Through 21 Games
Earlier in the season I took at look at how the Tampa Bay Rays had fared in the aggregate. With the offday it’s time to update that stuff. We now have 21 games in the books with the Rays sporting a record of 10-11. To further the notion of mediocrity the Rays have gone 3-3-1 in their seven series to date, though they have played better of late winning three of the last four. There has been a lot to get excited about, but the same old weaknesses at shortstop, catcher and first base continue to rear their ugly head. One thing that won’t be covered here is how good the defense has been so I’ll see what I can do to cover that uber important aspect of what makes the Rays tick. That will be another day, though, as I have a ton to share with you. Let’s start with the positive:
Overall, the Rays have been around 16 runs better than the average, which is outstanding, and around eighteen and a half runs better than we should have expected. Maybe that means a little regression is coming, but I think it also makes sense that the system should struggle with guys like Drew Smyly and Matt Moore who have been exceptional so far despite some mystery about what they would bring to the table. As a whole, the team has obliterated righties, though that hasn’t quite carried over to the lefties who have had some success so far.
Smyly has been the very definition of an ace so far. He has been around eight runs better than average while showing incredible numbers against both lefties and righties with the latter actually outstripping the former. Sticking with starters we see his lefty mate Matty Moore just a notch below, but still very good. Like Smyly he is showing some reverse split action during this small sample, but unlike Smyly that gap is fairly wide.
To get to the next batch of starters we have to move all the way to the bottom of the list. Chris Archer has been our worst pitcher to date, but there are reasons to be encouraged as he is coming off his best start of the year. In that last game he fixed a lot of what has ailed him. Not everything, he’s still missing wildly up and arm-side, which has led to several non-competitive pitches, but the positives were a sight for sore eyes. His commitment to, and execution of, the change up was nice to see as was his ability to continue to put guys away. The loud contact would be a problem on a team that doesn’t boast three very good defensive outfielders. Speaking of loud contact we get to Jake Odorizzi who got off to a fabulous start, but has thrown two straight clunkers. He needs to show confidence within the zone in order to get guys to leave it if he wants to have sustained success. Before moving on to the relievers I want to share this chart that might help some of you see this stuff a little better:
The pen has been led by Enny Romero, Erasmo Ramirez and Alex Colome. Enny has crushed all comers, but the latter two have shown a fairly wide platoon split to date. To combat that issue Kevin Cash has had no problems using Xavier Cedeno in a LOOGY role, which has allowed Colome, especially, to focus on the righties that have little chance against him. It’s worth mentioning that Erasmo has been the linchpin of the matchup strategy as he gives the team volume in the middle to late innings regardless of leverage. The other relievers have mostly been low to no leverage guys that allow the horses to catch their wind and avoid blowing their arms out at this early juncture. Enough of the run suppression. Let us move on to the run creators, or lack thereof:
Starting with the good we have had a number of players come out and put up above average numbers. Forsythe has been a revelation out of the leadoff spot getting on base a ton, stealing a couple of bags and showing pop when confronted with a mistake. He has predictably mashed lefties, but the very good production against righties should not be overlooked. The strides he has made to become an very good all-around player should be commended. Brandon Guyer and Corey Dickerson have excelled as platoon-mates thus far with the former showing success against same-handers even if the latter has not.
The Steves have been really good so far regardless of which hand the pitcher uses. Souza is getting everyday playing time, but Pearce hasn’t seen that luxury yet. Continued production can only help his case. Our last above average hitter is Kevin Kiermaier who has done better than expected against lefties, and done very well against righties. Kiermaier has shown surprising pop with a couple of big-moment homers so far, and this makes no mention of his platinum-level defense showing no slippage. The catches make the highlight reels, but it is a real treat to watch a runner take a wide turn at third before hustling back when they see Kiermaier mid-crowhop.
Then we start to move into the below average performances led by face of the franchise Evan Longoria. Evan has hit lefties about as well as we would expect, which is very well, incidentally, but has shown very real struggles against righties. His glove has been so good that it is tough to get him off of the field, but I’d love to see Pearce get the occasional start at third base to give Longo a day off here and there against the toughest righties. In that same vein is Desmond Jennings who has shown very good defense from three-fourths of his appendages, but has really struggled versus righties. Collette and I would both like to see him moved down in the lineup when facing a righty of any kind so that a guy like Corey Dickerson might actually get some pitches to swing at. Before moving on to the dregs of the lineup I want to share the batter chart similar to the one above:
Casali’s boom or bust approach has led to some big hits, and I think he will hit better even with the high strikeout approach, which should also come down from it’s near 50% level. Then we get to two of our left-handed hitting imports who are here to hit righties. Brad Miller and Logan Morrison have shown some bursts of late, but on the season they’re not really doing much against righties despite some decent figures against southpaws. I think they will get better, but if they had been merely bad rather than atrocious this would be an above-average offense overall. Getting Miller into the two-hole, where his skillset looks like a no-brainer, is a good start.
Now that you’re up to speed on what the Rays have done I would like to present some of the best and worst performances of our opponents against us:
Here are the top and bottom ten performances by the hitters and pitchers that we have faced. The biggest surprise on the pitcher side has to be Chris Tillman who has pitched a couple of gems against the Rays. Guys like Sale or Carrasco are much less surprising and I’d say the same about Aaron Sanchez considering he is so tough on righties, which plays right into the Rays biggest offensive weakness. Same with Danny Salazar. Then we see a bunch of relievers who were essentially untouched.
The bottom of the table shows us the ten worst performances against the Rays. We can see three American League East starters that got absolutely rocked at the very bottom with a bunch of relievers and John Danks mixed in. Personal friend @sternfan10 pointed out that Michael Pineda is the only righty starter that they have roughed up and the numbers prove him right. It is great to see success against lefties, but with righty pitchers still being the majority the Rays are going to have to mash them at some point to be considered anything more than a mid-tier team.
Moving to the right we see the best and worst hitters against us. We see several of the guys that you go into a series knowing you cannot let beat you, but also a few more surprising names like Brett Lawrie, Rajai Davis and Michael Saunders. Whether it is a lack of focus or a mistake getting capitalized upon or simple luck these are the kinds of guys that need to be turned into easy outs and not allowed to become heroes even if only for a day.
The bottom of the list should be highly encouraging. It is chock full of good hitters that can single-handedly take over a series. To see that an effective and well-executed plan is neutering what should be some of our biggest threats is highly encouraging. You’re not going to hold all of them down all of the time, but if early success is indicative of future success then the Rays will continue to hold a real advantage in some of the most important games.