May 11, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) scored a run during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field. Cleveland Indians defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Tampa Bay Rays are reeling. There’s no ifs, buts, or maybes about it–this team is struggling and severely under-performing compared to preseason expectations. Following last night’s debacle in Seattle, where the Rays committed 3 errors in the second inning (4 overall in the game), Tampa Bay is now 5.5 games out of first place in the AL East. They are 3 -7 over their last 10 games and have lost 6 of 7.
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The season is still young–it’s only May–but Rays fans did not anticipate having the fourth worst record in baseball at this point during the season. Baseball Prospectus pegs the Tampa Bay Rays with a 22.2% chance of making the playoffs, having lost 26.3%(!!!) over the past seven days. The pitching staff has been plagued with injuries since the beginning of the season, and the loss of Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Alex Colome (suspension) hasn’t helped the cause. But what do the statistics say? Is the offense under-performing? Is it truly the pitching that is plaguing this team?
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As a team, the Tampa Bay Rays are barely under-performing compared to their wOBA (weighted on-base average) ZiPS projections. Some notable standouts at this point in the season include David DeJesus, James Loney, and Ryan Hanigan, who are all have above average seasons. Sean Rodriguez, the Rays utility-man, has been exceeding his preseason expectations, and currently owns the largest (positive) delta on the team.
The bigger takeaway is that the “star” players–Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, and Wil Myers–are not living up to expectations. With that said, the offense ranks 10th in the league in wOBA (.320) and the Rays have the fifth lowest K% in all of baseball. In the more traditional statistics, Tampa Bay ranks 8th in runs scored, 8th in batting average, and 6th in on-base percentage. All signs point to a team that should have a better overall record. But offense is only part of the story…
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*Cobb is on the 15-day DL and is expected to return in early June
**Moore had Tommy John surgery and is out for the season
These pitching statistics are not pretty. When looking at the projections for Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), the Rays pitchers, particularly the bullpen, do not bode well. As mentioned previously, Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey had to get creative with the starting rotation due to early season injuries. Of the current starters, Chris Archer, Erik Bedard, and Jake Odorizzi are all out-performing their projected metrics. Archer has struggled lately, but he has been pitching well while filling in as the Rays #2 starter. David Price, on the other hand, has been underwhelming so far this season as the staff ace. One thing to point out is the batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Three Rays starters have a BABIP of over .344, including Price, Archer, and Odorizzi. When compared to their career averages (Price: .344 vs. .283; Archer: .345 vs. .280; Odorizzi: .389 vs. .333), it is reasonable to expect some regression and thus an improvement in their overall performance.
As for the
bullpen, the Rays are struggling. Jake McGee and Juan Carlos Oviedo are the two bright spots in the pen, though it seems as though every other contributor is under-performing at this point. One could make the argument that given the starters’ inability to pitch deep into games, the bullpen has been overworked and put into difficult situations in the early going. Tampa Bay is tied for last in the league with only 12 quality starts from their starters this season (NOTE: A quality start is defined as 6 IP and allowing 3 ER or less). Rays’ starters have 1 complete game and have pitched 214.1 innings compared to 137.1 relief innings. It is worth pointing out that the back end of the bullpen (Peralta and Balfour) are the two worst performers against their projections.
May 3, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Wil Myers (9) makes the catch avoiding Rays first baseman James Loney (21) on a fly out by New York Yankees designated hitter Alfonso Soriano (not pictured) during the fourth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
The Tampa Bay Rays have been known for defense during the Joe Maddon era. That has not changed this season, as the Rays have committed only 20 errors, good for 4th fewest in all of major league baseball (including last night’s 4 error fiasco). However, the defense doesn’t appear to be saving as many runs as in years past. The Rays have a -8 defensive runs saved above average, indicating that they are actually allowing 8 more runs than would be expected of an average team. The contributors in the infield are the same as they were last year, while the outfield has been the typical platoon that we’ve come to expect from the Rays. In 2011, the Rays led the league in runs saved above average with 85; that number has decreased each year since: 2012 – 23, 2013 – 10.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS:
All in all, it appears that the Tampa Bay Rays need better performances from their starters. Offensively, the Rays are playing fairly well, however their traditional bread & butter of pitching & defense has taken a hit due to injuries and poor situations. As was noted in the beginning of this post, the season is still young and there is more than enough time for regression; however, that regression cannot come soon enough.