Has the Tampa Bay Rays offense been the bane of their existence? The strong pitching staff always makes national news, but the offense has never been near as valuable to the Rays. While researching for another article, a number of anomalies cropped up and got me to wondering. An interesting case could be made, and rightly so, that the Rays are offensively challenged. Previously, I looked at the numbers the Rays hitters put up while Derek Shelton has been the hitting coach, 2010-2014, but for this piece, I decided to push it back to 2008, the start of the era in which the have Rays consistently competed.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Rays roster constantly turns over every year. The longest current serving Ray is Ben Zobrist, who made his Rays debut in 2006. Evan Longoria has been with the Rays since 2008, but other than that, only Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings have been with the club more than a couple of years.
The Rays preach patience at the plate and that is evident in their year-to-year walk totals. Since 2008, their hitters have finished no lower than fourth in total walks. Three of these times they finished first overall. You might think, given that, they would be near the top perennially in on-base percentage, but that’s far from the case. The highest they finished in OBP since ’08 was fourth. Only twice did they finish in the top ten. While they are drawing their walks, Rays’ hitters aren’t always hitting their way on base. Only once in the past six season did they finish in the top half of baseball in hits. Four times, they languished in the twenties. What this tells is despite the fact that the Rays might not have the greatest pure hitters, they do a good job of maximizing offensive production by putting together a lineup full of hitters that draw walks.
When the Rays do get on, they really aren’t that bad when it comes to hitting into double plays. Twice they finished in the top ten in most DPs grounded into, but three of the six years they finished 14th or lower. This may have to do with the Rays’ knack for getting balls in the air for extra base hits. In fact, of the 8258 hits the Rays have collected since 2008, 3032 have been of the extra base variety (37%). In the same time period, the Boston Red Sox mashed 3402 extra base hits of their 9196 total hits (the same 37%), despite having a lineup that generally featured more “sluggers” than the Rays. To go along with that is the fact that the lowest the Rays finished in extra base hits was 18th. That was in 2012, the year Evan Longoria spent a lot of time on the disabled list. 2012 was also the only time that the Rays have finished in the bottom half of the league in slugging percentage. The Rays have had a couple of true sluggers over the years in Longoria and Carlos Pena, but the reason they get the job done is because they have a lineup full of guys capable of providing extra base hits with regularity.
Why don’t they score more runs you may ask. Well, strikeouts could be a cause. Prior to 2013, the Rays finished in the top five in most strikeouts every season, with the exception of 2011. In 2013, they finally got better, as they were just 21st in the league in total strikeouts. Gone were B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena. In his last year with the Rays, Pena struck out 182 times. In contrast, James Loney, the Rays current first baseman, struck out just 77 times last year. In Upton’s last season as a Ray, he struck out 169 times, whereas his replacement, Desmond Jennings fanned 115 times last season. The Rays are now emphasizing hitters that net lots of walks and few strikeouts after they began to understand just how important putting the ball in play is to scoring runs.
So, we have looked at all these underlying stats, but where do the Rays stack up in terms of runs scored? Generally they have been a middle of the pack team, ranging from seventh to eighteenth, with the exception of finishing third in the 2010 season. The Rays offense has seen transformation over the years, but have almost always consistently found ways to score runs. Thankfully, the Rays have always had a great pitching staff, which has made the offense’s job much easier. I guess the thing to take away from all this is the Rays’ offense is hard to put a definitive tag on from year to year. Are they ever going to be the best offense in the league? Probably not, but they will always do what it takes to consistently back up one of the league’s best pitching staffs.