Defensive Improvements Lead to Recent Surge

By David Hill

Over the last few years, one of the hallmarks for the Tampa Ray Rays have been their stellar defensive play. Since becoming a perennial contender in 2008, the Rays have consistently ranked in the top half of the league in fewest errors and fielding percentage. Last season, the Rays were the best defensive team in the American League, helping Tampa to the playoffs and making life easier for the pitching staff.

This season, however, the Rays defense had been terrible. After making only 73 errors last year, they had reached that total by the middle of July. Despite being lost in the shuffle due to their offensive troubles, the Rays defense has possibly been a bigger issue, leading to higher pitch counts and forcing the bullpen to become involved earlier than they would have been.

Even though the Rays committed three errors on Sunday, they have only committed ten errors since the All-Star Break. Twenty of their last twenty four games were played without the Rays making an error. Before Sunday, the Rays had even tied a team record by going ten consecutive games without an error. Consequentially, since the All-Star Game, the Rays have gone 17-10.

While the recent improvement on offense generates headlines, the defensive improvement has been a major part of the Rays recent surge. Ryan Roberts has made only two errors in the 18 games he has played since coming over for Arizona. His presence has allowed Jeff Keppinger to play more at second base, where he has yet to make an error this season. Sam Fuld has returned to the outfield after missing most of the year due to injury, and has continued to make great defensive plays. Even the recent move of Ben Zobrist to shortstop has gone seamlessly, as he has yet to make an error while displaying above average range.

While the Rays can likely get by if the offense regresses, the improvements on defense may be the more important. With the Rays strength being their pitching staff, they need players that can convert the balls put into play into outs. It appears as though the Rays have gotten back to what made them a contender over the past few years.