The Rays are a franchise that thrives on x-factor type players. Who would have expected that Fernando Rodney would set the record for the lowest single season ERA of all-time in 2012? Who would have expected that a career bench player in Jeff Keppinger would get significant playing time in 2012, and have the best season of his career at age 32? And by the same token, who would have expected that two of the four Rays players that made at least $5 million in 2012 would combine for just over one win of value, and that the other two wouldn't be Rays in 2013? That all just emphasizes the fact that the Rays are all about the x-factor.
My x-factor for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013 is James Loney.
What the hell, James Loney? James Loney sucks! His career-best season was 2.4 fWAR, and he'll be 29 in May. Last season was the worst year of his career, split between the Dodgers and Red Sox. But the Rays are doing something with Loney that the Dodgers never did throughout his career, and they probably should have: they're going to platoon him.
For his career against right-handers, Loney has a .790 OPS and a .146 ISO. Those are pretty solid numbers, even if they're not great for a first baseman. But against lefties, Loney's OPS drops to .658, and his ISO falls to .107. The Rays just need to find a capable platoon partner for Loney. They're currently going with Shelley Duncan, who doesn't possess significant splits against either handedness, but does hit lefties better than Loney does.
Just because the Rays don't have an ideal platoon partner for Loney right now doesn't mean that the ideal is giong to fail. But the Rays are in a tough spot, because they also have a DH in Luke Scott that can't hit lefties, and a second baseman (Kelly Johnson) that struggled against southpaws in 2012. There's a significant possibility that the Rays will have at least one player in the lineup at all times that needs to be platooned, but can't because of injuries, roster crunches, or the lack of someone who can play the necessary position. If Loney wants to make the team's decisions easier going forth, him smashing the hell out of right-handers will do a lot of good for the Rays prospects at contending in 2013, because if they need to worry about giving him, Scott, and Johnson all caddies against lefties, it could be a rough year.