Dependence on Speed

By Robbie Knopf

The Rays offense is not exactly powerful right now. Yet they’ve managed 4.36 runs per game, last in the AL East but 11th in all of baseball. How have they been able to do that? Their speed.

It starts with stolen bases. After a very slow start, the Rays have been running like crazy. They have stolen 38 bases, 3rd most in baseball, and their 72% success rate is a tick above the league average. After going just 2 of 5 in stolen bases in the first 12 games of the season, the Rays have stolen 36 bases in 48 tries in their last 32 games. That’s no coincidence because Evan Longoria has been out since the end of April- they’ve stolen 23 bases in 31 tries in the 21 games since he went down. The Rays didn’t have to rely as much on steals at the beginning of the year because they were hitting for a lot of power, but since all the injuries they have been able to manufacture runs using their speed. But stolen bases is just the start of that.

Speed on the basepaths isn’t just stolen bases- it’s also taking bases whenever the opportunity arises. The Rays have taken 59 bases on everything other than hits and stolen bases, most in the major leagues. The Rays have been extremely aggressive taking bases, running into 21 non-stolen base outs on the bases, also most in the big leagues. The Rays have actually taken an extra-base on just 39% of their opportunities, just 19th in baseball. The reason for that is that they haven’t hit the ball particularly hard overall (as we’ll see in a second). But they’ve found other ways to advance on the bases and get runs across without as many hits.

Line drive percentage is by no means an all-telling stat, but thus far in 2012, just 16% of the Rays batted balls have been line drives, just 28th in baseball. Hitting line drives isn’t the only way to get hits, but the Rays have not been hitting the ball very hard all season. The Rays do rank 17th in baseball in batting average, not great, but much better than their line drive rate. In order to get there they have had to use their speed to beat out some groundballs. The Rays have posted a .238 team BAbip (batting average on balls in play) on groundballs, solidly above the .226 MLB BAbip, and the 9th-highest mark in baseball and highest in the AL East. The Rays have legged out 53 infield hits, 5th-most in baseball. 14.9% of their hits have been on the infield, the second-highest ratio in baseball. The Rays have also gotten 8 bunt hits, tied for 5th in baseball. The Rays’ proportion of infield and bunt hits among their hits ranks third in MLB. In an ideal world the Rays would be hitting the ball harder and getting more extra-base hits. But based on the personnel they currently have available, they’ve done everything they have possibly needed to do to get hits.

When Evan Longoria out, the Rays have been forced to put their “Rays baseball” ideals up to the task. They have needed to do all the little things right to score runs and win games. Things have not always been so great. The Rays have gone just 11-10 since Evan Longoria went down. They have needed to take advantage of every ounce of their speed to get runners on, advance them, and score them. All the injuries have forced the Rays into a tough position. But they’re doing everything they can to trudge forward.