The Tampa Bay Rays were not that far from the playoffs in 2015. Compared to the WS Champ Royals, you get a sense of just how very close the 2016 Rays may be to a playoff appearance.
There’s something to be said about comparing your performance to those who win championships. It gives you a snapshot of where your team may need to improve on and a possible roadmap on how to get to where you want to go. Although you may not necessarily want to emulate the champs, the comparison can point out some deficiencies that if rectified can bring you to a new level.
With that in mind, we take a look at a direct comparison between the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays and that season’s Kansas City Royals. Things to note include the fact that both play in different divisions and that injuries will always have a role in performance. The latter is particularly important when you wonder where the Rays would have wound up if both Alex Cobb and Matt Moore had been healthy for the season.
We’ll kick things off with team statistics, provide some insight into a few positions that may need to be upgraded, and finally some similarities that provides us with some hope for the 2016 Rays. All stats were obtained courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.
Tampa Bay Rays vs Kansas City Royals: Team Statistics
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As you can tell from the table above, there are some fairly obvious differences between these two teams. On the good side for the Rays, they actually outmuscled the Royals in terms of HRs. While that looks good on the surface, the Royals actually managed slightly more extra-base hits (481 to 477). The other area the Rays were competitive in was in earning walks (+53). That’s a great sign, however, they also struck out 337 more times, an area the Royals led MLB in (least strikeouts at 973). Finally, the Royals were very effective at hitting, managing 114 more hits than the Rays.
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This table shows us a lot of great information. First, these teams were of similar age, had the same number of sacrifice flies, almost the same LOB, and earned a similar number of IBB. The two areas I wanted to bring up in this case were the number of sacrifice hits the Royals managed (+15) and the fewer number of batters they used during the season (-10) than the Rays. The first issue points to the ability of the Royals to manufacture scoring opportunities by being willing to play small ball more often than the Rays. The latter points to how comfortable the Royals were with their lineup and how healthy they were overall, something that allowed them to get comfortable in their roles and playing abilities.
There’s something to be said for the batting eye being more effective when you get to play at one level and play often enough to get your timing down right. In this case, it seems the Royals did a great job of managing a great hitting team that rarely struck out, maximizing their scoring opportunities.
Things get even more interesting when you look over the pitching statistics.
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The pitching similarities in this table are numerous. Still, the Rays actually gain an edge in strikeouts (+195) and SO9 (+1.2). The walk rates and ER and ERA+ show us how closely matched these two teams were in 2015. Neither team gave up many HRs and each managed decent BB/SO ratios.
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The fact that these two teams allowed the very same number of runs per game points to how great both staffs were, this despite injuries. Neither team had the kind of pitching that would provide long starts and complete games, but both had outstanding bullpens who knew how to shut the door. The Rays staff may have allowed more HRs (+20) but allowed fewer hits (-58). Most interesting of all, however, is the WAR rating being 1.4 higher for the Rays than the Royals.
Hitting vs Pitching
Although the Royals had a more professional approach at the plate and in strategy, which allowed them to score more runs, the Rays had the better pitching performance overall. In each case, the two teams were so close that it allows us to wonder how much better things may have been without a few injuries.
Would Rays pitching with Cobb and Moore have been able to make the difference they needed to get a better run differential?
It wouldn’t have mattered much since most of the issues that differ greatly are at the plate, where the Royals were better at generating runs. Through a professional approach at the plate, few strikeouts, a ton of hits and the ability to move runners ahead when needed, this Royals team found a way to get runs across the plate.
The Road Ahead
The Rays recognize their run production deficiencies and decided to make improving their performance at the plate a priority, as made evident by their acquisition of both Brad Miller and Logan Morrison from the Mariners.
Miller was able to provide the Mariners with a 2.6 oWAR in 2015, which fits the bill. However, Morrison chipped in with a less impressive 0.7 oWAR. If the Rays plan to use Morrison primarily as a DH, he may be worth the gamble since he did manage a 2.1 oWAR in 2011 when he played for the Marlins. He drove in 72 RBI on the back of 23 HR that season but hasn’t come close to that since.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember for both of them is that they are both well within their prime hitting years and are under pressure from young and talented players within the organization.
Time will tell if this deal helps out, but I’d put more hope on the youth movement. When you see players like Mikie Mahtook and Richie Shaffer end the season strong, and understand that Daniel Robertson and Justin O’Conner could have a big impact as well, you know how close the Rays may be to getting themselves back into the playoffs.
The offseason isn’t close to being complete and things may change once again when the winter meetings take place. As you can tell from the information provided above, so long as the Rays maintain – or dare I say improve – their pitching performance from 2015, they should be able to concentrate on improving their run production and position themselves to compete for a playoff spot in 2016.
The Rays were well within reach of the playoffs in 2015. And if they play their cards right in 2016, they will contend for the playoffs in 2016.