Offense is a Flat Circle | The Process Report

Offense is a Flat Circle

We’re at the point in the season where you can start to reflect on what in the hell just happened. We’ve got a feel for how the team looks. Where it is excelling, and where it is falling flat.Broad trends are beginning to take shape. What new tweaks are the Rays chasing this year? Well, sir, or ma’am, one thing has been made abundantly clear. The Rays want to hit the ball hard, and don’t care the cost.

One of the simplest ways to look at this is to rank teams by strikeout rate. You can see Rays’ hitters leading the league in strikeouts per plate appearance. It’s obscene. They march these kids off to battle and they come back grizzled men with terrible tales of bad umpiring and cheating pitchers. Another thing you might notice is that the team is walking at close to 11% of the time. If you think that’s high, well you’re absolutely right! Only the Twins have a higher percentage of plate appearances turning into walks.

Another thing that sticks out like less of a sore thumb is the homers. They seem more real in reality, but on paper they rank eleventh. Tempering that excitement I should point out that they also lead the league in plate appearances. Living on the extremes is hardly new hat around here. The Rays have been doing it for years, though never quite to this level. That’s right, The Three True Outcomes Mashfense is back.

More specifically, it didn’t actually go anywhere. First some background on the above. 3TO% is the percent of plate appearances that ended in a home run, walk, strikeout or hit batter. Something the Rays are doing at close to a 41% clip this year. LA indicates the league average for that given year, something you might find important for the next analysis. Lastly, 3TOx is an index of how far above or below that team’s 3TO% tracks compared to league average for that given year. You see, the game wasn’t always like this. Guys used to make contact at the expense of power, but those were simpler times when there was less money in the game.

Nowadays, the three true outcomes approach can be beneficial for cash-strapped teams forced to ball on a budget. The Rays have a lot of experience acquiring players with enormous warts that can often obscure underlying nice features. During some of their best offensive years, like virtually every non-Keppinger/Kotchman year from 2007 to 2012, can be found near the top of this list. They took a break from 2013 to 2015 to try it a different, more Sheltydog way. Early results gradually diminished, but SLUGGING IS BACK, BABY!! In fact, this is one of the most three true outcomiest teams ever:

I’m leaning on the index here so that we can put faraway teams on an even keel with today’s more modern approach that refuses to strikeout shame. Through 28 games the Rays have the eighth highest three true outcome percentage relative to league average since 1969. Many of the teams at the top of this list had above average to very good offense, but there are exceptions to this rule. There are just as many that couldn’t walk the line, and ended up with an offense that couldn’t turn extreme inputs into good outputs. You can probably guess why the 2004 to 2005 Reds rank so highly. Apparently Adam Dunn and even half a season of Wily Mo Pena and his 26 homers that year were enough to ride up the list, but those two also had plenty of help. Rob Deer and Cecil Fielder were perhaps the most well known culprits, but it takes a village. So it is with the Rays. One man cannot cause the destruction seen here. It requires an entire organizational philosophy. Look at what they have wrought:

The last two years show a clear return to their roots for the Rays, though last year’s offensive production by wRC+ leaves much to be desired. On this young year the Rays are reaping great rewards, and while much of my new research shows a team over-performing at the plate, there is potential for this to stick around as the team is clearly trading contact for power. The thing is, though, they’re also walking like crazy, and this is something that holds true even in the first run of this data collection that came prior to last night’s walkfest. Brad Miller has been amongst the league leaders in walks, and four other guys join him in the double digits.

So far, the team has been able to ride the wave without all those punch outs bogging them down. If you’re going to run this approach then you’ve got to have the good (walks and homers) running just as well as the bad. That has happened for the most part, but if this is the road the team is going to go down then they’re going to need to keep pushing it. It will be weird to integrate Matt Duffy and Wilson Ramos into this atmosphere as both like to put the ball in play a lot and hope for the best, but that bridge is far enough away to worry about tomorrow. There are no such worries with Colby Rasmus. He’ll fit right in.

The OTHER interesting thing is that while the team’s offensive philosophy has been to swing hard and often the pitchers are going completely in the other direction:

They have the lowest strikeout percentage, and they pair this with the tenth highest walk rate, but the sixth best homers allowed per nine innings. All this despite playing against some very good lineups in favorable parks to start the year.

We’re only a month in so let’s not go crazy, but this year’s team looks like a drastic departure from the pitching staffs of yore. Buried amongst the years many of you probably hoped to forget at the top, but the funny thing is they’re running an ERA- of 90 so maybe they’re onto something. Or maybe they’re due to get hit by a bunch of homers at some point. Time will tell on that one. As for now you can see the Rays are also amongst the historical leaders in utilizing their defense:

I infer that the team sees an edge here, and is doing what they can to utilize it. On offense they want to make pitchers work hard as they strive to get into the kind of deep counts where you can really get something to hit. This is leading to heavy amounts of strikeouts and walks, but also powerful hits that can carry an offense. They believe in this so much that they’re working against letting the other team do this very same thing. When you commit to having good defenders on the field then it makes sense to leverage them to the gills. So far the team is doing exactly that, and while the aforementioned troika of Ramos, Duffy and Rasmus might struggle in the lineup they’re going to each be upgrades wherever you put them in the field.

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