Where Did the Rays Offense Go?
By David Hill
At the start of the season, there was a lot of concern as to whether or not the Rays offense would be able to score enough runs to support what seemed to be a solid pitching staff. With their biggest offseason signings on offense consisting of James Loney and Kelly Johnson, it seemed as though the Rays may suffer through another season where they simply were unable to score enough runs to support a playoff push.
Then the seemingly unexpected happened – these players began to hit. Loney was consistently amongst the leaders in batting average, and was in the running with Evan Longoria as the most productive bat in the Rays lineup. Johnson was hitting home runs and playing a bit of a Ben Zobrist role, shuffling between left, second and third while playing solid defense and producing. After a slow start, Yunel Escobar‘s bat came to life, and seemingly developed a knack for delivering key hits. The catching position, long a black hole of offensive ineptitude, was providing solid results with the platoon of Jose Lobaton and Jose Molina. With the addition of Wil Myers to what had been a surprisingly solid lineup, it seemed as though the runs would continue to score in bunches.
For a while, that continued to happen. The Rays found themselves with one of the top offenses in baseball at the All-Star Break, ranking sixth in runs scored and OPS, while placing fourth in on base percentage. A big reason for the Rays new found offensive prowess was the lack of strikeouts – the Rays were in the bottom third, having struck out just 669 times. That played into Joe Maddon‘s concept of ‘moving the baseball,’ a major part of the ‘swarm’ offense that Maddon had been looking for.
"“We have to move the baseball,” Maddon said. “The swarm comes when you move the baseball. When you’re up there flailing, the swarm goes away. The reason I thought we could be very swarming at the beginning of the season is we were always moving the baseball.”"
Yet, that has all come apart since the All-Star Break. While the Rays are still in the bottom third in strikeouts, and remain in the top half in on base percentage, OPS and batting average, they have fallen to 27th in baseball in runs scored, with their 137 runs being the fewest in the American League. While the overall numbers pre and post Break are similar, the results have not been the same.
The reason is that the Rays have not had the same magic with runners in scoring position as they had at the start of the year. Prior to the All-Star Break, the Rays had the best batting average in baseball with runners in scoring position, and were second in the month of July with a .267 mark. However, those numbers have dropped precipitously during the month of August, as the Rays have only hit .228 in that situation over this month. That decline helps explain why the Rays offense, which had been amongst the best scoring offenses in the game, has suddenly found themselves as harmless as a baby sheep. Lobaton has seemingly been the only player that has been able to come through consistently in the clutch over the past month, with a memorable game winning triple and a home run in the same weekend. Is this a sign of players such as Loney and Johnson regressing, or is it just an inopportune slump?
Considering how the Rays have been able to hit in virtually every other situation since the Break, it appears as though this is just a minor blip on the radar. However, these struggles have coincided with a rough month for Tampa, as the Rays have gone 11-14 to fall to the second Wild Card spot.Yet, it would seem as though the Rays luck would even out. As hot as they were at the start of the season with runners in scoring position, they have been equally cold in the past month. Should this even itself out, the Rays offense may be back to close to the same level of production that it had been during the first half of the year.
It may seem as though the bottom is falling out on the Rays offense. However, a correction may be just around the corner.