Expansion Problems | The Process Report

Expansion Problems

Two things have been rather noticeable about the Rays’ offense in recent weeks: the lack of contact and struggles with runners in scoring position. Those two issues plagued the Rays for most of the past few seasons and the first few weeks of 2013. After laying dormant for the past few months, they have started to creep up again but have been overshadowed by the overwhelming success of the pitching staff.

In Chris Archer’s last outing, the offense provided him with just one run of support but it was all he needed as he shut down the New York Yankees. Last night, the offense was once again stingy with run support, but it was not enough as the Rays lost consecutive games for the first time since late June.

After last night’s loss against San Francisco, Joe Maddon offered these comments about the recent struggles with the offense:

We’ve had a bad trend (of missed opportunities) recently. We have not been very good with runners in scoring position. I know it is going to come back to us…..A little bit of expanding our strike zone in crucial moments.

For the first half of the season, the Rays had the third-best team weighted on base average with runners in scoring position at .336 while both their 17.7 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent walk rate were ninth-best in baseball. Those numbers have fallen off to .285 wOBA, a 26.8 percent strikeout rate, and a 9.9 percent walk rate in the second half.

The expansion of the zone appears to be in selective moments. The Rays have offered at just 44.7 percent of pitches with runners in scoring position, which is the fourth-lowest rate in the league and the 26.5 percent swing-and-miss rate is just the tenth-worst. Lastly, batters have chased 28 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, which is the seventh-best total in the league.  As Evan Longoria put it to the writers two nights ago, “I am looking for one pitch and am getting another.” This is a problem we first highlighted in early July and will have a follow-up on this in the coming days.

The expansion of strike zones quickly puts pitchers ahead in the count. While the league has a .209 wOBA in pitcher counts in the second half, the Rays are at .196.  The league-wide wOBA in the second half with runners in scoring position has been .205 while the Rays have been one of the worst teams with just a .164 wOBA. Visually, the strike zone expansion is even more noticeable (click to enlarge):


The Rays had a .326 team wOBA in the first half with a 18.3 percent strikeout rate and a 9 percent walk rate. Thus far, the team has a .325 team wOBA in the second half despite the strikeout rate rising to 23.6 percent and the walk rate essentially maintaining at 8.8%. The increase of strikeouts has not affected those measures as much as it has the team run production as the team has fallen from a 4.68 runs per game average in the first half to a 3.85 runs per game average so far in the second half.

Less than a month ago, Maddon had this to say about his offense after a win in Houston:

“It kind of started again in Houston. I really thought that we are not expanding our strike zone. I saw the same thing pretty much again tonight — making the other team’s pitchers throwing the ball over the plate. We’re just not expanding our strike zone. I think that’s a big part of our success. We scored 12 runs and 8 runs in Houston and then this game tonight again. It’s primarily based on that. For the most part we’re not swinging at balls right now.”

Simply put, better selectivity should beget better contact which should beget better results in crucial situations in the coming weeks.

Stats courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

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