How Sharp Are The Rays? | The Process Report

How Sharp Are The Rays?

The marvelous Nate Silver wrote a series of articles in 2007 about teams looking—and being—sharp and what it meant to their contention possibilities. Within the series, Silver pegged the Devil Rays as a good bet to improve quickly, as they relied on the stars and scrubs strategy. As Silver wrote, teams in that phase can improve quickly, as marginal upgrades should be available at a low cost—people forget this sometimes, but going from awful to okay is about as valuable as going from okay to good. Using his same methodology, I wanted to see where the Rays stand now, relative to the other teams in the division.

First up are the position players. To make this as simple as possible, I took FanGraphs Runs Above Replacement and subtracted the Replacement runs from it. That gives us runs above or below average for each position, and while there is going to be some argument about the defensive and baserunning values, remember that this isn’t about nailing each player’s value to a decimal point. Here are the Rays numbers through Monday’s game for players with 100-plus plate appearances:

Player			RAA		RBA
Ben Zobrist		24		--
Matt Joyce		13.7		--
Evan Longoria	        13.1		--
Casey Kotchman	        9.4		--
Sean Rodriguez	        4.1		--
Elliot Johnson		3.2		--
Kelly Shoppach	        0.4		--
Sam Fuld		--		0.9
B.J. Upton		--		1.3
John Jaso		--		2.5
Johnny Damon	        --		3.3
Felipe Lopez		--		6.9
Reid Brignac		--		12.2
Total			67.9		-27.1
Net			40.8

Here are the same numbers for the other American League East teams:

Team			RAA		RBA		Net
NYY			116.8		-18.9		97.9
BOS			115.7		-28.7		87
TOR			70.7		-56.4		14.3
BAL			20.4		-49.3		-28.9

As you can see, the Rays are closer to the Jays than the Red Sox or Yankees, but next we need to evaluate the pitchers. This is trickier, as there is no quick way to evaluate the league-average versus the pitcher’s production while taking the park factors into account. At the same time, evaluating pitchers by earned run average can double count the defensive factors already credited to the team with the defensive values in FanGraphs numbers. In the end, I went with FIP, in order to avoid double counting, while giving the pitcher credit for things he can control.

I took the average ERA for starters and relievers, and figured out how many runs the average pitcher would allow over x amount of innings, I then subtracted the actual amount (using the pitcher’s FIP) from that total, thus runs above or below average. It’s not perfect—I gave everyone with a start credit for being a starter—but it works as a quick and dirty calculation. Keep in mind, there is no defensive or luck considerations, so these aren’t intended to be definitive value statements:

Player			RAA		RBA
David Price		16.3		--
James Shields		12.7		--
Kyle Farnsworth	        3.3		--
Juan Cruz		1.9		--
Alex Cobb		1.5		--
Joel Peralta		0.3		--
Brandon Gomes	        --		0.1
Jeff Niemann		--		2.3
J.P. Howell		--		3.3
Cesar Ramos		--		3.6
Adam Russell		--		4
Jeremy Hellickson	--		4.4
Wade Davis		--		11.2
Andy Sonnanstine	--		12.7
Total			36		-41.6		
Net			-5.6

And the division picture:

Team			RAA		RBA		Net
NYY			43		-28.7		14.4
BOS			24.2		-30.9		-6.7
TOR			23.1		-36.7		-13.6
BAL			9.9		-57.1		-47.2

Now, you may be asking, “What does all of this really mean?” And, once you take the absolute values of all the runs above and below average, then the sums, you get the Rays with the second-lowest total in the division. Silver says the higher the total, the more sharp the team, and the Rays simply aren’t as sharp as the Jays, Red Sox, or Yankees. They are more sharp than the Orioles, but mostly because that roster has performed horribly this season and it works both ways—teams with many good players and few bad, or teams with many bad, and few good.

This analysis shows that, while the Rays don’t have too many star players, they also don’t have many players in over their heads either. The 25-man roster is filled with average producers, which can work, but this current collection is headed for a win total in the mid-to-upper 80s. Acquiring impact talent is no easy feat, and the Rays have to be self-sufficient given the revenue constraints. That means producing impact talent from within, and while the Rays have some pieces on the way, it’s hard to say if they can close the gap enough to make the playoffs a real possibility.

Until those pieces arrive, I’m reminded of what Shields said after the Rays fell behind 0-2 to the Rangers in the American League Divisional series, “We got to fight our way back. We’ve been fighters ever since ’08 when we started turning this organization around so it’s time to go.” With New York and Boston on the schedule for most of the next few weeks, it’s time to go—the Rays are going to keep fighting, but winning a few of the next few rounds will not get them a shot at the title, and they aren’t built to win a fight with Boston or New York.

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