with Tampa, he was one of just a couple guys actually used as a starting pitcher.

At a formidable 6 foot 8, Glasnow can reach the upper-90s with the heater and has a great curveball to boot, which allowed him to strike out just shy of 11 batters per nine innings last year.

 

He had some trouble with free passes, but actually lowered his walks per nine from 6.39 in 2017 to 4.27 last year. Still, only three of 57 qualified starters last year had higher rates than that.

If he can cut down on walks, he has a chance to become something special because the large majority of pitchers who are capable of striking out over 10 per nine are very successful.

Summary

Though they have a few legit starters, the Rays will most definitely be bringing back their “opener” strategy that worked so well for them last season. I can’t say for sure what their plans are, but it’s possible they use openers for the final two spots in the rotation at the start of the season. The big question is whether or not it still works as well as it did last year.

One thing that you can bet your bottom dollar on is that Cy Snell will have a worse ERA than he did last year. He achieved his 1.89 ERA by stranding 88.0% of baserunners. If that sounds high, it is. Since 1900, that is the second-best percentage out of 8,755 seasons from qualified starters.

I believe their success will also hinge on the productivity of two players that were highly rated prospects entering last season: Willy Adames and Austin Meadows.

Adames had a .604 OPS in the first half of the year and .818 in the second half. Meanwhile, Meadows burst onto the scene in May with Pittsburgh with 1.221 OPS that fell to .686 in June and .478 in July, which led to a demotion and the subsequent trade to Tampa. He produced at exactly a league average rate in his 10 games with the Rays at the end of the year

These youngsters could produce any number of results this year, but Tampa will need them both to leave their stretches of horrendous hitting in the past if they want a chance at the division.

Tampa also has a number of prospects in the pipeline, including several that should contribute this season. They could certainly turn into a contender within the next few years, but with the Red Sox and Yankees so dominant right now, this low-budget squad would be wise to keep a long-term approach and not sell away any young pieces at the deadline.

With their win total already accounting for the fact that they will regress, and their division/world series odds not advisable in my mind, this is a team that will be difficult to make any wagers on right now. Their odds to make the playoffs (+300) might be the most enticing of any of their options.

All odds via Westgate SuperBook as of Feb. 17

Transactions accurate as of Mar. 24. Free agents deemed subtractions until they re-sign

Advanced data via Fangraphs.com, prospect ratings via MLB.com, prospects in prospect watch expected to be MLB-ready in 2019